Careers: "Making a tangible difference in someone’s life is a really motivational concept"
Chris Bowden studied BA Swahili and Development Studies at SOAS and is now Head of Cargo - Global Partnerships at Cathay Cargo. We asked Chris a few questions about his time at SOAS and his career journey so far.
Could you give us a brief overview of your current role and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am currently the Head of Cargo - Global Partnerships at Cathay Cargo. This involves managing about 50% of our revenue through bespoke contract management structures and customer relationship management. I also oversee charter sales globally (that is, someone hiring the entire aircraft), as well as our Marketing team. In addition, I am co-Chair of our Gender Equity Network, helping to lead the culture change we need to make sure all of our people feel like they belong with us.
What motivates you in your role?
Commercially, cargo and airfreight make the world economy work. We help ship fresh food, medicines, consumer goods, pets, vaccines, humanitarian supplies etc., etc. and coming to work knowing that I will be making a tangible difference in someone’s life is a really motivational concept. On the marketing side, I love the ability to tell stories and take great pride in our marketing channels and the content we produce. And with the Gender Equity Network, there is simply nothing more motivational than making an organisation a better place for those who are underrepresented or structurally impacted.
Why did you choose to study at SOAS?
Put simply, it was the only place in the UK to study Swahili! And then, when I read more about the place, I felt a harmony with the idealism, the activism, and the general aim to right structural wrongs, bring about change and drive outcomes that have an impact on people.
What makes SOAS stand out?
What doesn’t! It has a reputation around the world. I have lived and worked in eight countries since leaving SOAS, and there hasn’t been a single one where my mentioning SOAS is not reciprocated with enthusiasm and admiration. Its phenomenally gifted resources for researching Africa and Asia put it on a pedestal outside the UK, and the skill of the faculty really makes it stand out. Couple that with its reputation for activism and fairness, and SOAS is highly, highly regarded everywhere.
I have lived and worked in eight countries since leaving SOAS, and there hasn’t been a single one where my mentioning SOAS is not reciprocated with enthusiasm and admiration.
How do you feel that your studies at SOAS helped to prepare you for this role?
SOAS has played a formative and pivotal role in my outlook on life and work. Corporate culture can sometimes be quite abrupt and emotionless, but my SOAS background has enabled me to try and shift that, driving focus on people and on underrepresented people in particular. The skills I learned in studying Development Studies, in particular, have helped me identify diverse opportunities that my colleagues may not see. And my exposure to Swahili has enabled communication in every single country and role I have done since leaving SOAS. It’s amazing how much a language can open doors.
What did you enjoy the most about studying at SOAS? Do you have a particular favourite memory?
Without a shadow of a doubt, the people. Friendships that last a lifetime, keep you grounded and continue to educate and inspire you. Our Swahili class was extremely close, and we remain friends 15 years later. On top of the friendships, the experience of studying overseas and immersing myself in Zanzibari and Lamu life was incredible and something I wish I could do over and over.
What piece of advice would you give to someone looking to get into your field of work?
I think for anyone who is looking to get into the corporate world in general – not just aviation – my advice is to embrace the culture of who you are. An activist mindset is not incompatible with corporatism, and on the contrary, many corporates are actively seeking to move away from standard recruiting grounds in order to foster a diversity of thought in their teams. Be yourself, be proud of where you come from and what you have to offer and be prepared to challenge the received wisdom of companies who you want to work for.
What are your hopes for the future?
A bold question! Professionally, I am very much enjoying my involvement in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion sector and hope to be able to grow that exposure alongside a successful career – having allies to diversity in positions of power helps bring about quicker change. Personally, I would love to get more involved with Africa again at some point. And finally – I have three wonderful kids, and my main hope is to be able to raise them in a world that is fairer and better than the one I grew up in!