Interview with Max Knagge, General Manager for SAS Americas


Max Knagge, General Manager for SAS Americas

eCurrents had the opportunity to interview Max Knagge, General Manager for SAS Americas at the SAS in DC event at the House of Sweden on March 29th.  Max has been with SAS for 13 years and moved to the U.S. with his family in January 2015. In the interview, Max spoke about SAS’ recent investments in the U.S. and shared personal insight about moving here as a Scandinavian manager.
The U.S. market has never been more important for SAS.  Last year, SAS added four new routes from the U.S. to Scandinavia and increased its capacity from the U.S. by 25%. In conjunction with the increase in capacity the company invested in new aircraft and brand new cabins. Altogether, this expansion represents the biggest investment in the airline’s 70-year history.
eCurrent´s journalist Blake Morgan together with Max Knagge
Recently, SAS has observed two encouraging trends in travel between the U.S. and Scandinavia.  On the product side, SAS is seeing increasing demand for the premium economy class, SAS Plus.  SAS was one of the first airlines to have a premium economy cabin and in the past several years an increasing number of other airlines have been implement similar options.  The introduction of premium economy options by other players has boosted market awareness.  Now SAS is seeing demand for SAS Plus, which has comparatively more premium features, such as access to SAS lounges and fast track, than other airlines’ premium economy cabins, grow faster than demand for SAS Go, the company’s regular economy cabin. The other trend that SAS has observed is increasing American interest in traveling to Scandinavian for leisure.  An growing number of Americans are traveling to Scandinavia for vacation to experience both the local culture and visit natural attractions.  SAS intends to increase its focus on leisure travel from the U.S. as an avenue of growth for the future.
Borrowing from his own experience, Max has important insight to share about the differences in working as a manager in Sweden versus in the U.S.  First of all, the scale of Swedish companies in relation to the market is often significantly different. In the U.S. SAS is a small player in a huge market while the opposite is true of the company in its home market.  Max says that even though SAS has 11 daily departures from the U.S. and is the largest carrier from the U.S. to their home market, the company is still a pretty small airline in American terms.  The difference of relative scale means that awareness of SAS and similar Swedish companies is naturally much lower in U.S. than in Sweden. Max enjoys the starting point of being a challenger rather than a dominant player in the U.S. and believes that starting from a less visible position requires formulating strategies and ways to get attention and demonstrate your values.  Along those lines, SAS is currently working on innovative technical solutions to make life easier for their frequent travelers.  Throughout its history, the company has achieved a lot of firsts, including being the first airline to have female pilots and the first to have inflight entertainment systems.  Through investment in upcoming technologies SAS hopes to continue that trend going forward.

In terms of advice for Scandinavian managers coming to the U.S., Max would like to share two perspectives.  On the private side, his own experience has taught him that especially if you come to the U.S. with your family it is important to invest time in your private life.  Naturally it is a big transition to move abroad and Max believes that an important component of his success here is that he has been fortune to have the both the private and business dimensions of his life in the U.S. work.  On the business side, Max explains that he has benefited by being part of networks like the Swedish-American Chambers of Commerce.  He believes that it can be extremely helpful to find other Scandinavian companies that are in a similar position or that know the market and can offer insights from their experiences.  “Markets and market characteristics are different in every region in the world and networking within the Scandinavian community in the U.S. lets you learn from companies that have been through the same journey as you from a business perspective.”  Lastly, Max says that in moving to the U.S. it is important to embrace the differences.  “Don’t move here and expect to live and work like you did in Sweden.  Embrace the differences and enjoy the ride because it is exciting!”