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Obituary: Corporate transparency champion James Hoblyn dies

Jon Ostrower/Washington DC

James Hoblyn, who has died suddenly aged 46, was responsible for customer services and specialised aircraft at Bombardier Aerospace and was one of the Canadian manufacturer's high-flying presidents.

An Englishman, whose accent veered between his adopted city of Montreal and that of his native country, Hoblyn was also an enthusiast for the new ways of corporate communication where an open-door policy with colleagues, from the shop floor up, was key to effective team-building.

I first met James last year on my way to EBACE in Geneva.

My colleague John Croft and I joined a small group of journalists and staff from Bombardier aboard a Global 5000 aircraft for the trans-Atlantic flight.

We were all very much awake for the daytime crossing and had a lot of time to chat to each other.

His warmth and enthusiasm for work and his love for his family was immediately apparent. During the downtime before he held on-the-record court in the jet's mid-cabin, we talked tech and cars. Weeks earlier he had taken delivery of a Mini Cooper, which he joked his teenage daughter wasn't allowed anywhere near.

John Hoblyn - (c) Bombardier
 © Bombardier
Hoblyn's mandate at Bombardier was to significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty 

Hoblyn had an affinity for technology and got a real kick out of the fact I was live-tweeting and blogging the crossing on my iPad somewhere between two continents. He was a proponent of social media inside Bombardier, using his own internal blog, entitled The James Exchange - which he wrote himself - to connect with his employees, solicit feedback and cultivate dialogue.

This industry spends a lot of time discussing how social media is used outwardly, but Hoblyn found a way to harness its power inside Bombardier to nurture transparency and openness among his staff.

Every time I would see him he would let me know how his experiment was going. Last week, on the day his death was announced, his blog had 10,000 visitors from inside Bombardier and more than 120 comments have been left in remembrance. Bombardier Aerospace has 30,000 employees.

For conservative companies such experiments can often backfire, but James was excited at the possibilities his blog held to build a more effective team. Whether he knew it or not, James Hoblyn was a pioneer in advancing corporate transparency.

Hoblyn was among the most highly regarded of Bombardier Aerospace's senior tier of executives and his career since joining the airframer in 1998 took in most aspects of the business.

He was appointed to his last job - president customer services and specialised and amphibious aircraft - just over two years ago. It was a role that took in everything from global spares support - an increasingly vital part of the company's portfolio - to areas that did not fit in anywhere else, such as the Bombardier 415 water bomber.

Like many successful executives, he was elevated into new positions every year or two, picking up experience throughout the business.

He started as vice-president for strategic planning and business development for the business aircraft division in 1998, before moving into marketing and programme management and, in 2001, taking charge of Bombardier's fractional ownership venture in Europe - Flexjet Europe (now known as Skyjet International).

He moved to regional aircraft for a year and then, in 2003, rejoined business aircraft as a vice-president with a wide portfolio that took in strategic and product planning, marketing and contracts.

In 2006, he was given the title senior vice-president customer experience, with a mandate to "significantly improve customer satisfaction and loyalty" among owners.

It was a move by Bombardier that acknowledged that ensuring an owner returns depends on more than simply building a great aircraft; just as important is the amount he feels supported by the factory during his period of ownership.

Although a corporate high flyer who was always passionately on message when it came to enthusing about Bombardier's commitment to customer service, Hoblyn also had a devilish sense of humour and could be hilariously irreverent when speaking off the record to journalists.

Before joining Bombardier he spent four years with McKinsey & Company, consulting with leading firms in the financial services, mining, retail, power generation, and pulp and paper industries.

He graduated from the University of Waterloo with a BSc in mechanical engineering in 1990, and after working in the IT industry he was awarded an MBA by the London Business School in 1994.

Hoblyn is survived by his wife Josée and their three daughters.

James Hoblyn born 1965, died 3 July 2011

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