Tim Clark has steered Emirates on its trailblazing expansion over the last decade.

He has been the architect of its strategy to develop Dubai into the world's premier international mega-hub, and evangelical in his conviction to accumulate an Airbus A380 fleet of eye-watering proportions, to deliver the necessary network connections and capacity.

A decade ago, when the first Airline Strategy Awards took place, Emirates was operating just 40 aircraft and carrying seven million passengers. That fleet now numbers more than 150, and by its last financial year, to 31 March, passenger numbers had ballooned to a whopping 31.4 million.

Emirates is now firmly established as the biggest threat to the legacy carriers, the one that most rivals lie awake worrying about.

Clark orchestrated that decade of relentless growth, initially as the airline's chief director and then from 2003 as its president.

A self-confessed "expansionist", he did not panic when the world - and Dubai in particular - looked set for meltdown in the wake of 2008's global financial crisis.

Eloquent as ever, Clark told Flightglobal in 2009 about how his decision to "tough it out" in the absence of any firm economic data, amid the collapse in passenger demand, was a high-risk strategy: "It's like navigating a nuclear submarine in the dark without any aids," he said. "We knew we had $60 billion worth of aircraft coming in, and we didn't actually know what was going to happen."

Clark held his nerve, and when the Emirates submarine finally surfaced, it emerged stronger than before.

Far from being easy pickings for rivals - as some doomsayers had forecast - the Dubai flag carrier is now an even greater threat to the legacy carriers than before.

Last year, revenues reached $14.8 billion, and net profit soared by over 50% year-on-year to $1.5 billion.

This ability to rebound with such striking numbers has sent its European and US rivals into overdrive, as they complain about the Gulf carriers' unchecked growth.

But things were quite different a quarter of a century ago when Clark decamped to Dubai, where Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum was assembling the founding fathers of Emirates.

He joined from the then local goliath, Gulf Air, to run the planning department as Emirates was being launched in 1985, and quickly established a reputation for being a visionary network planner.

As he worked to capitalise on Dubai's strategic location, he engaged the airframers to put a key piece of his strategic jigsaw into place - the creation of airliners with the performance to bring his hub within one stop of every major population centre on Earth.

And this is where another of the Clark strong-suits came into play. For not only is he an astute economist comfortable with discussing the fineries of the balance sheet and yield management, but he is also able to engage Airbus and Boeing's engineering teams at a level where few chief executives dare to tread.

He was instrumental in driving Boeing's development of the 777-300ER to create what many view as one of the finest airliners yet produced. He also pushed Airbus to sort out the A380, and helped steer the superjumbo's payload and range to the next level.

In 1999 Clark described Emirates' growth strategy to me as "an entrepreneurial business syndrome where opportunities are taken." He added: "We have lots more to do yet" - a view that holds true to this day.

Source: Airline Business