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Flying Higher in Stormy Weather: Developing the New Leaders for Aviation Success

Few industries today command the attention and carry the clout on a global scale as the aviation industry. Not only is this legendary field exciting, challenging, and potentially lucrative, but it plays a critical role in the economy in terms of jobs, global connectedness, and commerce. Yet this proud industry is buffeted by the winds of change.

Today, the aviation industry faces an irreversible dynamic forcing every airline, large or small, new or established, local or global, to examine each aspect of its business at a fundamental level. The global airline industry is undergoing structural changes brought about by market volatility, deregulation, challenges from new entrants, and rising travel markets such as in Asia, Latin America or parts of Africa. Leadership is wrestling with fundamental questions concerning strategies, business models, and operational approach. While equilibriums are a long way off, those who are not keeping pace with these waves of change are likely to become extinct. To infuse innovation, creativity, and agility, substantial change programs are indispensable. This will require CEOs and leaders who can foster a culture of teamwork, proficiency, openness, and creativity.

Over the past year Egon Zehnder has conducted an extensive research project involving direct interviews with more than 25 CEOs of major airlines around the world, and with leading industry thinkers. In these in-person dialogues we explored the key challenges facing aviation leaders today. In parallel, together with the international Air Transport Association (IATA), we have also conducted an extensive survey with leading HR executives from the industry.

Our findings speak to a new competitive landscape. In a time of great change, there is a strong consensus that new skills and approaches are essential in developing the talent needed to compete. This paper outlines the key changes confronting the industry, presents approaches for companies to thrive in the new competitive landscape, describes the new leadership skills and competencies required for success, and details how winners will recognize the strategic role of talent and human resources as a catalyst of change.

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