Christine Ourmières: CEO of CityJet
This week we spread our wings and find more than a little motivation with the top flight of the corporate world of airlines, speaking to CEO of CityJet and recently appointed vice president of the European Regions Airline Association (ERA), Christine Ourmières.
Christine took on her role as captain of the Irish regional airline in 2010, with 20 years experience in the aviation industry already under her belt, including management roles with Air France and KLM UK and Ireland. We talk to her about studying hard, being the figurehead of the company and how her career has soared to such heights. Christine is living proof that, with enough ambition, the right opportunities and years of hard work, professional life can really become first class.
My Little Black Book: Christine, you started your career with a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering from the Ecole National Supérieure d’Ingénieurs and an MBA from Essec Business School. Was this field something you’d always wanted to pursue?
Christine Ourmières: I actually somewhat chanced upon an aviation career. For both of my masters degrees, I held a variety of internships in a variety of industries, but working in the maintenance department at Air France was my first real position. I accepted it because I thought it would be incredibly exciting – I was being given the opportunity to work with the Airbus and Concorde fleets – both incredibly magnificent pieces of machinery. I immediately fell in love with aviation. There are many expressions to describe how it happens, but I can say I have jet fuel in the blood and it is now my passion.
MyLBB: And who or what had inspired you to study such a specific subject?
CO: My father pushed me to study engineering and aeronautics. Both he and my mother, as self-made individuals, pushed me to go further, study more, and be self-reliant. They both instilled in me the importance of being independent. My father encouraged me to study engineering as he saw that it would lead to a ‘real job’, rather than something more philosophical, though ultimately I had the freedom to choose, which of course, I did. I can’t thank both of them enough for inspiring my ambition and drive, and telling me that there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t achieve.
MyLBB: When you studied, were you among a minority of female students?
CO: I was one of just a few female students – to this day, in fact, there is a real dearth of women studying in the engineering slash mathematical related fields. Whenever I get the chance I always encourage young women to go in to this area of study as I believe it will provide them with a real advantage in their careers. Simply put, it provides an expansive range of paths that their careers can take and will more than likely help them in their career progression.
MyLBB: Motivating words indeed. And of those you studied with, have many gone on to enjoy the same sort of level of success as yourself?
CO: There are two three that I have stayed in touch with and who are very successful in their fields of IT and medicine and pharmaceuticals.
MyLBB: That’s what we like to hear. And how did you progress from your role in maintenance at Air France to the higher echelons of management?
CO: I first started out as a project manager in the maintenance department at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, where I moved over as an IT manager in the sales for Air France. With my background of a business degree, I was always interested in the commercial side of running an airline. From there, I moved over to sales and marketing side for a global distribution company within the travel sector, before going back to sales and marketing at Air France. I moved from the different sales departments, to becoming the General Manager of the UK and Ireland for the airline group. After five years, I was promoted to the Vice President and General Manager for the States.
I attribute my rise through always not only meeting, but exceeding my annual objectives. This was achieved through both working incredibly hard and pushing myself, and having fantastic teams supporting me. I wouldn’t have achieved anything without my teams.
MyLBB: That could be applied to all career paths, so we can all learn something from that philosophy. Did you always have ambitions on the top job with an airline?
CO: I would say that I have always had ambitions, and this includes always doing my job to the absolute best of my ability and continuing on to the next challenge in my career. I have been in the aviation industry for over twenty years now, so the thought of being CEO of an airline crossed my mind but it hasn’t been what I’ve been striving to achieve since the beginning. In order to be successful, you need to be ambitious, and women need to be more ambitious than their male peers in the workplace.
MyLBB: How true. We would assume that a female CEO heading an airline is probably still quite a rare occurrence. Would we be wrong?
CO: No, I am still somewhat of an anomaly. I’m one of 15 female CEOs of airlines, out of 200 commercial airlines. Most of these women are running low-cost carriers in Asian countries – none are CEOs of legacy, flag carrier airlines.
MyLBB: We’re still in the minority in the industry then. Do you think any feminine qualities specifically enhance your ability to do your job so well? Do you think you add another dimension to the industry as a figurehead, for example?
CO: I don’t think that there are qualities more feminine than others, but those that I bring with me and lead to my success are drive, resilience and performance.
MyLBB: Those qualities have probably been instrumental in the huge strides you’ve made in turning around the fortunes of CityJet since you’ve been in charge there. What has been your greatest achievement in your eyes?
CO: Mentoring and supporting the professional growth of the people in the company. Watching them grow and succeed in the organisation is, for me, the greatest achievement.
MyLBB: You were recently made vice president of the European Regions Airline Association. What will your new position entail?
CO: I will be working with the other members of the board and leadership of the association in achieving the goals of ERA, which ultimately means how we can best leverage our strengths to lobby relevant bodies so as to ensure regional airlines’ contribution to Europe’s social and economic prosperity is recognised and supported.
MyLBB: Do you have to make a huge number of flights as part of the job?
CO: I am always in the air – with our headquarters in Dublin and with offices in London, Antwerp and a base in Paris – you can imagine that I am constantly running from one flight to another. If you’re flying on CityJet, there is a very high likelihood that you will see me on one of your flights!
MyLBB: We’ll look out for you! Do you still enjoy flying?
CO: Yes! Because my schedule is as hectic as it is, with meetings – scheduled and unscheduled – filling most of my days, the time I have in the air is often my time of brief respite from doing work. I am unreachable and can use the time to relax however I like. Plus, there is still always the bit of magic that comes with flying and travel.
MyLBB: It’s good to know you still enjoy that “magic”. As businesswomen, many of us have to travel regularly with our work. What advice would you give us frequent flyers to make our flying experience as comfortable and easy as possible?
CO: Have a bag that can help you keep everything organised: from your passport to your purse to your iPad. If you’re able to keep everything in one bag, with compartments, it makes life easier, so you’re able to know that you have everything you need without spending time digging around trying to find something. Online check-in beforehand is a real lifesaver as it saves you time at the airport – and allows you to do any last minute shopping before a flight! If you’re travelling on a red-eye flight, packing a more comfortable outfit to change into once onboard, eye mask, and a good set of ear plugs is key to sleeping and arriving refreshed and ready for whatever meetings might be in store.
MyLBB: Good advice. When I fly, I have to have an excellent book with me. Are there any essential items you always fly with? Anything you cannot travel without?
CO: My iPhone, both because it is my life with my calendar and often main means of contact, and because I admit I like to play Candy Crush as it’s the only time I can really play a few rounds as I don’t have reception in the air! And my iPad. My iPad is my laptop when travelling, and often my book as well through the Kindle app. So with these two, I have everything I need.
MyLBB: Are there any new routes planned for CityJet or any other exciting developments you’d like to share with us?
CO: We’ve just launched a new mini-hub from Cardiff Airport, from where we are flying to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Jersey and Paris-Orly airport. We’re very excited about launching these services as we’re introducing people to the CityJet service beyond our London City hub. We’ve also launched a dynamic new route map to our website, and are investing in other new exciting mobile services that we’ll be introducing soon. Additionally, we’ll be introducing new catering onboard to our passengers in April – adapting our offering based on the feedback we’ve received from passengers and our own employees. So we do have quite a bit that we’re looking forward to!
Hearing about such an auspicious career in the skies makes us want to board a flight immediately! Doors to manual…