AVIATION INTERVIEW WITH SU-ANN LEE
Country Manager of Etihad Airways Malaysia
A driven and well-experienced woman in the world of commercial aviation, Su-Ann Lee has proven herself to be a successful leader for Etihad Airways. Interestingly, Su-Ann is among just a few Malaysian female country managers to helm an international airline in this part of the world and she recently shares with Airlink her unique perspective on the Malaysian aviation industry, Etihad’s journey in Malaysia and what she loves about her job.
In order to succeed, an airline must understand the culture of a country to which they service. What are some of the key characteristics of Malaysian travellers that are constantly in mind when Etihad implements key initiatives?
Malaysian travellers are considerably mature travellers compared to neighbouring developing countries, with many travelling regularly to their preferred countries. The UK is one of the top destinations, while many others look to new destinations and experiences. Many of our travellers are also well versed with the different airlines and their offerings. Mainly seeking safety, comfort and affordability when choosing their airline. Etihad Airways is perfectly positioned as a safe, premium full-fledged serviced yet competitively priced airline and this has always been our key considerations.
Our fleet is the youngest in the industry with an average age of 5.6 years and having achieved the ICAO Safety Audit, Etihad Airways consistently ranks as one of the safest airlines globally. Our Guest Service team are relentlessly improving and exceeding guest expectations throughout their journey with Etihad Airways.
What sets Etihad Airways apart from its competitors?
I strongly believe our people sets us apart from our competitors. At merely 16 years old our team is seen to consistently go above and beyond, ensuring our guests are prioritized at all times. The loyalty of our people has to be admired. Our company is transforming and our employees have come together under the direction of our CEO and the Senior Management, setting our heads and hearts in unity to rebuild Etihad Airways. With the strategies in place, we have positioned the airline in an upward trend.
How has Etihad Airways been performing for the past few years?
Since we started our service into Malaysia 13 years ago, Etihad Airways has came a long way. We have trialled strategies over the years, yielded positive results and learning from the rest. In Malaysia, we are performing very well. Ultimately, it is crucial to understand our position in the market and where there are areas to improve and to stay focused.
Over the years, we have built great business partnerships with the trade, corporate and direct customers. Through these partnerships, we have evolved and constantly seek new avenues to explore. This is especially true as we are in an ever-changing dynamic environment. In order to be sustainable, we need to learn and collaborate even more with one another.
Like all airlines, Etihad constantly assesses its network and makes informed adjustments to meet passenger demand and commercial opportunities. Right now and for the foreseeable future, we will continue to focus on our key Asian gateways, while leveraging the expanded network provided by key partnerships like our codeshare to connect people from across the region to the global Etihad network.
And we will see more opportunities for Malaysian travellers as we look to the future. Though I can’t go into specifics now, we’ll continue to evolve and build our network to create more choice and opportunity to connect Malaysia with the world, via our hub Abu Dhabi.
In 2017, Etihad launched a five-year restructuring process for the purpose of strengthening their balance sheet and streamlining the cost base. Has this initiative manage to offset the recent tough market conditions?
Indeed we underwent a difficult period and in order to turn things around, the airline had to make some drastic changes. A lot went into ensuring the sustainability of Etihad Airways and thanks to the leadership of our CEO and his Senior Management, the airline is on the right track. The mantra within the company “One team. One direction” is the essence of our goal to rebuild Etihad Airways.
Personally, I am very proud to be part of this company. Each employee has a role to play and it is amazing to see the culture we have, to stand and fight to achieve that one goal.
You have worked in the industry for almost 15 years now, please tell us more about your experience in the aviation industry and what drives your passion for it?
I started my career with Qatar Airways in Abu Dhabi for 2 years before returning to Malaysia to resume my role in the industry. Having the opportunity to be part of Pricing, Revenue Management, Reservation & Ticketing, Sales, Marketing and later in People Management, I was privileged to get an understanding and a feel into the different areas of the Commercial department.
This industry is extremely dynamic and the ever-changing environment thrills me. There is a paradigm shift in the aviation industry as many other industries today. What worked before doesn’t necessarily work today and we have to sometimes take a step back and digest what’s required before taking a leap of faith. Never be afraid to take chances and never be afraid to get your hands dirty. People play such a huge part in the success and sustainability of the business.
I am passionate about people; my team, partners and customers alike, are the most important make-up to the business.
What are your favourite destinations to go for a holiday and why?
Italy. Italy is rich in history and culture and every place has its distinct character. Rome, Florence, Vatican City, Lake Como, Tuscany, Naples, Amalfi Coast and Positano are simply magnificent. Jon (my husband) and I enjoy the cuisine, architecture and the feeling of being transported to the ancient Roman Empire and Renaissance era is priceless.