Meet the boss

Gen­eral man­ager, Aus­tralia and New Zealand, Eti­had Air­ways Ap­pointed May 2012

The Australian - The Deal - - Contents - As told to Lyn­dall Crisp

Eti­had Air­ways’ lo­cal boss, Luisa Pas­trello, re­traces her ca­reer flight path.

My mother Carla and fa­ther Lorenzo were Ital­ian mi­grants who met in Syd­ney. I didn’t learn English un­til I was five years old. I of­ten think in Ital­ian first. We moved to Can­berra, where I went to a state pri­mary school in Curtin.

It was the clas­sic im­mi­grant story – my older broth­ers, Robert and Ed­die, and I were the only wogs. It was al­ways a chal­lenge try­ing to fit in. I found my­self trad­ing my meat­ball sand­wiches for a Twisties bun.

Then I went to a Catholic girls high­school, St Clare’s Col­lege, where I was the only girl from a state school. Robert and Ed­die were very hand­some and pop­u­lar. The older girls knew I was their sis­ter, so I quickly made friends.

On Satur­days, I worked in a chicken shop. I re­mem­ber my first pay packet – I bought some lip gloss. Af­ter school, I went straight into the fam­ily busi­ness, Ea­gle­hawk Re­sort, which had a pub, bistro and ac­com­mo­da­tion on the ACT-NSW bor­der.

When I was 22, I started upmy own busi­ness as an im­age and pro­fes­sional speak­ing con­sul­tant. I stud­ied it be­fore stylists were main­stream. I taught cus­tomer ser­vice to Qan­tas and joined the air­line in 1996. My plan was to stay for six months, but I ended up be­ing there for 12 years.

I started out in sales, and then be­came the act­ing air­port duty man­ager. On day three, there was a bomb scare – a sus­pi­cious ar­ti­cle had been left in a bath­room– and no one had trained me. Iwas very calm, walked into the of­fice and looked for “pro­ce­dures for bomb scares”. I was told ev­ery­thing I needed to know was in the lit­tle red book – and sure enough, there it was on page one. That taught me to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

I was moved to Syd­ney, in sales again, and then to cre­ate the fre­quent flyer pro­gram. That gave me in­sight into how a loy­alty pro­gram drives con­sumer be­hav­iour and de­ci­sion mak­ing.

In 2002, I was tapped to be in­volved in the pre­cur­sor to Jet­star, Aus­tralian Air­lines MK II. At that time I was do­ing my MBA at theUniver­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Syd­ney. Trav­el­ling withmy text­books was a real chal­lenge. I took six months off work to do the fi­nal two sub­jects be­cause it in­volved travel to Air­bus in France – the A380 was one of our study top­ics. I grad­u­ated in 2004. But the de­ci­sion was made to bring Aus­tralian Air­lines back into the core group, so the chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer and I had to close the air­line.

Then in 2006, I was ap­proached by Amer­i­can Ex­press to run 250 staff as a con­tact cen­tre and pre­mi­um­ser­vice de­liv­ery. While I had lots of ex­pe­ri­ence in sales, mar­ket­ing, brand prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and op­er­a­tions, I was happy to jump into some­thing un­known. I learnt a lot about struc­ture and ar­tic­u­lat­ing busi­ness cases and had the chance to be part of in­ter­na­tional teams and steer­ing com­mit­tees.

In 2010, I took a two-year break to travel and moved back to Can­berra to look af­ter my mother. Af­ter she died, I re­turned to Syd­ney. The call to ap­ply for the Eti­had job came out of the blue. The next day I met the in­ter­view panel, a week later I was flown to AbuD­habi [head­quar­ters of Eti­had, the national air­line of the United Arab Emi­rates] and was of­fered the job.

I was back with an air­line again, play­ing tomy strength. Be­ing able to rep­re­sent an ex­tra­or­di­nary brand that’s grown so fast is a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity. Eti­had has been in Aus­tralia only six years, but this is our largest mar­ket out­side the UAE.

I try to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment in which peo­ple choose to be part of the tea­mand fol­low the di­rec­tion I’m lead­ing the busi­ness. There are ob­vi­ously very ag­gres­sive fi­nan­cial tar­gets.

I am ac­tive within my church com­mu­nity. I love cook­ing and I travel a lot. To stay home and read is a priv­i­lege. Sport in­volves roller-blad­ing and I’m teach­ing my­self how to play the pi­ano.

[One has to be] strong, but still fem­i­nine. Al­ways be a lady – that was en­grained in me by my mother, grand­mother and aun­ties.

ON SATUR­DAYS, I WORKED IN A CHICKEN SHOP. I RE­MEM­BER MY FIRST PAY PACKET – I BOUGHT SOME LIP GLOSS.

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