Meet the boss
General manager, Australia and New Zealand, Etihad Airways Appointed May 2012
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.