Innovation in aviation at SAS

Meet Cecilie Svegaarden, Head of Brand Experiences, SAS


Here at Viasat, we have the opportunity to work with airline partners on the cutting edge of the aviation industry. Over the next few months, we will be catching up with inspiring leaders at many of our partner organizations and learning more about their approach to innovation in the aviation industry.

Stockholm-based SAS airlines is on a mission to deliver joyful and reliable services to Scandinavia’s frequent travelers. Head of Brand Experiences, Cecilie Svegaarden is taking an innovative approach to achieving this mission — looking beyond traditional passenger/airline interactions and instead delighting frequent travelers through one-of-a-kind, Scandinavian experiences.

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to connect with Cecilie, who shared with us her experience and perspective on innovation within the aviation industry:

Viasat: What is innovation to you?

Cecilie: In short, I would say improvements that create value, value to the end user or to the society at large. In previous years, a lot of groundbreaking innovation has gone toward getting people to spend their time on less meaningful content on powerful platforms. Innovation isn’t all about technology, but with the right use, technology can make improvements that actually matter to you, me, us and the world. That gives me a real kick!

Innovation can be as simple as getting organizations from vastly different markets together, each bringing their own unique way of looking at the collaboration and the case at hand. Sometimes this can bring a shift of paradigm.

What drives your passion for aviation?

Cecilie: Aviation for me is just as much about people meeting people and cultures as enabling infrastructure, business, export and import. Who has not returned from a trip with a broader mindset and better set of thoughts? At SAS, we have been part of enabling these journeys for over 70 years. Just imagine how many great meetings we have enabled because of aviation. We believe that travelers are the future, and that it has never been more important to exchange values, culture and innovation.

What does your airline do that makes you most proud?

Cecilie: Within my three years in SAS, our entire company has improved. We are adapting and testing new technology, and we dare to try and fail. Within the unit that I am a part of, Global Sales & Marketing, I experience that even the culture is changing. We are moving toward cross-functional work, which gives us new and broader perspectives.

It makes me proud to be a part of SAS when I see that we aim to take the position of being the leading force in combatting climate change within our industry. Our goal is to reduce CO2 emissions 25% by 2030. We have an ongoing collaboration with Airbus that revolves around the development and commercialization of electric aircrafts. SAS already has a reputable record of using biofuel, and we have started reducing weight on every flight trough pre-order meal and cutting tax free carts on board.

What are you most proud of personally?

Cecilie: I am proud of my team and the journey we have been through. When I first started in SAS, I got a mandate to create new value streams through one-of-a kind experiences. After just a couple of months, I was really frustrated. All the hard work didn’t pay off and I was struggling to see the scalability to the concept we started with.

We went through quite a few roller coasters and I had a short period of down time as I lost faith in the work we were doing. At that time my managers came to me saying: “We believe in you. We have an external office for you and a small budget, come back in three months with a strategy you believe in.”

Those three months are the most rememberable months of my career. We came back with three new strategies, including the concept called “House of Scandinavia” and a digital platform. All those initiatives are still growing and are now important initiatives within several strategies in SAS.

What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through driving innovation at SAS?

Cecilie: I find that coming up with new ideas and business areas is my strong suit, whereas patience is not. It has been a valuable lesson for me to see how a big and professional organization approaches change and new practice. I have gotten much insight through following the vetting and implementation of our ideas and initiatives and in the process seeing how many functions that are involved and how much groundwork that has to be done from drawing board to finished product.

How do you see the aviation industry evolving in the coming years?

Cecilie: I see aviation still being an important enabler for the world’s infrastructure. But at the same time, I think the competition will be even tighter and only the carriers with the best and sustainable business models will survive. And I can’t wait to see how the technology and innovation will change the way we travel. In SAS we strive to drive that change.

How does your role as innovator support the future of aviation?

Cecilie: In all areas within Brand Experience. With the digital platform, Travelers Gems, we want to inspire people to travel, but at the same time help them plan their travels better and make the most out of their journeys. Quality over quantity and making our customers time matter.

In a House of Scandinavia perspective, as the platform has become an important meeting and communication platform, we see the power when people from different sectors, industries, countries and cultures meet. Our vision for House of Scandinavia is to be Scandinavia’s most important, independent “hub” for corporates, innovation, culture, health and well-being. People need to meet to exchange values and competence all over the world. To have SAS in that context gives us impact on several levels.

What advice would you give to someone seeking your role?

Cecilie: Being able to understand the core business and respect the work that already has been done is a key for having people wanting to help and to be a part of it. Use the insight and experience, combine it with new thoughts and work towards connecting the dots. That will take you a long way. Be true to yourself, your colleagues and the company, and don’t be afraid to screw up. That will happen from time to time, the best way to gain respect and believe is by doing it better next time.

Isabella Lenhoff is a senior marketing specialist with the Viasat commercial aviation team.