Viasat CFO Shawn Duffy leads panel on women in leadership at aviation conference

Innovation a major topic of discussion at APEX 2019 panel in Los Angeles


Women Leaders in Aviation, APEX 2019 Panel, Los Angeles

Each year, the APEX conference provides a platform for airlines and partners to come together to discuss new innovations, award outstanding service, and explore the future of aviation. For the 2019 event, Viasat wanted to start a different conversation.

At Viasat, we believe the contributions of women in leadership are an integral part of an organization’s success, both in aviation, tech, and beyond. Earlier this year, Viasat approached APEX with the idea to bring women leaders to the forefront during the APEX conference to have a candid conversation about their experience in leadership within the aviation industry.

Over the next several months, our teams worked in partnership to develop a program that would bring together women leaders from across the aviation industry. The result was the first APEX Women Leaders in Aviation Luncheon.

Shawn Duffy, Viasat Senior Vice President and CFO, was a natural fit to lead the event. She opened the event’s panel discussion by sharing her own driving passion for innovation.

“I have to tell you, I was pretty excited to be a part of today’s event alongside this fantastic panel,” Duffy said. “Innovation and taking on hard problems is a bit in my DNA at heart, which is probably why I was so drawn to this industry nearly 15 years ago. At Viasat, we have made a habit of taking what is believed to be impossible and making it possible.”

Joining Duffy on stage were JetBlue Airways Director - Product Development, Mariya Stoyanova; LATAM Brasil CEO Emeritus Claudia Sender; Oman Air SVP - Guest Experience and Branding Xia Cai; and Etihad Airways Vice President - Guest Services and Delivery, Linda Celestino.

The inaugural panel was an event to remember and had major takeaways for leaders of every kind. Panelists focused on what leadership meant to them, and what challenges they face as leaders in their respective roles. Key themes included the Four C’s of leadership, innovation and empowering fearless leadership and what it takes to be a successful leader.

Key leadership qualities

Throughout the course of the discussion, our panelists talked about key leadership qualities, unanimously agreeing that the Four C’s — confidence, competence, collaboration, and credibility — are key pillars of successful leaders.

Claudia Sender briefly described some of the pillars this way: “Leadership requires competence and the ability to build trust. … Collaboration is also important: You need to be able to collaborate across organizational silos to deliver an optimal customer experience. We need the ability to navigate complicated organizational relationships and holistically collaborate so we can move fast enough with the industry.”

Driving innovation

All four leaders also discussed how keeping innovation at the forefront of leadership decisions produces successful products. JetBlue’s Stoyanova described the focus on creating innovative passenger experiences, challenging the status quo and anticipating customer needs — ideas that were top-of-mind for most.

Xia Cai of Oman Air brought an interesting point of view to the table with her innovative behind-the-scenes outlook: “We have to look at our back-end process and change how we practice innovation behind the scenes to efficiently save costs. It’s how you practice and how you develop products.”

Empowering fearless leadership

The 600+ luncheon attendees heard from panelists that successful leadership requires limitless passion, pushing boundaries and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. They also discussed the importance of building a culture of fearless leadership within their teams. Sender, of LATAM, said: “They want to see you fail and get back up, so they have permission to fail and learn themselves.”

Linda Celestino with Etihad Air summarized empowering fearless leadership saying: “You have to be fearless, create the space to make mistakes and know how to pick up and keep running.”

APEX attendees walked away knowing what an innovator looks like, how these leaders are driving innovation and the importance of empowering fearless leadership across their organization. Attendees learned about the incredible contributions these women leaders are making to the aviation community, but we believe this is just the start of the conversation.

We’ll continue to highlight incredible innovators from across the aviation industry who embody the “Four C’s” of leadership and are passionately driving innovation at their organizations.

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