I’m at São Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport to meet Claudia Sender, the CEO of Brazil’s main airline TAM. I’ve been looking forward to this meeting for a long time and am curious to learn more about this young woman who is a rapidly rising star in this very male-dominated industry.
I’ve done some background research on the way over here and have learnt that in 2012 Chile’s LAN and Brazil’s TAM Airlines started to merge into LATAM. A process that is still ongoing and definitely very complex, which can benefit a lot from good leadership.
Claudia has been the CEO of TAM for just over a year and I am very curious to hear how this high responsibility leadership role is working out for her.
Claudia has asked me to meet her in the airport Arrivals’ Hall. “This is my favourite place,” she says with a smile. “I like coming here to see our customers: some are coming home to be reunited with loved ones, others are excited to travel here for the first time and arrive in a new city.”
Tall and elegantly dressed, she exudes a sense of authority but also great warmth and calm.
As we stroll over to her offices, we talk about her job and I ask her about women in leadership roles. “You’re at the head of the largest airline in Latin America, and you’re the first woman to hold such a high-level position. How do see women leadership roles evolving in the coming years?”
“I believe women leadership is very important in today’s world,” says Claudia. “Women are more sensitive to cultural issues and pay more attention to the impact of their actions on their surroundings, both the people and the environment.
“Women are also more inclusive and this means that they are good at building strong teams and at getting the best out of people. The reason why some women don’t succeed in leadership roles is that they are trying to be a man. This is a mistake.”
“What characterizes your leadership style then?” I ask. “What are your ‘brand values’ so to speak?”
“That’s a good question,” says Claudia and thinks for a moment. “I think integrity is one of my most important values. This is something I learnt from my father and that is also very strongly related to my Jewish roots: my family fled Europe during WWII and they had to build everything up from scratch here in Brazil. All they had was their name and their good reputation.”
“In general I think my father was an important influence for me. ‘Never depend on anyone,’ he said. He also told me that if I worked hard, I’d do well. In a sense, he empowered me and broadened my perspective.
“That also taught me to value diversity. I believe it is a huge challenge to work in a diverse environment, but it also adds a great richness. It brings out the best in people and it makes us go forward.”
© 2014 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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