Board and CEO Advisory Partners

Leadership for Success—Commercial Aviation

New Leaders for New Challenges

The commercial aviation sector has been in a period of significant upheaval for the last few years. Airlines are fighting to maintain profitability and must continue to focus on achieving further cost reductions and higher levels of operational excellence in an era of dramatically rising fuel costs and increased competition from low-cost carriers from the Middle East and elsewhere. The consolidation which has ensued means that simply running a business is not enough; CEOs and boards must decide which role within the landscape the firm is to adopt: acquirer, target or partner? Manufacturing is undergoing its own transformation, as firms in emerging markets are preparing to enter an industry that has long been dominated by a few major players in Europe and the United States. This increased competition will force existing manufacturers to become more focused on managing quality and increasing innovation through greater technology transfer and strong leadership. Commensurately, infrastructure companies are feeling the pressure to optimize returns in the face of greater interest from private equity firms.

Succeeding amidst these forces requires aviation executives to have an array of competencies. Best-in-class leaders must be able to look past the industry and draw upon ideas from retail, technology and elsewhere to develop and execute new, revolutionary business models. Others on the senior team must be able to manage costs through efficiency and complex instruments, such as hedged purchasing agreements, instill a greater differentiation within the market and manage relationships with investors.

Executives that meet these criteria are in predictably short supply. Forward-thinking commercial aviation companies are adopting a competency-based approach to identifying senior leaders, allowing them to cast a wider net and target top-tier executives from other capital-intensive industries, such as automotive, energy and utilities, who have successfully grappled with issues such as significant raw material price increases and pressures brought from heightened environmental awareness.


Finding the Right Aviation leader

Russell Reynolds Associates has a core team focused specifically on commercial aviation. As part of the Aviation, Aerospace and Defense Sector, the Commercial Aviation team works with airlines, manufacturers, airports, aircraft financing and leasing firms and industry suppliers to help them identify, assess and retain the right executives for the challenges they face.

Peer-Level Executive Experience

Many of the members of the Commercial Aviation team are former senior commercial aviation executives themselves, who have faced the same business issues as our clients in operations, business development, strategy, sales and finance. This peer-level experience allows us to work with our clients in a truly consultative manner in defining their current and future talent needs and then in representing them in the highly competitive talent market though our extensive professional networks.

Board Services: Making the Board a Truly Strategic Resource

In the age of greater shareholder expectations and a greater awareness of regulatory issues, board member searches carry heightened importance and sensitivity. The Commercial Aviation team can call upon the firm’s Board Services Practice and its dedicated resources to help companies recruit the board members who advise them. In its board searches, the engagement team works closely with the nominating committee to identify the experience and competencies needed to make the board a truly strategic resource to the CEO and then identifies and recruits candidates from its global, cross-industry network.

Our Track Record

Russell Reynolds Associates’ Aviation, Aerospace and Defense Practice has helped airlines, airports, manufacturers, leasing and financing companies, government agencies and service providers to identify and recruit executives at all levels, including board members, CEOs, C-suite officers and business unit leaders across functions.

A representative sample of successful commercial aviation assignments includes:

  • Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for a major U.S. airline with more than $16 billion in annual revenue, 80,000 employees and more than 540 aircraft
  • Chief Executive Officer for a leading European airline handling over 10 million passengers per year
  • Chief Financial Officer for a recently established Middle/Near East aviation provider with substantial local government and private sector backing
  • Management Board Member, Operations for a leading European airline serving over 10 million passengers per year
  • Board Chairman for a civilian aviation authority with a budget in excess of €500 million
  • Chief Commercial Officer for a top-five global aircraft leasing company
  • Division Director, Cargo for an airport service company handling 70,000 aircraft, 140,000 tons of cargo and 10 million passengers per year
  • Chief Technical Officer for an international airline serving over 70 destinations
  • Chief Investment Officer for a top-five global aircraft leasing company
  • Managing Director for a newly established aircraft financing company managing private equity funds and direct investment in new aircraft projects
  • General Manager for a top-five producer of cabin interiors for commercial aircraft and business jets
  • Managing Director of a fast-growing Central European airport
  • Chief Executive Officer of an aircraft component manufacturer
  • Vice President, Non-Aviation for a major European hub airport

Leveraging Our Cross-Sector, Cross-Border Capabilities

Russell Reynolds Associates is able to assemble engagement teams from industry and functional practices that work across sectors and regions in 39 offices around the world. The Commercial Aviation team can draw upon the expertise of not only the Aviation, Aerospace and Defense Practice, but also, for example, the firm’s Technology Sector and its CEO/Board Services, Corporate Officers, Retail and Real Estate Practices, which each bring their own resources, contacts, and experience to bear in fulfilling the assignment. Individual team members might be based in Hamburg, Los Angeles, Sydney and Washington, D.C., but we work as an integrated, global unit. This allowed us to recruit, for example, a U.S.-based CIO from the investment banking sector to join a major European aircraft leasing company, and to find a Director of Real Estate from the leisure sector for a major European Airport System.

Executive Assessment: A Powerful Method for Developing and Retaining Commercial Aviation Leaders

The changing capabilities profile of the best-in-class commercial aviation executive means that more CEOs and boards are seeking an empirical measure of performance referenced to the talent marketplace. To provide boards of directors and CEOs with a clearer sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their senior executives, Russell Reynolds Associates offers complete, customized Executive Assessment services. Our approach, which combines a rigorous assessment methodology with deep industry-specific expertise, includes competency interviews, psychometrics, organizational culture assessments and referencing to create a complete picture of executive competencies and development opportunities.

Our Process

While every search is tailored to meet our clients’ unique timeline and decision-making requirements, we work within an overarching structure that ensures candidate quality and provides the foundation for an orderly, timely and successful outcome.

  • Organizational review—We begin with a thorough review of the context of the search, the expectations of the search committee and other key constituents, the strategic goals of the organization, the competitive landscape and the other factors that define the environment. Position specification and qualification matrix—Our findings are distilled into a document specifying the position’s responsibilities in detail as well as the corresponding qualification matrix, that serves as a benchmark against which potential candidates are measured.
  • Research and candidate identification and screening—Drawing upon our extensive confidential database and broad network of contacts across a range of industries, we develop a list of qualified, viable candidates.
  • Candidate evaluation and selection—We then conduct competency-based interviews of selected candidates, focusing on the competencies outlined in the position specification. This process can also be augmented by psychological testing and in-depth behavioral interviews conducted by our assessment specialists.
  • Referencing—As priority candidates are identified, we begin an extensive referencing process. As a final candidate emerges, we expand our contacts to a full slate of supervisors, peers and subordinates qualified to provide meaningful, confidential insights, which are gathered into a report.
  • Negotiation—We then work with you on the structure of a compensation package calculated to attract the finalist. We can also serve as an intermediary to resolve differences or details in order to successfully complete the negotiation.
  • Follow-up and succession planning—After an offer is accepted, we follow up regularly with your organization and the candidate to ensure that expectations on both sides are being met. We are also available for executive assessment and development services to assist in galvanizing the team for future success.


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Leadership for Success—Commercial Aviation