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Leaders & Builders

They are a breed apart. Unique as individuals, yet united by uncommon ideals that see them consistently achieving growth and success through innovation.

Sizakele Mzimela

Acting CEO, SA Express

Sizakele has already enjoyed five senior executive roles in aviation, and is unquestionably one of the most experienced women in our industry anywhere on the planet.

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Calin Rovinescu

President & CEO, Air Canada

Calin Rovinescu is reinventing the corporate world with his very own brand of smart leadership. He often describes his role as not only being the CEO, but often “Chief Cheerleading Officer.

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Rickard Gustafson

CEO, Scandinavian Airlines

Rickard Gustafson is pushing Scandinavian Airlines to new heights in both service and efficiency as an innovative explorer of exciting possibilities and new frontiers.

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Wu Longjiang

President, China Express Airlines

Wu Longjiang admits that he is as much a big brother or teacher to his China Express “students” as he is a management leader.

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Sizakele Mzimela

Acting CEO, SA Express

Call it a sneak preview to destiny, but as a pre-teen girl, Sizakele Mzimela took a chance by entering a competition to win a flight from Swaziland to South Africa—and won. Today, as acting CEO of SA Express, Sizakele has already enjoyed five senior executive roles in aviation and is unquestionably one of the most experienced women in our industry, anywhere on the planet. Success, she believes, is only truly achieved when shared with those around you. And by this, she means with Africans everywhere.

  • 01

    First aviation job:

    Joined SAA in 1996 as a research analyst

  • 02

    Generally:

    THE FIRST ONE DANCING WHEN THE MUSIC STARTS PLAYING

  • 03

    Favourite role:

    BEING A MOTHER OF TWO AND A SISTER TO NINE

  • 04

    First:

    FEMALE BOARD MEMBER OF IATA IN ITS 70-YEAR HISTORY

  • 05

    Among her mottos:

    “IF YOU THINK YOU’RE TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE, YOU HAVEN’T SPENT A NIGHT WITH A MOSQUITO.”

  • 06

    Loves:

    JOHANNESBURG’S HIP WEEKEND STREET MARKETS

  • 07

    High on her hero list:

    MICHELLE OBAMA

  • 08

    Success is:

    MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN SOMEONE ELSE’S LIFE

South Africa

Sizakele Mzimela

Leading by example is far more than just a buzz phrase in Mzimela’s book. It’s an essential skill to be taught, learned and practised by everyone in her organization in order for her can-do mindset to permeate every aspect of SA Express. Words may be the essence of communication, but actions, as she reminds us, will always speak louder. “You yourself as a leader need to be at the front and to demonstrate what needs to be done.”

As a former CEO of national carrier South African Airways, first female member on IATA’s Board of Governors and one of the founders of the first majority female-owned commercial airline in South Africa, Sizakele Mzimela is no stranger to either major challenges or breaking new ground. So putting SA Express on the path to new growth as a second-market connector would seem to be well within her capabilities. Sizakele’s leadership style fits well with the SA Express culture, a company with a no-limits attitude and approach to helping employees rise through its ranks. Here, male and female cadets can become pilots, a cleaning crew member might become a qualified engineer, and a tea-lady can rise to a team leader in HR. Mzimela knows it’s not just about seeing opportunity but seizing it, and strives to see that those around her do both. “I think that's the thing that's special about female leaders; we tend to want to take people along with us, because it's just our nature.”

Seemingly undaunted by the magnitude of anything she has faced to date or the tasks ahead, Sizakele Mzimela insightfully puts it all in perspective: “Yes, you will come across challenges, but that’s the beauty of it. The challenges are there to actually teach you a little bit more, and prepare you for the next stage in life.”

Calin Rovinescu

President & CEO, Air Canada

Disarmingly approachable and quick-witted, Calin Rovinescu, the award-winning head of Air Canada, has climbed to great heights. Literally. Mount Kilimanjaro, among others. As to scaling summits in the corporate world, his brand of smart leadership involves listening to and empowering those around him so that they become great leaders in their turn. He often describes his role as not only being the CEO, but often “Chief Cheerleading Officer.” Cheers to that.

  • 01

    Hobbies:

    Began climbing mountains in 1993

  • 02

    Greatly admires:

    Seeing our crews continuing to do their best in 40 below zero weather

  • 03

    Last major climb:

    Mount Rainier

  • 04

    Favorite thing about Air Canada:

    The enthusiasm and energy of its employees

  • 05

    Great pride:

    Seeing our stock price perform amongst the best in the country last year

  • 06

    On retiring:

    Plans to write a book entitled "Letters and emails to an airline CEO"

  • 07

    He's also:

    Currently chancellor of the university of Ottawa

  • 08

    Best cardio workout:

    Several trips up and down mount Royal's 260 steps in Montreal

Canada

Calin Rovinescu

Arriving in Canada as a five-year-old immigrant who spoke neither of the country’s official languages, Calin Rovinescu initially rose to become the managing partner of one of Canada’s largest law firms before overseeing Air Canada’s restructuring, and eventually being named its President and CEO. He has definite ideas about what constitutes “smart leadership.” Rovinescu’s childhood experience has influenced much of his thinking in his professional life. As he puts it, “Immigrants are fundamentally insecure because they don’t know where their next dollar is coming from. But they’re also very confident because they’ve had the courage to leave their homeland to start a new life in a new country. And it’s the combination of these two qualities that gives them their drive and their desire to achieve more.”

After an outstanding legal career, he moved to Air Canada at a time when the airline was beset with a host of problems and supervised its successful restructuring in 2004. His return to Air Canada in 2009 as President and CEO marked the start of a new era for the country’s first carrier—one in which he’s overseen the company’s rise to recognition as one of the finest airlines in the world. He intends to ensure this trend continues with the objective of being “Top 10 in everything we do around the world.”

And what are the keys to “smart leadership”? Principally, for Calin Rovinescu, the ability to listen to, encourage and empower those around him to become great leaders on their own. “We’ve fostered a number of leaders here,” he says, “who will make the future very promising for Air Canada long after I’m gone.” He sometimes thinks that his real role is not so much that of CEO as it is “Chief Cheerleading Officer.” One more “smart” observation.

Rickard Gustafson

CEO, Scandinavian Airlines

If asked about his heroes, Rickard Gustafson would likely cite the SAS crews that pioneered commercial aviation’s first polar routes in the ’50s. These men and women were armed and trained for the “unlikely event” of a polar bear encounter. Possessing that same adventurous spirit that’s so much a part of every Scandinavian’s DNA, he’s pushing SAS to new heights in both service and efficiency as an innovative explorer of exciting possibilities and new frontiers.

  • 01

    In his downtime:

    Enjoys running, skiing, skating

  • 02

    Favourite little-known fact about Stockholm:

    The more than 20,000 islands just outside of the city

  • 03

    On the CRJ Series:

    '... Fits perfectly well with our strategic intent... the perfect aircraft to complement and fulfill that need.'

  • 04

    Favourite foreign city:

    San Francisco

  • 05

    Simple pleasure:

    Half an hour in the forest

  • 06

    First leadership role:

    Camp counsellor as a 15 year-old

  • 07

    Nature:

    Something we can't be without

  • 08

    Favourtie Sweedish icon:

    BJÖRN BORG,
    TENNIS PLAYER

Sweden

Rickard Gustafson

CEO Rickard Gustafson knows that savvy marketing, whether to passengers or stakeholders, is only ever as successful as the fulfilment of its promise. “I think the next generation of passengers and colleagues expects that we build business models that are futureproof,” he says, alluding to the sustainability, both economic and environmental, that is part of his mission and a regional obsession.

The success of this 71-year-young airline is deeply rooted in its pioneering heritage, newly inspired under this leader’s keen supervision. Among its top assets is an unparalleled ability to innovate, spearheaded by the SAS Lab and enthusiastically supported by Gustafson. Countless breakthroughs have first seen the light of day here: the e-ticket, radical new uses of social media, and now, the exploration of chip implants—possibly the next big thing in passenger convenience. “Leaders foster innovation by creating environments for ideas,” Gustafson reminds us.

Ask him about heroes and Rickard Gustafson still names the SAS crews that established Europe’s first polar routes to California in the 1950s. These men and women were armed and trained to protect their Hollywood movie-star passengers in the “unlikely event” of a polar bear encounter. Outside of the rigours of maintaining an airline, Gustafson works up a sweat by running in the woods or sharing fitness workouts with his wife. Possessing the adventurer spirit that’s so much a part of every Scandinavian, he’s a future-minded explorer of possibilities, leading SAS to unprecedented heights in truly Nordic style.

Wu Longjiang

President, China Express Airlines

President Wu Longjiang admits that he is as much a “big brother” or teacher to his China Express “students” as he is a management leader, and with good reason. As China’s first private regional airline, their learning curve and the airline’s innovative regional business model are showing the way for aviation growth nationwide. With the Chinese people’s passion for travel and their rapidly rising purchasing power, Wu sees the true magnitude of the opportunity. And his impassioned “student body” of employees shares that vision.

  • 01

    First flight:

    In a helicopter aged 15

  • 02

    Favourite spot in China:

    Napahai in Yunnan, where it feels like a paradise on earth

  • 03

    Favourite activity:

    Mountain climbing, for its physical and mental rewards

  • 04

    Chongqing must-see:

    Chongqing tree house with a superb view of the city

  • 05

    First piloting experience:

    30 minutes in a light plane over Montreal

  • 06

    Top view elsewhere:

    On a swiss mountain road watching hot-air balloons

  • 07

    More regularly:

    Walks 10,000 steps a day

  • 08

    On the CRJ900:

    Great operating costs; great feelings from passengers after the ride

China

Wu Longjiang

There’s something distinctly professorial about China Express President Wu Longjiang. A man who seems to balance the roles of leader and industry educator more capably than most. The head of China’s first private regional airline first believes that each member of the company needs to know “the organization’s organized mission,” adding, “I think this is the best way to stimulate passion.” Wu’s mission, and that of his young regional airline, has recently changed. No longer focused solely on growth by providing “small-to-big” connectivity to second-, third- and fourth-tier communities. Now China Express is intent on inviting major city dwellers to explore more of China’s regional wonders, cultural splendours and lifestyle opportunities. And with an eye on providing extended services to more of these experiences.

With over 100 routes established in 12 short years, Wu Longjiang and China Express are now charting new territory by leading the way in the end-to-end customer experience too. From a foundation of easy, worryfree booking, the airline’s vision now includes pre-flight passenger interactivity, and inflight Wi-Fi connectivity, both innovatively bonding the customer community. “The improvement of user value through innovation,” in Wu’s own words.

Wu Longjiang’s passion for flight has carried him a long way since he first took the controls of a small plane while studying in Montreal, Canada. “The inspiration to always go further comes from everywhere … our location, our environment, each other,” claims Wu, “but the young are eclectic … I gain a lot of inspiration from young people.” Still, the idea of this airline as a higherlearning institution persists. “You enter China Express … we create the very broadest sky for you in our field, give you fertile soil.” Wu’s empowering metaphor continues, “We let you be the master, become a dragon, and take off.” And it would seem that in this context, like most others, Wu Longjiang is very much leading by example.