Spotlight revisited - Katie Bhreatnach

Spotlight revisited - Katie Bhreatnach

We followed up with the Group Head of Customer Management, Legal and Policy and Standards at Airways to find out how the past six weeks has impacted her personally and professionally.

Tēna koutou katoa

Ko tainui e ngati awa te iwi

Kei kaeo toku kainga ināianei

Ko roia no airways tāku mahi

Ko katie bhreatnach tōku ingoa 

Ngā mihi nui ki a koutou

How has your world changed professionally over the last month?

So called “black swan” events are the ones you don’t see coming. I doubt anyone (except perhaps Bill gates) predicted this pandemic, or comprehended its impact - not only for Airways, but for our customers, the wider aviation sector and economy, but also for each of us as individuals, and for our whanau and communities.  

The past month has been the most tumultuous in Airways history.  At the end of 2019 there were 25 passenger airlines operating in New Zealand. That has now reduced to only one – our national carrier Air New Zealand, currently operating at 98% reduced capacity.  We have had to undertake a significant cost out programme, cease all capital  programmes and make redundancies.  Our Board, executive team and wider senior leaders have all taken pay cuts. The aviation sector that will emerge out of the other side of this pandemic will be materially changed, and we need to make sure our business model is fit for purpose. This is an unprecedented time for the aviation sector as a whole and my mahi has been and will continue to be both challenging and rewarding.

How are you looking after your team and yourself?

I’m lucky to be part of a great team, and we all look after each other.

We have all had to completely transform the way we work.  None of us have ever experienced anything like this before, and we are all having to do it in less than ideal circumstances and at a time of stress and uncertainty. There is a vulnerability we all share in learning how to navigate this together. 

For me personally, my working from home situation includes home schooling three children and hosting my mother in law who was visiting from Ireland but is now separated from her partner and stranded with us for the foreseeable future.

I am getting to know my customers, colleagues and team in ways I had never expected, as we connect each day from our homes. Some hilarious events in the last 7 Covid years (as we have coined the slow moving time bubble we currently operate in) include a customer’s children rugby tackling him during a video conference, watching a colleague’s teenage twin boys visiting the fridge multiple times during a one hour call and devour impressive amounts of kai, and in one instance some background nudity!

My team are regularly connecting virtually, including for coffee each morning, and on Friday for a drink to celebrate the end of the week.   I also connect in with my executive leadership team almost daily, and the Board with much more regularity than pre-Covid.

I feel supported through that connection – some days are harder than others, but I am experiencing kindness, empathy and support.  We also laugh often and loudly.  That always helps.

How are you managing your personal life during the lockdown?

Outside of work I am observing great humanity and kindness. Free offers of professional help on linkedin. A letter from neighbours I’ve never met asking if I need help, or a chat. My neighbours sung my eldest daughter Anahera happy birthday from their deck for her 11th birthday. There is a palpable friendliness in people I pass walking who physically avoid me but want to make sure I understand it isn’t personal - they’re just committed to the stamp out covid 19 agenda. Among all of this is a sense of there being something that may fundamentally change us in ways that we don’t yet fully understand.  That’s exciting to me.

I’m focused on keeping my wairua strong  - it keeps me grounded in what is important and increases my capacity to manage through the inevitable challenges life presents. I believe that the answers to the challenges we face are around us and within us – so I keep my wairua strong by connecting with whenua by going for a walk, enjoying the noticeable increase in birdrong or spending time in the garden, connecting with whakapapa (I’ve been cooking (and eating) weaving, craft, making a puppet theatre and making music) connecting with whanau and connecting with my faith/spirituality– whether that’s through yoga, prayer or simply showing someone kindness.   

What are you optimistic about for the future?

I am optimistic about the future of aviation. Although it’s going to look and feel very different, it will still have a place. The sector has to completely transform itself, and we need to collaborate in order to do that effectively.  I am part of an amazing team that I have confidence in, to deliver a new business model and a way of working. I’m excited to be part of that. 

I am optimistic that this lockdown experience is one that we will take a lot from.  My team will come out of this experience feeling more connected and having achieved an enormous amount. There has been some discussion about how we might work and interact differently post Covid-19. We have also been talking about phasing back into our office work environments and out of our lockdown work settings, as we suspect it might be as big of a shock moving out of it as it was moving in to it.  

I’m optimistic about the impact this whole experience has had and can have on wider society . We have taken an approach under the leadership of our PM, that is about valuing our most vulnerable and at its core is about community mindedness, even where there is significant personal sacrifice.  That has enormous potential.

I’m optimistic about society valuing teachers more after home schooling! Starting right here: thank to all teachers everywhere.

I’m also optimistic that kiwis have the creativity and innovative mindset for recovery, and that there is a lot of opportunity in this crisis for us to harness as individuals, businesses and communities.

There’s a lot to be optimistic about really.  

He waka eke noa. Kia haumaru

We are all in this together. Stay safe.