Author Archives: Malcolm Sheil

“The Power of Diversity”: 3 Takeaways from the SMF’s Leadership Perspective Series

Last night was the concluding conference of this years Leadership Perspective Series, organised by Trinity’s own Student Managed Fund, the first of its kind in Europe. The speakers invited to this conference were, for a lack of a different expression, very diverse. Declan Curry, a Northern Irish journalist, moderated the discussion between panelists Heather Melville (Director and Head of Client Experience for PwC UK), Brian O’Sullivan (CEO of Fulfil Nutrition), Cecil Martin (Sky Sports Broadcaster, Motivational Speaker and Former NFL Fullback) and Amanda Pullinger (CEO of 100 Women in Finance). Between the many questions asked by audience members and the former NFL player Cecil Martin asking everyone to stand up and stretch, the conference was an incredibly insightful experience into how leaders look at diversity and how they have been affected by it.

1. Diversity of Thought

This was probably the most talked about topic of the night. Each speaker offered a unique perspective into what they believed was the most vital type of diversity: thought. Overall, the panelists agreed that diversity of thought implies the breaking of the fundamental barrier of following the easiest path and rejecting challenges to one’s own ideas. O’Sullivan mentioned that at the start of his time with Fulfil Nutrition, he noticed the company had, unlike industry giants with very rigid structures, a culture that incentivised openness to learning and challenging ideas, which in turn led to the creation of an extremely diverse team. Cecil Martin also added to this in that his recommendation was to ‘strengthen as many “muscles” as you can’, in the sense that one should be involved in as many things outside their own skillset as possible. In other words, in order to grow as a leader within business, one needs to grow in other areas which will then feed unique ideas into an organisation. Pullinger approached this idea by accepting that as leaders, business people need to acknowledge the fact they don’t know everything, and that for a team to be successful, being diverse in terms of age, gender and specially ethnicity is essential, as research has already shown.

2. The Power of Visibility

During the discussion, it was stressed how important it is to have role models, who give visibility to minorities across a range of senior positions. Melville mentioned how not being able to see people like yourself in these positions makes it almost impossible to see yourself up there, and that the path you would need to take is practically invisible. Organisations should be, in theory, fishing in diverse talent pools for new positions but directorial boards of most large corporations still tell a story of inequality that is becoming less and less antiquated as new generations enter the workforce demanding diversity as a basic pillar of organisational culture. Pullinger’s 100 Women in Finance launched an initiative to put some of the world’s very few fund managers, who make up for an alarmingly small proportion of total fund managers across the world (around 7% and numbers haven’t changed much for 30 years), in the frontline of the media, in their website and even supporting a handful of these fund managers to pitch at American news channels. Pullinger said that the results were clear from the get-go: the women brought diversity to these panels on television, and with that came new ideas and discussions. Being exposed to the general public allows these women to become role-models, and inspire a younger generation of soon-to-be female leaders.

3. Authenticity

Another recurring theme throughout the night was authenticity. The panelists agreed that believing in oneself and being confident in the skills one acquired during college and with extracurricular activities are what can set apart a successful candidate when it comes to job hunting. The best talent comes in the form of diverse candidates that have been able to gather skills in a wide range of specialties, which makes them able to reach a level of problem solving that will be hard to replace with AI. Furthermore, Melville commented that knowing one’s self-worth is extremely important as you rise through the ranks of the organisation. It’s important to be grateful , she says, but it’s even more important to know that you’ve worked hard and that you deserve to be where you are and that it was your skills and competence that are leading you through the corporate ladder. This becomes especially relevant when the discussion turns to diversity policies and quotas that may not necessarily pick candidates based on their skills, but rather as a tool for image improvement.

Finally, it appears that organisations have realised that diversity is something that has to be rooted in their cultures for them to remain relevant for the generations to come, which will continue to demand more diversity at the bottom as well as at the highest ranks. Without this diversity, any company will face the risk of becoming obsolete and inefficient when compared to those who have truly embraced it. These will be the companies that will head into the future with an enormous advantage, as their leaders finally begin to realise the power of diversity.

Brace for Impact: The A380’s Crash Landing into Failure

In May of this year the first A380 was delivered to the Japanese carrier ANA, though it was a first for the airline, it was one of the last for Airbus since it had announced just 3 months earlier that it would finally stop the production of the A380 by 2021, citing insufficient demand as the main reason. The history of the airliner is riddled with environmental, political and financial issues that led the A380 to become not only the biggest plane ever, but also the biggest commercial failure the aviation industry has ever seen.

Airbus vs Boeing

Before the turn of the century, two decades after the launch of the 747 ‘Queen of the Skies’ (also known as the Jumbo Jet), Boeing had already begun to realise that airlines were less and less interested in very large aircraft, be it for increasing fuel prices or changes in consumer behaviour. Instead of launching yet another variation of the jet, it chose to invest on developing new, smaller aircraft like the 777 and most recently, the 787. Meanwhile in Europe, Airbus had finally drawn up the courage to start developing an aircraft larger than the 747. Since the other two major aircraft manufacturers, Lockheed Martin and McDonnell Douglas, were finally out of the picture, Airbus saw this as a window to compete directly with Boeing for the large aircraft market, or so they thought. Boeing had been aware since the early 90’s that it was impossible to find the demand for a superjumbo in the near future, and it voiced its concerns loud and clearly when Airbus approached them with the offer of a jointly-produced superjumbo. It seems, however, that Airbus was reluctant to listen to Boeing it decided to carry on with the project, solo. Though sometimes it might not be in a company’s best interest to listen to their competitor, Airbus completely disregarded the warning Boeing had sent them.

Putting All Their Eggs in One Basket

In recent years, the A380 has basically become a synonym for Emirates, its largest operator. Which is why when Emirates cut their order for the superjumbo by over 50 aircraft, the end of the A380 was inevitable. The Dubai-based airline turned the A380 into a product of luxury, decadence and excessiveness. Their superjumbos have showers, lounges and many other features that other airlines would never even dream of having on board. Because of this, it was no surprise that Emirates was one of the main reasons why other airlines decided to stay away from the A380. Though most American airlines had never actually considered buying the aircraft due to its oversized operating costs, it turns out that some of them could not compete with the over-the-top-ness of Emirates. In fact, research found that most consumers now connect the A380 to Emirates, which in turn means on-board showers and other luxuries. According to the CEO of American Airlines, these types of features are only economically viable in companies that are largely state funded, much like Emirates and its compatriot Etihad. So, for most American and European airlines, the A380 would mean disappointing consumers whose expectations would have been way too high. Regardless of the branding disaster Airbus found itself in by relying so heavily on Emirates, the fact of the matter is that no company should ever put all their hopes on just one client.

Confusing Grandioseness with Success

Airbus had it wrong from the beginning, the A380 was already shaping up to be one of the costliest projects in the history of aviation, with development costs soaring above $25 billion American dollars. The airliner has a listing price of around $400 million dollars per unit, but it has been reported that Airbus was so desperate to sell the plane that most sales went for under $200 million dollars. The A380 doesn’t fare well in terms of operating costs either, the four-engine behemoth spends about $30,000 on fuel for every hour while flying, whereas Boeing’s newly-designed 787 spends just under $15,000 dollars of fuel per hour. The idea of having 800 seats to fill also sounds daunting for most airlines who prefer to play it safe and use aircraft like the 777 with seating capacities of around 200 to 300 passengers. In commercial terms, the A380 makes zero sense: its breakeven point is way too high; it costs too much to operate and it’s just way too big.

However, the politics behind the A380 are almost too good to be true. Even though Airbus is a European company, with CEO’s from different countries alternating in order to guarantee fairness, there were some goals they all followed, independent of their nationality. The A380 was conceived at the height of the technological race of the early 2000’s, meaning national parties were keen on using the A380 as a way to keep Europeans neck-to-neck with Americans engineers. It also meant that, in France, thousands of skilled workers would be employed for decades as the project developed from concept to reality. At the end of the day, the plan worked: the A380 became a symbol of technological advancement and was a huge engineering feat, while also employing more than 5000 people over the course of the years.

The politics behind the A380 basically blinded Airbus executives to the huge red flags that were coming up everywhere, in order to benefit the parties in power at the time. Left to scramble with the failure the A380 has become, Airbus has hopefully learned that political greatness is not necessarily a synonym for profitable success.