For Laura Macutkevič, Vice President, People and Culture with the Avia Solutions Group subsidiary, Avion Express, her first flying experience as an adult was the beginning of a love affair with aviation that endures to this day.
At the age of 20, and as a student of tourism, her spark for aviation was ignited on a flight to Cyprus where she would spend the next six months as an intern in the hotel and hospitality industry. Remembering that first flight, Laura recalls being, “So impressed by the whole infrastructure at the airport, the aeroplane, cabin crew, their job, the pilots talking over the intercom, and somehow, the whole experience really caught my attention.” But, that’s usually how love at first sight works.
After she had completed her studies, her attraction towards the aviation industry remained intact. In 2006, Laura noticed that the company Air Baltic was actively recruiting new employees. Having been successful in her application, Laura began her new career journey where she worked in the customer care sector, a position that further attracted her to the industry.
Unfortunately, after several years, the company moved its operations from Vilnius to Riga and for Laura it was time, once again, to change course. Laura spent the next couple of years travelling and exploring the world, working at different jobs and filling her mind with new experiences, until in her own words, “it was time to change my nomadic lifestyle”.
She returned to Vilnius and continued her studies with a Master’s Degree in Human Resources. At the same time, in 2011, Laura applied for a job with Avion Express which was still in its infancy and had only a handful of employees. Recounting those early days, Laura remembers that there were only 15 employees, and everyone was expected to pitch in and do whatever was necessary to help the company grow.
10 and half years later, Laura wears the title of Vice President, People and Culture that she believes to be a more holistic and all-encompassing name for human resources. She describes the role in the following manner, “To put it simply, I am responsible for almost everything related to people. In our department, we are responsible for establishing a good working environment, so that people will feel motivated, loyal, happy, and engaged, while giving them the tools and the processes to do their job well. My work is constant communication with people, but, just like a regular human resources department we are also responsible for talent acquisition, recruitment benefits, compensation, performance management, culture, and other standard employee interactions, all under a different banner.”
From humble beginnings, Laura’s team now number 12 individuals and has recently doubled in size, while the original company employee numbers have grown from 15 to over 150, with plans for further massive expansion with up to 500-600 employees in the next 3 to 5 years. Laura is also responsible for around 160 Flight Crew and more than 350 Cabin Crew members, with plans to expand to around 300 and 600 respectively, for the high season of 2022.
When asked what are the qualities needed for women to be successful in the industry, she was quick to reply, “There are general qualities that are needed to be successful, qualities like flexibility, the ability to react fast, the ability to react to any changes, these are the general qualities needed to succeed for both women and men. However, in my opinion, women tend to show more empathy, especially when we are talking about collaboration with other people. You need to have a natural care for people and to show them that they are important. But I’m not saying that only women have these qualities, there are also many men capable of displaying empathy.”
It is quite obvious that Laura has vast reserves of empathy as she openly admits her love for people and her interaction with them. Laura cares greatly for people which gives her a major advantage in her role as Vice President, People and Culture. “These particular characteristics have helped me, personally, in my career,” she says.
Laura is also quick to point out that she has never experienced discrimination due to her gender in her long journey through the aviation industry. Her position as head of people and culture in a massively expanding business stands as a testament to this. Speaking directly about her own company, Avion Express, Laura says, “We don’t have any discrimination or separation whether you are a man or a woman. We have management who are men, and management who are women and in areas of employment that were historically regarded as being male-dominated or female-dominated that is definitely changing.”
For Laura, the main attraction of the aviation industry is its rapidly-changing environment. “One day you are working in a certain manner and then something changes, new regulations, a pandemic, war, and everyone has to adapt instantly,” she says. “I think the reason is that aviation is such a global industry with so many regulations and restrictions and things can change in just a moment. The aviation industry is so exciting, never boring, and you never have the same routine two days in a row. I think that it’s this fast-paced environment, dominated by change, that keeps the attraction alive for me.
Regarding her future in aviation, and with Avion Express, Laura says that she tends not to think too far into the future, instead, she keeps her focus fixed firmly on this year and maybe next year. “At present,” she says, “I have this huge challenge to help the company grow. My goal is to be here for my company to help it to grow, to help it to develop and to help it to be even more successful.” She adds, “On a personal level, I would like to study psychology. I think that it could help me to be better in my position and I hope I can start this later in the year.”
Laura is a prime example of a woman who successfully navigated the skies of aviation and has made it her home. Her passion and commitment are obvious to anyone who meets her, and her journey has been nothing short of inspirational to other women in the aviation industry.