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From finance through to aviation: Eleni Kaloyirou’s journey to CEO

International Airport Review’s Editor, Tara Nolan, explored the career path of Hermes Airports Ltd.’s CEO, investigating her time as a female in aviation, and her perception of the industry now.

finance through to aviation

After working for Hermes Airports Ltd – operator of both Larnaka International Airport and Pafos International Airport – since 2014, Eleni Kaloyirou believes the key to success as an airport CEO is to create an environment of trust. Deeming the aviation industry “fascinating, with many facets”, Kaloyirou details how she got to where she is now.

How did you make the transition from finance to becoming CEO of Hermes Airports?

At first, I studied economics at Cambridge University, then qualified as a chartered accountant, working for KPMG in London, where I became a banking specialist. When I returned to Cyprus, the national carrier Cyprus Airways was looking for a financial controller with banking experience to handle bank relationships and set up a treasury department. This was my first role within aviation.

Progressing on from this I became CFO, and then Deputy CEO. I worked at Cyprus Airways for 20 years but then left to take up a position in a property development company. Here I stayed for three years, but I missed the aviation industry. So, when an opportunity arose with Hermes Airports – once again in the finance department – I joined as Executive Manager Business Control. From here again I became CFO, and then CEO. From finance through to aviation!

What does the role of CEO Hermes Airports entail? What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

Being a CEO is all about leading a team of people who are confident in what they do, so the important thing is to create an environment of trust, where everybody can work together and produce the best possible results.

When I became CEO, we updated our vision, our mission and our strategic priorities as a company. We have a five-year strategic plan, which we are implementing to achieve our vision. So, my day-to-day agenda involves meetings with many people either internally to discuss how to advance our strategic priorities or with our stakeholders, also with a view to creating a common understanding of our strategy and finding ways to take this forward together. Stakeholders would include airlines, tourism-related companies and organisations, associates working within the airport community for example in ground handling or in security and business partners managing the non-aeronautical aspects of the airports, such as duty free and retail sales as well as the food and beverage outlets. I make it a point to walk around the airports as often as I can to have a first-hand experience of what goes on. This is what my day usually looks like.

Within the aviation industry workforce do you see a gender imbalance?

In our airports, not so much. I don’t believe aviation is worse than other sectors in this respect. On the contrary, we have a fairly good balance.

Even though most of our staff work on a shift basis, which means that they have to work nights and weekends, we have a workforce of approximately 43 per cent women.

In our top management team, four out of 12 are women, which again I consider to be better than the average.

Do you think it’s important to create a diverse and inclusive workforce?

I think diversity is very important because everybody has something different to offer; a different perspective. Everyone should be equally represented, and to me it doesn’t make a difference if somebody is male or female, it is the person that matters and what they can offer. When we are recruiting or interviewing, or when we assign a project to someone, we at Hermes Airports focus on the right qualifications and the best profile for the job.

Have you ever encountered any challenges in terms of being a female CEO in the aviation industry?

When I first joined Cyprus Airways, some 28 years ago, maybe there was a slight bias towards women. However, I was still hired into a managerial position – so they were open-minded enough to do this! In my career since then, I don’t feel like I was disadvantaged for being a woman.

Of course, you have to prove yourself, so you have to work hard to show you are at least as good as everyone else.

Do you think the aviation industry could do anything to make itself more attractive to women?

Nowadays, I don’t think anybody sets off with a bias. I don’t believe that when people are hiring or promoting, they stop to think man or woman? I think the reasons that less women are found in higher positions are more practical than conceptual.

When an individual starts a family, they have to consider if they want to stay at home and raise the children, or if they want to go back to work. This is especially the case if no support system exists, i.e. grandparents who are able to help or all-day care centres who can look after the children while the parents are at work. As things stand today, it is more often the women who choose to stay home, or go part time, or reduce their time at work, and this is what is preventing women from reaching higher positions in their companies even at a later stage in their careers.

To help women manage this, we must create a system where they can both be there for the family and work. We can solve this by promoting the notion that yes you can have a family, you can have a healthy amount of time with your family, whilst at the same time continuing to work full time. This is what we must advance as a standard in order to ensure that women are equally represented both in the workforce and in the higher levels of management.

One thing that is good about Cyprus being a small country is that most people have a support system, so maybe they have parents that are retired who are quite keen to look after their grandchildren. I think this may be one of the reasons why in our airports we have succeeded in securing a high proportion of women in our workforce.

What advice would you give to women considering aviation as a career?

For me aviation is fascinating, I think it’s a world that has many facets. You work closely with people and it’s very interesting.

It is a real privilege to work in aviation because what we do affects so many people’s lives, both directly by making a difference to the way people travel and also indirectly by creating jobs and supporting our communities. It is a great feeling to make someone’s life happier and easier, and this is what we do, this is what all airports are about. Working in this industry, you can contribute to and impact other people’s lives and you can make a difference.

I’m sure that the people you will meet in this industry will be very interesting and the environment is constantly changing, so there are challenges all the time. I encourage people to work in aviation – I assure you, you will never get bored!

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