Celebrating a cabin crew supremo

Catherine Baird is an accomplished woman in today’s global airline industry. As a Senior Vice President with Emirates in Dubai, she is recognised as a leader in people development at the pinnacle of her chosen profession.

To commemorate Catherine’s achievements, she will be receiving an honorary doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in Dubai at the forthcoming graduation ceremony. Panmure House Perspectives, the business journal of Edinburgh Business School, caught up with Catherine on the move in Australia.

Panmure House Perspectives (PHP):
Hello, Catherine. Tell us something about your position and your main responsibilities.

CB: I have been in the aviation industry for 30+ years. My career has focused on people, particularly the frontline in the air. I’ve had responsibility for cabin crew recruitment, training, career development and management across a number of airlines.

My current role at Emirates encompasses cabin crew training and development – from induction, safety and emergency procedures (SEP), image and uniform (I&U), medical, security, service and hospitality across all cabins. And, career development for inflight leadership roles. We also provide services to our Pilots for SEP and I&U for all Emirates uniform wearers across the group.

PHP: How did you get into the airline business and what attracts you about it?

CB: I spent many years in education, teaching in Australia. Like all good Aussies I put on a backpack and never looked back! Whilst in London I joined British Airways (BA) as long-haul cabin crew on the Boeing 747. In BA I moved into crew training and recruitment as a dual role with flying around the world and the rest is history. It’s all about the people – the people I get the privilege to work with and people, as customers, who all have amazing narratives to share – you grow and learn so much in this industry.

PHP: Emirates is recognised as one of the world’s leading airlines for customer service, why is this?

CB: I believe our success and reputation comes down to two key elements:

  • An unwavering commitment to product and service innovation, with our customers at the very             centre of everything we do, and
 
  • Our people. We have over 160 nationalities who speak over 60+ languages in the Emirates                 Group. I am constantly humbled by the amazing people who work with us, people with                         exceptional qualifications, experience and inspiring stories to tell.

PHP: Who have been the people you admire and have encouraged you in your career?

CB: I have been inspired and encouraged by the myriad of talented people I’ve had the great fortune to work with across the globe. The people I admire lead with clarity, authenticity, compassion, courage and integrity. I’ve also discovered that the greatest learning often comes from the most unexpected places! And, I am constantly inspired by the bold and courageous leadership of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. I’m an avid reader of his writing – books and poetry.

PHP: What advice do you give to people who join the airline?

CB: Aviation is a dynamic, challenging, ever-changing and demanding industry. The industry has people at its heart. So you’ll need a passion for people, for going out of your way for others and, resilience and grit sets you apart.

PHP: How does an organisation retain its culture as it expands? What have you put in place to ensure that the culture is carried on?

CB: It is imperative that you’re very clear about where you’ve come from and where you’re going...
bringing the best of before with you as an enabler for future transformation. At Emirates we’re very lucky to have the warmth, generosity and kindness inherent in the tradition of Arabic hospitality to inform our foundation of service. And, we celebrate the richness of our cosmopolitan make-up to bring to life a unique global culture. We have intentionally created programmes and processes to nurture and sustain these unique aspects of our amazing Emirates cabin crew community.

PHP: What are the benefits of working and living in Dubai?

CB: Living in a city that has defied the impossible to redefine the possible is exhilarating. When you
reflect on the pictures of 50 years ago and look at the city today, it’s hard not to be in awe of the pioneering spirit. Living here pushes you to challenge your own personal boundaries of what’s possible.
PHP: The airline industry is a people business. What should any leader understand about
working in a people business?

CB: I believe, as a leader you are only as successful as the team around you. Your role is to nurture and develop each and every one of your team to be the best possible version of themselves. At the core, it doesn’t matter where we come from, our age, gender, background or experiences – we are all human. And, for humans to thrive and trust we need to feel valued, recognised, encouraged, developed and, the key ingredient, kindness.

PHP: What’s your favourite leisure time activity and where would this be undertaken – and with
whom?

CB: No surprise, to travel. I love to explore new destinations with my husband and, equally, I love to
visit well-trodden paths to be with our family and the amazing friends we have all over the globe.

Catherine Baird:
A Soaring Flight Path


Education: Bachelor of Education, working as a teacher in Melbourne, Australia. Promoted to lead teacher. Nine years.

1987–94: British Airways, based in London
Cabin crew (long-haul worldwide fleet), crew training, recruitment, crew career advisor. Facilitator on internal brand engagement and service programmes such as Mission Atlantic and Winning for Customers.

1994–2001: Ansett Australia, based in Melbourne
Part of the start-up team for the launch of Ansett International. Head of Recruitment and Training operating across eight Asian gateways. Working closely with all departments across the airline for the AOC, service definition and design. Promoted to GM Operations and Inflight Training
with accountability for both international and domestic crew, operational and regulatory training (including flight simulators).

2001–03: Star Alliance, based in Frankfurt
Director of Training and Development. Consulted across 17 member airlines with a combined employee base of over 400,000 globally. Facilitation and lead of Alliance airlines ‘heads of training’ for design and implementation of all Alliance-related products and services across all
functions from operations, sales, customer and commercial. Responsible for induction of new airlines into the Alliance. Part of HR team with leadership and employee development
accountability for Star Alliance full-time employees.

2003–05: Gulf Air, based in Bahrain
Head of Training and Development across all airline functions, including leadership and talent management, Command Upgrade (Pilots) and Bahraini national development.

2005–Present: Emirates, based in Dubai
Senior Vice President Cabin Crew Training. Cabin crew base of over 23,000 from 140 nationalities and speaking over 60 languages. Responsible for training and development of all cabin crew across their career journey from induction to on-board leadership roles. Includes all aspects of the role from SEP, service, I&U, and leadership and internal brand engagement of our crew community. This function also provides training for other employee groups in specific aspects – pilot SEP, pilot induction (on-boarding), I&U across the broader Emirates Group and airport frontline internal
brand engagement.

Article written by Kenny Kemp.