The Sky Is The Limit
Not just Gulf Air’s first female Acting Chief Financial Officer, Sahar Ataei is also the airline’s most senior female executive. Heading the financial aspects of an airline that is showing progressively encouraging growth and development, Sahar manages a large division that is tasked with handling Gulf Air’s finances and uses her critical abilities to support a broad spectrum of the national carrier’s functions. Perle Magazine sat with this highly respected and dynamic woman to learn about her views on women in senior positions in the corporate world, the aviation industry and what managing an airline’s finances entails.
Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am currently the Acting Chief Financial Officer of Gulf Air. I am a finance professional with an Executive MBA and BSc in Accounting & Finance from the University of Bahrain. I am also a Certified Fraud Examiner as well as a Corporate Performance Manager. My career started in the Internal Audit department of Gulf Air. Thie gateway taught me much of the industry and business related to airlines. Later, in 2007, I moved to Finance, and my role evolved – from Manager Operations Financial Support, to Director Financial Controlling, until I became Acting CFO in 2010.
What was the journey that led you to working at Gulf Air?
The shift from banking to working in Gulf Air was a natural one for me. I worked for a commercial bank in Bahrain because that was the most immediate opportunity following my graduation, and I was very happy there. But my eyes were always on the nice big building I saw everyday opposite the airport. That was Gulf Air’s headquarters. I have always loved planes, and always dreamed of working for an airline. And, I followed that dream when making the move to Gulf Air.
Because the move to Gulf Air was what I have always wanted, this means I was dedicated to it fully every day. This dedication made the transition much easier as I did not mind putting in the extra work to come out ahead, which kept the learning curve modest. I wake up loving the idea of going to work and making a difference, learn new things every day and I am very fortunate to be in this position.
What are some of the challenges you have faced throughout your career so far, and how did you overcome them?
There is always the challenge of being a female in a man’s world – a challenge which will not go away – having said that, women today have excelled in all fields, from space exploration to rocket science and aviation. Women have found themselves in every career from pilots, to engineers, to administration, to even CFOs. The challenges are overcome by choosing to be there. Do not focus on the challenges, but the end goals, and stick to them relentlessly. Through life skills and natural abilities useful in the workplace, women tend to excel in many of these positions: we are great networkers, have inherent negotiating skills, and are notorious multi-taskers.
Is there a work-life mantra that has helped you on your road to success?
My mother instilled a work-life mantra in me very early on. I was directly influenced by her behaviour – her greatest influence came through what she did without knowing it. From her I have learnt that you can affect those around you through your positivity, drive, humility and courage to make you and your enviroment a strong and happier one.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe I am a firm and teamwork oriented leader who is driven by collaborative innovation. I am focused on increasing opportunities to foster continuous improvement.
What are some of the qualities you look for in your employees?
Loyalty, taking initiative, and having a positive can-do attitude are essential qualities to have in my team members to ensure a strong and functional work environment.
Being the first female Acting CFO of Gulf Air holds a lot of weight and is something that allows young girls to look up to you for inspiration, how does that make you feel?
I am very proud of this achievement! If my accomplishment inspires even one female to strive for excellence in their profession, then that makes me very happy.
Women in Bahrain today, under the leadership of Her Royal Highness Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa, who chairs the Supreme Council for Women, are empowered and their needs are integrated, in addition to enhancing the principle of equal opportunities to ensure competitiveness of Bahraini women. This inspires and encourages every Bahraini female to pursue the path and career of her choice. The current times are very inspiring for women in Bahrain.
In your 17-year experience of working at Gulf Air, what are some of the vital lessons that you have learnt?
I have learned the value of always being courageous, of never giving up and the importance of always doing what you love to do because that is when you will achieve your best.
What advice would you like to share with those looking to start their careers in the aviation industry?
The aviation industry is an ever-evolving one that always presents new and exciting challenges to overcome. Being a part of this world means being a part of an ever-changing environment, being quick to adopt new ideas, embracing change and approaching challenges daily with a clear vision of your final goal. It can be stressful, to say the least. And that makes sense. It’s a critical industry – facilitating the movement of people across the globe. My advice is love what you do, take the time to do your job right, align what you do with your organisations goals, excel in what you do for your own self-satisfaction.
What message would you like to pass onto the customers of Gulf Air?
I would like to thank every single passenger who has flown with Gulf Air – recurring passengers and new ones; thank you for choosing our airline. We will continue to work to ensure Gulf Air stays relevant by continuing to provide excellent service at a great price, and we’ll continue to listen to any input our loyal customers might have to help us along the way. We’re moving in the right direction: the future looks promising! So stick around and see what is coming next.
Can you tell us what the future holds for Gulf Air?
Gulf Air has been making positive progress over the last 3 years, evident in its performance across a number of fronts: financial, commercial, operational, technical and more. We have displayed significant momentum and this is poised to continue as we work towards crafting a commercially sustainable airline, with the right shape and size, that connects Bahrain to the world and that delivers the best product and service to our passengers.
We’re always looking for new connections that will increase Gulf Air’s passenger load factors and improve our bottom line – new destinations, greater frequencies, upgraded aircraft and more. Beyond that we’re focused and dedicated to ensuring that our trademark Arabian hospitality is a clear distinguishing factor in our service.
We don’t intend to be the biggest airline, but the most sustainable, safe, reliable, convenient and friendly airline. This always has been and will continue to be the yardstick by which we measure our success.
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