Christina Foerster is the CEO of Brussels Airlines and a graduate of the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM).
Christina is the first-ever woman to head a Lufthansa Group airline and plays an important role in the common future of the Belgian home carrier and the Eurowings Group.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your current role.
I grew up in the Canary Islands and have always had a passion for travel and tourism. After completing my B.S. in Hotel Administration, followed by an M.B.A. from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, I began my professional career at Sheraton Hotels and Boston Consulting Group, later making my entry into the passenger travel industry at Deutsche Lufthansa AG. Now, as the CEO of Brussels Airlines, I am responsible for more than 4000 employees and dedicate my work to driving the airline’s growth, operations and commercial initiatives. No two working days are the same, but each day I spend my time interacting with others – employees, customers and investors – and listening to their ideas, thoughts and challenges.
Why did you make the choice to complete the International Masters Program for Managers (IMPM)?
I made the decision to enrol in the IMPM in 2011 while working for Lufthansa Airlines. I had recently been promoted to the position of Vice President, Network and Fleet Development, and I was looking to become more confident in my management abilities and grow as a leader and manager. I wanted to approach my new position at Lufthansa with intention and set clear objectives for what I wanted to achieve. I asked myself, “What motivates this team? Where can I make an impact?” and, most importantly, “How can I move the dial to effect change?” I saw the opportunity to participate in the IMPM as a chance to learn new, holistic management approaches that I could immediately apply to become an even stronger manager and leader.
What kind of support did your employer provide?
Lufthansa has long been sending its managers to the IMPM and, in 2011, I was privileged to be among those given the opportunity to participate. I was fortunate to receive full financial support from my employer, who also gave me the flexibility in my work life to attend the five, 10-day modules that comprise the program. I returned this investment in equal measure, investing my new skills, approaches and knowledge back into the company and growing the next generation of managers.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about management school that need to be corrected?
One of the things that drew me to the IMPM program is that it is practice oriented. I already had an MBA and had a strong background in business, but the IMPM helped me to think holistically about my management practice. Further, the small class size and program’s emphasis on group discussion and exchange helped me better understand how people from other cultures, backgrounds and geographies see the world, knowledge that has been valuable to my career in global travel.
Can you share three key takeaways from your experience with the IMPM?
The first lesson I learned is that all managers face the same challenges. At every level, background and geography, all managers will encounter the same issues over the course of their careers, and I believe that there is a lot to be learned from one another in how to approach these challenges.
Second, I learned that reflection and listening are the core qualities of a good manager. Often, the image we have of senior managers is of a decision-maker or of someone who drives action. But I’ve come to learn that managers who listen closely and regularly reflect on their leadership are going to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the business and ultimately deliver stronger results.
My third key takeaway is that managers must be flexible and open to new environments, challenges and viewpoints. You cannot know what will happen tomorrow, but you will be much more resilient and able to adapt if you’re open to anything that comes your way.
How has the IMPM contributed to your career in the long term?
At a personal level, one of the things that I really enjoyed about the IMPM program is that all students are assigned a peer coach to discuss key learnings and reflections throughout the course of the program. Years after the IMPM, my peer coach remains one of my very dear friends and is someone that I can continue to share my management challenges with for reflection and support.
The IMPM also made a lasting impact on my management practice overall. It has taught me the importance of listening and reflection, as well as the importance of taking a step back to question yourself, your approaches and your overall management style.