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Women of the Executive MBA: Annette Mann

On authentic leadership and disruption through change

Earlier this year, Annette Mann was announced as the new CEO of Austrian Airlines, the first female CEO and also the youngest in the airline’s history. “To be very honest, in the beginning it was a weird feeling to step into this position,” Annette smiles wryly. “There is a strong hierarchical culture in Austria, and after years of crisis in aviation, there is a lot of top-down management. I strongly believe in the phrase “leadership as a service” – I see my job as ensuring that the company can achieve its goals and function as best it can. The employees are not there to work for me, but I am there to help them grow, collaborate, and get the best from their working lives. I think it fits well with the Kellogg-WHU ethos of “high impact, low ego.”

Annette joined the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA program back in 2010. She was looking for an internationally recognized degree to help her step back into the academic world and widen her network. “I had been with Lufthansa for seven years at that time,” she explains. “It was the second year of my first formal leadership position. I was ready to broaden my horizons and explore what else I could learn. My initial university degree combined theory with practice. With several years of practical experience, I wanted to bring my career to the next level.”

While the program helped her strengthen her leadership skill set, studying the EMBA had an unexpected positive impact on her confidence as an executive. “Once upon a time, I would have said I didn’t need another degree, but having such an internationally recognized MBA title offers a level of independence. It would be too easy to become dependent on one company when you have been part of it for a long time. It was important for me to feel that no matter what happened, I would have a high value in the international labor market. The EMBA added that unexpected dimension of personal growth.”

“When choosing a program, flexibility was important. I worked in different cities and traveled extensively, so the program format fit well into my personal and professional life.” Internationality and diversity are aspects of the program that Annette also mentions as being crucial to her decision. “I visited Chicago, Tel Aviv, and Hong Kong. Seeing the other Kellogg campuses, in combination with the network and the academic knowledge of the professors, exceeded my expectations of the program. Our cohort was completely international, all from different industries and company sizes: those connections are valuable. You gain new perspectives and exchange ideas. It helped me link theory and fresh insights to my working life.”

Annette is still connected to the network, albeit she describes herself as more of an “occasional networker.” But she still participates in the WhatsApp groups, personal meetings, annual ski trips among the alums, and attending EMBA events for prospective students, such as a fireside chat held in Vienna this October.

What is exciting to see about Annette’s new position as CEO is that she is ready to disrupt the status quo, create change and make an impact. Working for the Lufthansa Group for 20 years, she has seen how the company operates from many different angles and now finally can make a change for good. “In a big company like Lufthansa Group, it can be difficult to make changes when you are not in management. You see the rules and the processes, and even if they do not make much sense, it can be difficult to incite effective change. I really enjoy making the changes that make a positive impact, not just financially, but also on people, on customers, and overall success.”

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