Gratitude and joy. My 4 years at Iberia Airlines

Gratitude and joy…

Those are the two feelings that I have when thinking about the last four years in Iberia Airlines that I’m now closing.

It is curious how life makes “connecting the dots” easy in retrospective and how difficult it is to do it when looking to the future.

How I fell in love with airlines…

It was June 1991 and a twelve years old Alberto was flying for the very first time ever in a huge American Airlines 767 from Madrid to Dallas. I was alone, on my way to an exchange with a family to improve my very limited English language at that time. The feeling of flying was amazing, and I was writing down every single detail of my customer journey in a notebook: noticing how the flaps were moving, the noise of the engines, all the menu and inflight entertainment details. If I only had known that 30 years later I would be responsible for designing that journey for Iberia 😉

The route map that the captain gave me when arriving to Dallas as they noticed that I was paying so much attention to everything happening in the aircraft:

My notebook full of comments about what I was experiencing up in the air:

Fast forward to Iberia…

Back in 2018 I decided to transition from a wonderful role at 3M creating value by delivering new innovative products in B2B industries in West Europe, and embrace a new venture project at Iberia Airlines. I had a conversation with Gabriel Perdiguero and Nacho Tovar where they told me how Iberia was managing a sound transition and becoming a fully digitally connected airline. That really blew my mind and I can never be grateful enough for it.

I had no experience in the airlines industry apart from flying more than 25% of my work life time, but it was very obvious for me that the mission was going to be a step-change in terms of participating in a very ambitious transformational B2C initiative in one of the most complex business that I have ever experienced.

We had to build an Innovation powerhouse, embracing the vast amount of knowledge and expertise that the very talented Iberia employees had, and helping the organization prepare for a new world in which Digital was the new enabler to deliver high customized valuable experiences to our customers.

Managing the Incremental Innovation and Service Design practice, followed by managing Digital Customer Experience afterwards, gave me the opportunity to interact with more than 300 professionals, learning so much from every one of them.

Somehow, I was closing the loop that I had started 30 years before, and the little boy travelling alone to the US, was now a “forty-something” professional doing his best to prepare Iberia for a digital future.

And then, disruption came…

At the beginning, it was just some news from China and Italy. We thought we would be suffering a couple of months and then everything would be back to normal and we could recover our roadmap ahead. We were soooooo wrong !!!

These last 2 years dealing with the pandemic have been among the most challenging professional years that I have ever experienced. “Transformation” was not only a strategic desire but a necessity. Changing the services, adapting them to the new reality, making them work under very severe operational restrictions, discovering the new pains that our customers had,… I can’t really think of a period of time where the whole World was so much upside-down, and airlines were absolutely disrupted.

The good news was that we had progressed so much in terms of preparedness. All the internal digitalization that we had just went through made easier for us to adapt to the new ways of working, and we could leverage on some key digital assets to better serve our customers.

We had also built a high performing team, combining the talent that existed before and some new people that brought new ways of doing business and a solid customer-centric vision.

So all together, I think these last 2 years have been very stressful, strange and uncertain, but I also think that were the ones that have produced a bigger learning both personally and professionally not only to myself but to all of us. We are now stronger, and wiser, and we are better prepared.

Cross-check complete, and prepare for departure:

And now that the most sever part of the crisis is over and after these amazing 4 years at Iberia, I believe the cycle has come to an end. I have enjoyed participating in building the Transformation unit from the ground, creating a talented team of Service Designers, handing-over to my team most of what I know about change management and preparing for the future.

The whole industry has bottomed and it is now time for recovery and growth, and I’m totally convinced that in 2022 and 2023 we will see outstanding digitalization initiatives in Iberia, managed by my former team and the new talent that they will for sure incorporate. They have the skills, they have the attitude and they have a great roadmap ahead.

I’m now moving to a new industry, where I’ll bring everything that I know, and where digital change management is also so much needed. Servant leadership is a key element of my personal and professional toolkit, and I’m looking forward to helping again an organization full of talent, in a pivotal situation like the one Iberia was back in 2018.

Every time I’ll see a “bird” with a red and yellow tail above my head it will bring me memories of the outstanding experience with Iberia and the joy I had working there. And it will remind me the marvelous friends that I made, and how we dreamt together about transforming the industry.

It is not a “farewell” but a “see you later”:

More to come in the following weeks…

Alberto

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