I recently had the immense privilege and pleasure to visit the headquarters of Etihad Airways in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. While I was there on a special project, I got to meet and observe a dozen FP&A staff and executives. Here are some takeaways from my Etihad visit:
- Hire for fit and skill, not industry background. Practically every member of Etihad’s FP&A team did not come from another airline. Instead, they literally scour the globe looking for candidates with the right technical background, such as an advanced finance degree or accreditation. Then, they bring in candidates and make sure that person will get along in a very diverse and active office environment. “We can teach you the industry later,” one Etihad executive told me.
- Hire to support your business needs. Etihad’s group of equity airline partners includes Alitalia, Air Berlin and Air Serbia. Etihad specifically hired a few FP&A staff with native language proficiency from these countries to better facilitate its FP&A activities for these airlines.
- Consider FP&A staff with unique backgrounds. It’s no surprise that some Etihad FP&A staff have an IT background. Numerous finance executives have told me that IT staff tend to have the same analytical mindset as FP&A professionals, and they often have similar technical skills. What is surprising is that one of Etihad’s FP&A staff started with the airline as a flight hostess. Of course, she went on to earn a finance degree and had the requisite technical skills and personality fit for the team. But it’s still worth noting that she was not rejected out of hand based on an old job description.
- “FP&A’s job is to think outside of the box,” one Etihad FP&A manager told me. “The tax department’s job is to stay in the box because of regulations and such, so it’s our job to do the exact opposite. We need to always be thinking of different scenarios and challenges. And if I can’t advise senior management on the forecast and what they need to do, then I’m not justifying my existence.”