Piloting an ambition
Tracy Dedman, regional GM for Greater China and the Philippines at BA, landed close to her early dreams of a career in the skies
When Tracy Dedman was a child, she stated her ambition to one day take to the skies. “When I joined BA, my father reminded me that when I was about four, I used to say I wanted to grow up to be a pilot,” says the regional general manager for Greater China and the Philippines at British Airways (BA). “So he regularly tells me I haven’t fallen too far from my dreams.”
Dedman grew up in the UK and graduated from university with a language degree in French and Italian. Her parents and everyone around her assumed that with such a degree she would become a teacher, but Dedman had other ideas. “I think it’s fair to say that I never knew, and I did not have any clear intention of what I wanted to do with my life,” Dedman says. “But I knew I never wanted to be a teacher because it wasn’t my desire.”
Instead, a chance opportunity on a visit with her sister to Bahrain saw her start an overseas career as an account manager at a five-star hotel in the small island country. As BA was one of the hotel’s major clients at the time, Dedman got to learn a lot about the airline, and years later, in 2005, applied to work for it.
With a regional commercial role covering markets in Greater China, Taiwan and the Philippines, Dedman has a mammoth task list. This includes filling planes by managing key partner relationships, building the BA brand, communicating customer needs to the home office and launching new routes. In the airline industry, these are no small feats.
Dedman lists launching the new Chengdu route as an example of a task requiring co-operation with governments, the civil aviation department, logistics departments, and the airport authority, not to mention clients, partners and customers. “I’d never launched a new route before and no one on my team had done it. It’s like: where do I start? How do I make this happen? How am I going to make a success of it?” Dedman recalls.
“Just looking back at what I have accomplished, if you wrote a list and told me that by now these are all the things I had done, I would have said: ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I achieved that.’”
Organising the fanfare launch of BA’s new route from London to Chengdu was equally hectic, involving tasks ranging from panda flash mobs to creating hoopla over a Boeing 777-200 painted to look like a smiling panda, in tribute to the furry animals Chengdu is famed for.
Another of Dedman’s high-profile achievements was helping organise the highly successful “Gig on a Wing” launch event to celebrate BA’s new A380 superjumbo operating to Hong Kong. Singer Leona Lewis, supermodel Georgia May Jagger and fashion designer Alice Temperley all flew in on the new A380 aircraft “to showcase the best of Great Britain”.
“When I was standing on the apron and saw that plane land, it was really emotional for me because of all the hard work, the promotion, the marketing and the branding to get to the point where that plane was going to leave full on the first day. It was incredible,” she says.
While Dedman has enjoyed many achievements and highlights in her career, she has also faced many challenges. Some of these are unique to the airline industry, where she is at the mercy of external forces, such as oil prices. Her tactic in tackling them is to focus on the things that can be controlled.
“This includes making the kind of investments for the benefit of our customers, including products and service enhancements that compare well to our competitors – that’s where you can beat those challenges,” she says.
Another ongoing task Dedman faces is managing teams across multiples cities and countries, and trying to communicate their needs back to home office. She says that in order to be heard and to stand out in the workplace, you have to be authentic and true to your values, because that ensures consistency.
“You need to make sure you will deliver on what you say you are going to deliver,” she says. “Don’t just commit to delivering, but actually do it. It sounds simple, but fundamentally, that’s what makes you stand out in the workplace. People can count on you because they know you will get the job done.”
What also makes Dedman stand out is that while she’s proud to be British, and considers herself lucky to work in a company that embraces the heritage and culture of her home, she always takes the time to embrace local cultures. “From a young age, I’ve appreciated and understood the value of making time and placing an emphasis on the place that you are in and the people you are with, whether it’s from a friends or customer perspective,” she says.
Drawing on the teachings of Facebook’s first female board member, COO Sheryl Sandberg, Dedman advises other women climbing the career ladder to be humble and stay true to their jobs. “There is a balance between confidence and arrogance – where confidence stops and arrogance starts,” she says. “I think women are quite good at judging where that line is, so I think you need to articulate your successes and share them with people.”
HOW TO SPREAD YOUR CAREER WINGS
Tracy Dedman offers words of wisdom on succeeding at work.
Value co-operation “I really believe in collaboration. I like working as a team – two heads are better than one. I like to encourage debate because although I can sit down [by myself] and come up with a plan, what would be the value of that?”
Look on the bright side “It’s easy to get bogged down by challenges and difficulties when things are not going well, but if you start appreciating the positives then you will find that momentum is quite contagious.”
Set your sights high “If you’re ambitious and you want to move on to the next level, then start acting like that job is already yours.”
Respect yourself “I’ve never seen myself as a woman in the workplace, but I’ve always seen myself as a person – somebody who delivers and responds, and is well regarded by peers and managers.”