Power Q&A with Tricia Williams, COO of Manchester Airport Group

Power Q&A with

Tricia Williams

Tricia Williams is the Chief Operating Officer of Manchester Airport, the third busiest airport in the UK and the busiest airport outside of London. She is also a newly appointed member of our Power List. We asked Tricia about her career journey, mentors and what she loves about her job.

What do you love about your job with Manchester Airport Group?

I absolutely love working with people who surprise me every single day. That could be when we see our customers or guests coming through the airport, dressed up in stag or hen do outfits, or just culturally different. I love the whole melting pot of people who you see at the airport, but equally we’ve got some people who’ve worked here for forty years, some who have worked here for four days. It’s the human side of the job that I absolutely love.

You didn’t work in aviation for your entire career, you spent the first twenty years of your career at United Utilities. What made you make that big change in sectors?

It was a massive change. Twenty years with a company I adored, and still adore, but I wanted a change. I wanted to have another twenty years in a career that serves me just as well. Whether that’s in aviation or somewhere else, at the time I was looking for a new challenge.

Aviation for me was exciting. When I started in United Utilities, they were going global, had massive change plans, and I do think I am somebody attracted to change and improvement. I could see the ambition that Manchester Airport had. I could see something within Manchester Airport and the group that was very ambitious and excited me. I thought that they would certainly help me develop.

When you know a sector so well, even if you are ready for change and excitement, it’s a big transition to be in a completely different career and world. Are there moments when you thought, what have I done?

What really helped me through was my team. Before I started I had a meet and greet session with them. I brought in some cake because it was close to Christmas, and asked them to share something about themselves. They must have got from that my trepidation about moving careers and the passion for the company I was in. They made my induction amazing. I got to spend the first two weeks in the airport, just meeting people, seeing how exciting the industry is. I was hooked from day one. I do think that a welcome to a company is very important and I’m very conscious when somebody comes to work for us.

As someone who clearly craves change, craves adventure, craves challenge, has there been times where you have felt stuck in your career?

Interestingly probably only once springs to mind. When I had my first son Joseph, I worked in an amazing time in North Liverpool, one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with. I was there for a good couple of years before I had Joseph and when I came back everybody was really kind to me and let me settle in. Everybody was so lovely to me and I was so frustrated because I wanted to get on. I thought, I’ve done my time here, had wonderful time, but if I spend another few years here, I’m not going to progress my career. I think that was the only time I got frustrated and saw people getting that next step. I let my leader know at the time that I was looking for another position, and he was amazing, and I moved on to another role within about six months.

Who supported you in your career to get you where you are now? You’ve talked about your amazing team at Manchester Airport but what about earlier on in your career. Did you have mentors around you? Did you have sponsors who supported you?

I started on a graduate programme, I did have a mentor. That was hugely important to me. I was lucky that I never had to call on him to deal with anything that was awful. I did see graduates when I started that did have to call on their mentors. I had amazing leaders and they looked after us extremely well. I was on a graduate scheme for four years, I still talk about it today, it was extremely well constructed. I’m still friends with people that I started with on so we mentored each other. We were treated as a cohort and stretched and challenged each other as a cohort.

My mentor was very significant. Even though he was a senior leader, he came into my placements, despite them being quite remote from head office. The fact that he’d gone out and made an effort to see where I was, made my managers take notice that someone senior was coming to see me and gave me more exciting and challenging things to do.

People reading this who don’t have a mentor, would you urge them to find one?

Definitely, especially in the early stages of your career. There are times in your career where mentoring is really important. Transitioning from one company to another is a really important time, starting a new job is a really important time. I think it’s proven that women who are going through things like maternity leave, it’s important for them to get mentoring during those transitioning periods.

As well as having those structures in work, mentors are really important. Having support at home and asking for help is really important. You can’t be Superwoman – I like to think I am, but I’m not. I can’t be everything to everyone, so asking some amazing people to help you is always good.

There are a number of women in senior roles at Manchester Airport. Is this a concerted effort from the group to put women in those top roles, or has it been an organic process?

I think it’s been organic. However I do think aviation is an industry where you do see women in senior roles, both in terms of airlines and our partners. There are some spectacular, great examples of that in companies and airlines. I do think that because there is a great gender split in some of our areas, like security for example. You have to have fifty percent women and fifty percent men. It’s fantastic that we have a lovely 50/50 split in our population, as you see women go up through the ranks of managerial roles. I do think we’ve got some way to go in the more senior roles, however I don’t think theres anything to stop that. It has been organic.

We might need to accelerate it for some of the senior positions but we’re very aware of that, and we’re aware we need to be inclusive, we need to be more diverse, particularly at a senior level. There’s a conscious need to change but I think where we are today is attributed to being so inclusive.

Listen to this interview in full in our #NPWPodcast
Episode 20, available to listen, download and subscribe here

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