Pilar Albiac: “A Boss Shouldn't Know Everything”

Airbus Executive Speaks with EMBA Participants in Madrid

25/09/2013 Madrid

Pilar Albiac

The first session of the EMBA Global Leadership Series took place on Sept. 20. The keynote speaker was Pilar Albiac, who was recently named executive vice president of operations at Airbus Defence & Space, a division created through the integration of Airbus Military, Astrium and Cassidian.

Albiac, who holds a bachelor’s degree in philology, began her career in Zaragoza by chance. "When I finished my degree, my intention was to continue studying at the university but I got a job offer from General Motors, where they needed professionals who could speak several languages," she said. Thanks to her polyglot profile, Albiac became responsible for preparing future General Motors executives in Spain.

After this first stint in Zaragoza and later in Andalusia, she was named internal development consultant within the organization. As this was an emerging area in Europe, she moved to the United States to gain experience in conflict resolution. "I traveled from factory to factory to listen to problems and then propose solutions in just two hours. I learned a lot and at top speed."

Back in Spain, she created participation groups in Andalusia – an approach to working that would later be exported to other industries: "It was a genuine revolution that didn't meet with opposition from the unions because it was so new. We improved the way of working significantly and, consequently, results."

With her bags packed and ready to go back to the United States, she got an offer to lead a department of human resources at a factory in Andalusia. "The assignment was to remove the structures of an extremely male-dominated society, as Andalusia was back in the mid-80s. I accepted but on the condition that later I could follow my original plan to go to the U.S.," she said.

Albiac confessed that she owes part of her success to her boss during the early years of her career. Among other things, her boss was a mentor who told her that she could do more with her skills if she left the country. "My boss said that the U.S. was the best place to learn because beginner’s mistakes are easily forgiven, something that doesn´t happen in Spain."

"In Europe, people think that the boss should know everything and that’s not the case. In a factory, showing humility works best. In the U.S., I found out about everything because it was explained to me. Management is the business of people, selecting them appropriately and creating a work environment in which one can give their best. The key is to rely on people, to understand why they do things, make decisions and make these understandable to others," she said.

Years later, Albiac decided to accept a proposal from EADS to apply lean programs in the company. "I was able to organize a great team. They were two very intense but satisfying years. In 18 months, we had cleaned up 22 Airbus factories, exceeding the savings targets of the company."

After serving as head of quality and as CEO of Cassidian Spain, she was recently named vice president of operations at Airbus Defence & Space. "Ever since I came to Airbus, I have told my people that the best gift I can give them is to teach them what I have learned, so I can spare them from some of the blows I’ve experienced during my career."

Finally, Albiac acknowledged that being one of the first women with high-level responsibilities at companies such as General Motors and EADS has led her to develop a special sensitivity toward the role of women in organizations: "I would like to help capable women who can benefit the company. I feel an obligation to give back some of what I received from society in general and to women in particular."