• Sunday, May 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

Wuraola Oduntan, unwavering allegiance with the fastest growing airline in the history of commercial aviation

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It’s pleasing to the ears when you hear of women occupying top positions in places where it doesn’t come that easy. My Leading Woman for this week is one of such women. She is Wuraola Oduntan, Etihad Airways’ newly appointed General Manager in Nigeria, who is flying high with the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.

Wura began her career as a statutory tax auditor in the financial services industry in 1994, having attained a B.Sc in Accounting from the Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria, and an MBA from the University of Leicester, in the United Kingdom.  However, it wasn’t long before her long-held passion for international travel got the better of her, and there was no better place for her than the airline industry.  “I joined Virgin Atlantic in Nigeria in 2001 as a financial analyst. This led to a number of senior managerial positions across the airline, which enabled me to develop my commercial experience and gain a greater understanding of the market in Nigeria and across West Africa. Earlier this year I joined Etihad Airways as general manager responsible for overseeing its Nigeria-based operations” Wura tells me and continues “my move to Etihad Airways has been a wonderful experience, thanks to the professionalism and support of the fantastic team here, and at airline’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi. I’m now looking forward to developing an awareness of the airline, and playing my part helping Etihad Airways to deliver an exceptional travel experience to its guests.” She shares.

Wuraola Oduntan
Wuraola Oduntan

Wura’s love for the airline industry is best explained when she tells me “It is a fantastic, interesting and fast-paced environment that combines my two true loves: international travel and hospitality.  No two days are ever the same, and if you love working with people, and can resolve short term challenges against long term goals, then I believe it is the industry to be in.” Wura says.

Wura’s decision to join Etihad was born out of the growth and expansion of Etihad Airways in recent years which has been truly phenomenal. In her words, “It is the fastest growing airline in the history of commercial aviation. And whilst the organisation has been developing its global footprint, it hasn’t lost sight of its vision to deliver outstanding products and services that inspire its guests. I was attracted to this pioneering approach that has challenged and changed the face of the airline industry forever. I believe in this vision and I want to bring it to life here in Nigeria.” Wura reveals.

Etihad Airways was launched in 2003 and today employs around 21,000 staff from more than 140 different nationalities. It currently operates a fleet of 102 aircraft to 108 destinations in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas. In its ten-year existence it has created a brand and a service offering that is the envy of the industry.  Mandated by its shareholders to be the ‘best in class’, it has worked from the ground up in redefining industry standards in customer service, drawing inspiration from the very best five-star hospitality organisations around the world. Again Wura speaks on her fervor for Etihad when she shares with me about her core duties. “My primary focus will be on ensuring that the presence of Etihad Airways continues to be promoted and enhanced across Nigeria and the West Africa region. This is a very people-orientated business and I and my team regularly meet with our many corporate clients and travel

agents who regularly fly or do business with Etihad Airways, to ensure that they are informed of the latest marketing activities, incentives and product enhancements available to them here and across our network.” She narrates.

Of course Wura understand the challenges that come with her role. “Obviously there are some challenges with my new position but I have always been very determined, and believe that perseverance pays off.  I suppose if I had a mantra, it would be to always remember that the customer must come first. On a personal front, I am very proud of my achievements and look forward to encouraging other women and girls who have aspirations of developing a career in aviation.” She admits.

Etihad has just unveiled ‘The Residence by Etihad™’, best described as the world’s most luxurious living space in the air. Available for the first time in their first Airbus A380 aircraft when they arrive later this year, ‘The Residence’ includes a selection of lavish services designed to provide guests with optimum comfort in the air and for their guests travelling in economy, they are rolling out their new Economy Smart Seat, which is customised with a unique ‘fixed wing’ headrest, offering greater levels of comfort and privacy.

Ask Wura where she sees Etihad in the next five years and she will readily tell you “Quite simply, our goal is to be the world’s best airline. If we are to achieve this, we must continue to focus on understanding our customers’ needs by pioneering new products and services and enhancing our network – ensuring that our guests are provided with an outstanding travel experience at every touch point, both on the ground and in the air. Our current fleet consists of over 100 aircraft – and we have more than 210 new aircraft on firm order scheduled for delivery before 2025.”

“’We have already expanded our global route network to 108 destinations, and we will continue to introduce new destinations as the opportunities arise. Last year we flew over 11.5 million passengers and just recently announced a new company record, where we carried over 180,000 passengers over a four-day period in August. Our target is to fly 25 million people a year by 2015.” She says.

Etihad Airways’ performance in Nigeria has gone from strength to strength following the launch of their service between Lagos and Abu Dhabi in 2012.  Wura ends the interview sharing with me on Etihad’s feat in Nigeria. “Our fast growing global route network has been very popular with the large numbers of international traders and members of the business community. They regularly fly between West Africa and the United Arab Emirates, and onwards to the major cities in North and Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. In 2013, we expanded our operation to a daily service to meet this demand. This is a very exciting time to be at Etihad Airways.”

Kemi Ajumobi