What does it mean to be a modern leader in a Virgin company?

As the CEO of Virgin Australia Regional Airlines and Virgin Australia Cargo – and a champion of women in leadership roles – Merren McArthur is perfectly placed to give us some insight as to what it means to be a modern-day Virgin leader. She caught up with us to share her perspective:


How is leading at Virgin different from leading other businesses?
In some ways leading a Virgin business is easier than most other businesses, because the brand attracts highly engaged and energetic employees. Our teams will go above and beyond for our business. The challenge as a leader of a Virgin business is to ensure that we empower and enable the wonderful energy and passion of our teams.   
What does Virgin Australia expect from its leaders?
Virgin Australia operates in a highly competitive and fast paced industry, which is susceptible to external shocks such as extreme weather events and global security threats. So our leaders have to be energetic and adaptable, with an inclusive and engaging leadership style. Our leaders must put the customer at the centre of all their decision-making and they must empower and inspire their teams to do the same.
What initiative or activity are you most proud of implementing as a leader at Virgin Australia?
Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) is primarily focused on servicing the resources industry, transporting workers to and from mine sites. In early 2015 a slow down in the resources industry saw a decline in demand for our smallest aircraft fleet, the 50 seat Fokker 50 aircraft. So we made the difficult decision to exit the entire fleet of eight aircraft. This decision put over 130 jobs at risk across the business. From the outset we made a commitment to minimise the impact on our workforce, and I am pleased to say that we followed through on this and retained the vast majority of this workforce through initiatives such as targeted redeployment and offering flexible work practices. It is now 18 months on and we are well and truly realising the benefits of a simplified fleet and a talented, engaged workforce.

What positive change are you creating within the business, and how are you working to achieve this?
There was feedback that our team members were unclear on the role of VARA in the Group strategy and they were anxious about the future due to the resources downturn that Australia had started to experience. In response to this, we developed a programme late last year called "The VARA Way" which is a series of small, cross functional workshops designed to provide team members with the opportunity to reflect on, and celebrate, the rich history and unique culture of the airline. The programme is designed to provide team members with a sense of purpose and alignment with the business direction and to inspire each individual to reflect on the critical role they have played, and will continue to play, in the success of VARA.  
How do you inspire other leaders in the business?
It would be presumptuous of me to suggest that I inspire other leaders. However, I do enjoy sharing the challenges and successes of my career journey with emerging leaders across the business, particularly women, in the hope that it will give them the confidence to aspire to, and achieve, their goals.

How does Virgin Australia support and empower women in leadership positions?
Virgin Australia is a challenger brand, which means we don't feel bound by the traditional ways of doing things. This culture supports diversity of views, backgrounds and perspectives, which in turn allows women to rise up to leadership positions within the organisation. Currently we have 36 per cent of women in senior leadership roles.
What piece of advice would you give to others striving to become a business leader?
Take every opportunity that presents itself, even if it is outside your comfort zone. It's scary at first but you will inevitably be surprised at your own capability and this will give you the confidence to take an even bigger leap when the next opportunity presents.

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