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  • Bio: Borna Vrdoljak works for Airbus

Borna Vrdoljak

Borna Vrdoljak is a Customisation Account Manager for Airbus, proof that an engineer need not be limited to hands-on technical work. Borna explains to us the benefits of working in a sales environment and the qualities needed to work in the aerospace industry.

How did you start in the industry?

During my university studies, I was inspired by the launch of the Airbus A380 programme, soon to become the world’s most spacious and efficient passenger aircraft. When I finished my studies in 1998, I applied for the Airbus Direct Entry Graduate scheme and was fortunate enough to be offered a position in Bristol.

What does Airbus do and why is it a good place to work?

Airbus is one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, consistently capturing half or more of all orders for airliners with more than 100 seats. I enjoy working at Airbus because of the multicultural diversity and the dynamic, ever-changing opportunities to contribute, learn and continuously develop myself. In addition, the opportunity to move around 15 sites in Europe and subsidiaries in the USA, Japan, China and the Middle East means that there’s always a new challenge. I recently spent three years working in Hamburg, Germany managing capital expenditure across our European manufacturing facilities. At Airbus you are equally able to progress your career in a specialist role as you are in a general management role.

Tell us about your training scheme

The two-year Direct Entry Graduate (DEG) scheme allowed me a lot of freedom to discover the company and to understand how I might best fit in and add value. The programme enabled me to work in four very different departments and locations including Broughton in Wales and Toulouse
in France. My roles varied from working with Production to implement lean manufacturing to answering in-service queries from airlines all over the world. In addition, the scheme included visits to other sites and an off-site leadership development programme. As I hadn’t taken a sandwich course at university, the experience was invaluable and helped me to understand what I was good at, what I enjoyed and finally where I wanted to work. The programme is very flexible which benefits both the business and the graduates.

Where did you go after your first role?

After the first year of the programme, I chose to work in Broughton on the wing production of our newest aircraft, the A340-600. Nine months later, I was asked to move to Bremen to support our 20-strong production team in Germany as the only Manufacturing Engineer. It was an incredible responsibility to be given, only made possible with the fantastic teamwork with Production and the support from my manager and colleagues in the UK. Later, I repeated the experience in France as the wing set reached the final production stage in Toulouse. My performance was recognised and I was soon promoted to Engineering Group Leader back in Bristol.

What is a typical day like for you?

As a Customisation Account Manager based in Toulouse, I’m responsible for assisting airlines to customise their new aircraft. Although our standard aircraft are already equipped with everything you need to fly, the airlines often have their own special requests to brand their revenue space. On a typical day, I will discuss airline requests with our engineering specialists from navigation systems to cabin interiors before drafting the commercial offer. Once a month I need to visit the airline to review changes and to discuss the feasibility of more challenging requests.

Most of the customisation requests need to be planned and agreed before production starts. Some special requests could begin their design and production life halfway around the world and up to 24 months before the aircraft is delivered. It is not uncommon for airlines to collect their new aircraft and start flying passengers the same day. Getting the planning right is essential; delays are not an option.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The opportunity to work with our customers is a very rewarding experience. It refocuses my attention on what is really important to the market. During sales campaigns, I enjoy presenting the competitive advantages of our Family of Aircraft and responding to questions, it’s great to be challenged.

What’s the most challenging thing you have to do?

Managing our customers’ expectations is a constant challenge. I always try to make sure that I’ve fully understood an airline’s requirements and anticipated their questions. Sometimes what may seem like a simple change to the aircraft may result in extensive testing and regulatory approval. Understanding our engineering processes allows me to guide the customer to an optimised solution that benefits both parties.

What can a new graduate expect to do in an entry-level role?

A graduate would typically join a team and be supervised and mentored to take on real work. The HR team encourage graduates to question our internal ways of working. There’s always a smarter way of working, often it takes a newcomer to recognise it. Graduates are sometimes asked to take on a creative consultancy type role to re-engineer designs, improve processes or even challenge established rules.

Looking back on your career so far, would you do anything differently?

Not really, my successes and failures have given me the experience from which I benefit today. I’m particularly pleased that I took the opportunity to work in different countries, as it has broadened my experience and allowed me to learn new languages and understand different cultures.

What else would you like to achieve?

My team leadership role in the UK was a very rewarding experience, I would like to further develop my management skills and learn how to best motivate people.

What’s the biggest myth about your sector?

The myth that an engineering company is full of engineers, performing engineering calculations. Airbus also recruits many non-engineering graduates who are equally able to grow in an engineering environment. Equally, we have many engineers who go on to non-engineering roles such as marketing our Family of Airbus aircraft to airlines all over world.

How has the industry changed since you started?

Over the last ten years the industry has evolved from classic design and manufacturing companies to more systems integrators and service based models. As in many other industries, the aerospace world has consolidated and focused on the integration of fewer work packages by outsourcing non-strategic work to key partners. By focusing on our core competencies and expanding our services we should, together with our customers, become more successful.

What qualities do you need to succeed in your industry?

Working in aerospace requires a lot of teamwork, so having the right communication skills is essential. In order to succeed, it’s easier by starting in a role that you enjoy and find interesting. After that, I think that focusing on continuous improvement is an essential mindset to have whatever you’re doing. And finally, the ultimate quality is to have the ability to spot a trend and propose a step change to give your products and services a real market advantage.

Finally, do you have any advice for graduates?

Joining an established graduate development scheme is a great way to explore, understand and position yourself in a large company. Some graduates don’t value these schemes as they are keen to prove themselves in a dedicated role. For me, the opportunity to spend two years working in different roles, departments and locations, gaining broad and varied experience is a real privilege. After all, your working life has only just begun.

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