Career Story: Heinz Lachinger, Austrian Airlines

June 17, 2013

Professional MBA Controlling & Finance alumnus

What stages in your life have had the greatest impact on you and why?

Studying for my degree certainly had a particularly strong impact on me. Eager to earn my own money as soon as possible, I started working immediately after obtaining my higher education entrance qualification. As a result, I had gathered some practical experience in an internationally active company when, three years later, I decided to enroll in an economics degree program at the University of Hagen. The other side of the coin, however, was that studying and working at the same time proved a considerable challenge in terms of resource management. It took me some time to figure out how to best balance my work, family and academic commitments. The program's format also demanded utmost discipline: at the University of Hagen, you can complete a large part of your degree by means of distance learning. All told, I could not have made a better decision, though. Doing academic work on the one hand and having to cope with the professional challenges faced in a demanding industry on the other, was just what I had been looking for, and it was this combination that made this chapter in my life so exciting. I was able to take immediate practical advantage of many of the things I learned during my academic training. Conversely, my job allowed me to contrast the real-world experience gained in the course of my work with theoretical concepts, thus making it possible for me to enrich my university education with relevant practical input.

Did you originally want to pursue a career in a different field? If so, why is it that nothing has come of your plans?
No, the airline industry has fascinated me ever since my youth. Airlines are service providers selling mobility to their customers. The international environment they operate in, the technology they use and the challenges they face make for a truly exciting combination. What is more, it is great to work for a company that, in providing its services, takes Austria's lifestyle and hospitality out into the world.

How and why did you come to work for Austrian Airlines?
After obtaining my higher education entrance qualification and working in banking for just under a year, there was an opportunity for me to join the controlling team—though it was not called that at the time—of Austrian Airlines. I did not think twice about it. Later, I took a degree in economics without interrupting my career.

What has changed in your career as a result of your MBA degree? How did the program support you in reaching your career goals? What concrete career opportunities have opened up for you?
When I took my MBA, I was responsible for controlling and accounting at Austrian Airlines. The board in general—and the CFO in particular, as you can imagine—took great interest in the progress of my studies. They repeatedly entrusted me with projects that were helpful in the context of my MBA training, too—and attending a graduate program in corporate finance allowed me to develop my understanding of other key areas such as treasury, investor relations and procurement. When Austrian Airlines was looking for a new CFO just under six months after I had graduated, my MBA degree, therefore, certainly played a role in being shortlisted for the position and in obtaining it.

What was your biggest professional/personal success?
As is generally known, Austrian Airlines has had a rough ride in the recent past. New market entrants with sometimes radically different business models, oil prices at record highs and the demanding business environment in general, made it necessary to strategically reposition the company and strengthen its capital base. It was soon clear that entering into a strategic cooperation with a global player in the airline industry would make most sense in the long run. In 2009, Austrian Airlines joined the airline alliance of Lufthansa. As "Corporate Finance Officer", I was already responsible for the finance division at that time. The transition period was marked by exciting tasks such as due diligence and delisting procedures or the leveraging of synergies.

It is safe to assume, especially in economically trying times, that a new owner will make personnel changes, filling key positions in the company as a whole, and in the finance division in particular, with “his own” people. I am, therefore, proud of not only staying on the team but joining the extended board in my role as CFO. For me, this is a sign of great confidence in my work.

What are your goals for the coming year? Your goals in general? Is there still something you absolutely want to do?
Professionally speaking, completing the reorganization of Austrian Airlines will be top of the agenda. Our goal this fiscal year is to turn around and become operationally profitable again at last. The CFO is crucially important in making this happen. Apart from ensuring that necessary investments can be financed from operating cash flow, he has to pave the way for future profitable growth.

Privately speaking, I intend to spend a little more time with my family. In particular, I plan to do some traveling to discover other cultures and lifestyles with my children.

What do you consider a “great luxury”?
Being able to live free from worry is most likely what I would consider a great luxury. For me, this means, above all, enjoying good health and a happy family life.

What was the last book/film you really enjoyed?
As you can imagine, my job requires me to read plenty of specialist literature and periodicals. To tell the truth, I have not cracked open a novel for quite some time, and I am not particularly keen on watching movies either. In my spare time, I enjoy reading travel accounts and aviation journals.

How would you characterize your philosophy of leadership? Has it been influenced by a leadership role model?
I do not really have a leadership role-model. In my opinion, executives need to lead by example and provide impetus. It takes a committed team to achieve success. Above all, you have to be authentic and target-oriented. Predictability and credibility are vital when it comes to leading by example. You cannot reach targets unless you think independently and take interdivisional action. Apart from setting targets, stressing why they need to be met will become ever more important. That being the case, I make sure not only to agree on ambitious but achievable targets with my team but also to do my best to provide guidance by giving feedback on a regular basis. Should a target prove difficult to attain, I do not call it into question immediately but offer support and assistance instead. My team can be sure that their achievements will be recognized and appreciated.

If you could change places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
Our tomcat.

How do you recharge your batteries when you are not pursuing your demanding career?
Every now and then, my family and I make a conscious effort to keep the weekend free so that we can spend time together. On these occasions, we frequently go out into nature. With no appointments to keep, you can switch off and recharge your batteries.

Why would you recommend the Professional MBA of the WU Executive Academy? What did you like the most?
The MBA covers all the important aspects of modern financial management, allowing you to acquire state-of-the-art academic knowledge. That is one of the most essential prerequisites for staying up to date in your field and related disciplines. As a result of interacting with the program's lecturers, many of whom can draw on a wealth of practical experience, and of networking with your fellow students, your horizons broaden. Without question, the program's international dimension is also fundamentally important.

It is hard to tell what I liked the most. The greatness of the program lies in the combination of general management, corporate finance, controlling and economic policy issues.


My motto in life:
Always keep your eye on the ball.
I can laugh about:
trivial things. I also laugh about myself on many occasions, which I find refreshing.
Mistakes I am most likely willing to forgive:
if people are genuinely willing to learn from them.
I would spend my last money on:
my children.
In 20 years I will be:
hopefully enjoy good health and be able to pursue my professional and private interests. Privately speaking, I will still be living with the same woman, and my children's wishes and plans for the future will have come true.

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