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Steady Under Pressure: Columbia Prepares Leaders For the Unexpected

June 29, 2022

Guliz Ozturk has worked in the airline industry for 25 years and for Pegasus Airlines in Turkey since 2005. As the company’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Ozturk has had a hand in everything from sales, marketing, and revenue management to pricing and the customer experience. Her leadership prompted significant growth, and Ozturk felt she hit her stride in 2019 when Pegasus carried 30 million passengers and had revenue close to €2 billion. Then the pandemic hit, hamstringing the airline industry and throwing Ozturk and her team into crisis mode.

Although leaders in the airline industry are by necessity comfortable with upheaval, Ozturk and her team faced an unprecedented catastrophe — one that shook many leaders to the core. But through it all, Ozturk was able to maintain focus, vision, and poise. She took the time to share some thoughts about her experiences in Columbia Business School Executive Education‘s Advanced Management Program and how it prepared her to navigate unexpected challenges and lead with agility.

What Was the Most Valuable Takeaway from the Program?

The most valuable takeaway for me was learning how to react to problematic and stressful conditions as a leader. I learned how to be an inclusive leader, be open to new ideas, listen to everyone, not jump to conclusions, and not panic when stressed (which is very easy to do). You have to be agile and make accurate decisions all the time, but especially during periods of transition. It helped shape my reactions to how the pandemic impacted the airline industry. Strategy up until that point was all about growth, but growth strategy is entirely different from strategic crisis management.

What I learned at Columbia was how to improve my leadership skills and reflect properly. We were given a reflection notebook during the program, and I still keep it with me and write in it daily. It’s become part of my routine to go through it and write notes about my strategy and leadership approach.

What Did You Learn About Leadership in the Program?

I feel like a more global, diverse leader after my participation in the Advanced Management Program. I was born in Turkey and received all of my education here. So for me, participating in Columbia’s program was a very valuable experience. My colleagues represented 25 countries, from New Zealand to the U.S., Sri Lanka to Japan. We were all senior leaders from different sectors and areas of the world, and our experiences were completely different. All of our functions were also different, which helped when it came to discussions. We all had different perspectives and ways of thinking about things. It was really valuable to learn about other industries in the context of different cultures.

The program’s value goes beyond executive networking, although that is a key element. The immersion experience added a lot of value because we got to have in-depth discussions with professionals with different perspectives. It was amazing to see how differently people approach the same challenges.

What About the Program Initially Interested You?

I was looking to develop my leadership skills and gain a broader perspective on strategizing and navigating change within my company. I also wanted new tools for motivating my team during periods of transformation. And I wanted to develop a more innovative culture in my organization.

Columbia’s brand and reputation initially attracted me. The content of the courses, the fact that the Advanced Management Program was based in the U.S., and the caliber of the professors and participants were important. I also liked that it offered the immersion experience in New York City and allowed us to apply what we learned throughout the program in person.

The unique aspects of the program were a draw. The Advanced Management Program integrates case studies, group work, and discussions, but the immersion activities were the most interesting element. For example, the fencing activity isn’t something I ever pictured myself doing. But the strategy behind it was really important. We learned that we have no chance to succeed if we do not build our business or leadership strategies properly.

What Did the Program’s Unique Activities Teach You About Managing Change?

The activities helped me see that when you set an objective, everyone must understand it so you can achieve the same thing. For example, the rowing and fencing activities taught me that you should not panic under stress and you have to learn from your mistakes. Your team can have strong individuals on it, but if there is no alignment and no learning from mistakes as a team, you can never get that competitive advantage.

Why Would You Recommend Columbia’s Advanced Management Program to Other Executives?

The program focused on three pillars: strategy, leadership, and execution. This struck me because thoughtful strategy and execution are crucial elements of effective leadership. The program helps participants become more authentic, agile, and inclusive as they make their way through intensive coursework with knowledgeable professors. The coaching offered was also important for leadership development, and the curriculum incorporated stress management and the art of negotiation — both of which are beneficial to executives. If you’re a senior leader who is fond of learning, the Advanced Management Program can help you uncover your potential.

Columbia Business School Executive Education’s Advanced Management Program is an exclusive 22-week experience that promotes focus, agility, and reflection. Participants engage with faculty and peers in immersive virtual classrooms and during a unique immersion in New York City, then apply what they learn in their organizations to foster a competitive advantage — even during tumultuous times. Apply today.

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