IASA had the pleasure of interviewing Yvonne Thompson in August 2019 regarding her role as an Aviation Finance Leader with PwC.
What attracted you to your chosen career in Aviation Finance?
I have been working in aviation finance for many years at this stage and I think what I have enjoyed about it most, including from the outset, is the fact that you were dealing with real assets. I love to travel so the idea of getting on a plane and looking to see whether this was one of my client’s aircraft or dealing with a client regarding that plane was really interesting. When we work in financial services, a lot of the time we deal with numbers, in aviation, that asset is just so much more tangible.
What role does Aviation Finance play within the aviation industry?
It plays an absolutely critical role. An aircraft is an incredibly expensive asset with a very long life. If you think back years ago, airlines had no option but to go out and finance their own aircraft acquisitions. This required significant outlays of capital expenditure and the resultant asset was on their balance sheet, in theory for the remaining life of that asset. If the airline wanted to take advantage of say, technology advances, or being able to flex their fleet for changes in demand, capacity, they had to consider selling existing aircraft, buying in new aircraft, funding that acquisition, etc., all activities that take an airline away from what one would say is their core business of running an airline and flying customers or freight around the globe. Aviation finance itself has evolved from that pure lending to an airline into a number of different areas including aircraft leasing which in and of itself, provides a number of more flexible options to an airline – allowing it to take the benefit of those technological changes, allowing it to deal with changes in capacity etc. on a more real time basis.
Do you think a career in Aviation Finance is perhaps less well known by students?
Yes, absolutely, although you at IASA are doing great work to change this! To the ordinary person on the street, aviation finance may be almost a hidden industry. It is getting better known in Ireland (as it should) but not necessarily that well known still. As an example, I have 40 people working in aviation finance tax every day, it is what they live and breathe so they know what the industry is like, the opportunities for advancement that it presents and that is just in their niche area. In our graduate recruitment, we focus on the industry and the opportunities it presents when talking to students. But if you were go out onto the street and ask somebody about aviation in Ireland, they probably will talk about an airline, Aer Lingus or Ryanair, maybe the airport, the air corps, but unlikely that they will mention a lessor, nevermind have any sense of the amount of leasing companies that have operations and employ people in Ireland and abroad. It is still an industry that from a graduate perspective, or second level, maybe still is under the radar. It certainly has a higher profile in recent years because it is getting more coverage in the media more so that will definitely help. But it is a real success story for Ireland and we really need to continue to advertise it because I believe, as a career it can give so many opportunities and you can come into it from pretty much any background.
What is your educational background and how did this contribute to your success?
Well, this is an interesting one! When I left school, having done all the science subjects throughout school and applied maths, I was naturally very science and maths focused. I applied for Pharmacy in Trinity and got my place. As I was about to start my Pharmacy degree, there was an opportunity to go and study accountancy. I had never thought about Accountancy but was intrigued and had honestly over the period from finishing my leaving cert started to question whether I really wanted to do pharmacy or had I just applied for it because it was a challenge in the context of the highest points course at that time, my subject choice was pushing me towards it. So, when the opportunity to change direction presented itself, I took it and I’ve never looked back since. I completed my Accountancy qualification and that led me into Aviation Finance via tax which included a stint in Moscow
What was the best career decision you’ve made so far?
I don’t know if there was a particular decision which I would consider my best but my most recent decision was joining PwC and that has been the most successful part of my career for me. I think all the career decisions I’ve made have allowed me to progress and there have been great learnings along the way – it’s not that one decision was necessarily better than the others. I think this is really important as there are always pros and cons to and from every decision that you made but if you look at things and decide that you’re going to learn something from it, that’s the most important thing, and then to move on and not to regret your decisions.
What do you love about your job?
I love the variety that my job presents including the variety of clients that I have. I have clients from all over the world so getting to interact with people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds is really enjoyable. There is a lot of variety of work that comes with this also. We advise clients on investments they are considering, helping them to raise funding, build their platforms, help them to move and trade their assets, and this requires us to work with our offices all over the world to achieve this. The other part of my job that I love is the people aspect. Here at PwC, we train a huge amount of people and to see them coming from a graduate course and watching them progress through their career is really exciting and inspiring. As I get older, I’ve seen some of these people progress to very high positions in their careers and there’s a certain amount of pride that comes with that.
What has been the biggest change in aviation that you’ve seen throughout your career? What do you think the aviation industry will look like in the future?
I’ll look at the industry now I think the level of diverse investor activity is interesting. You don’t just have your traditional investors and traditional money, you have people who are looking for something different which keeps it very interesting. I think we’ve seen cycles of capital market activity and there have been ups and downs with it. I believe what is going to happen over the next few years will involve some really interesting changes to occur in Aviation. Whether this is going to be technological advances like blockchain and what that’s going to do in the industry. The industry is quite paper-based still and I think there’s a huge opportunity to change in the future. I think how we interface with the industry is one to watch. I was on a flight last week to London and we sat on the stand for a couple of hours because City Airport had been closed. We were then transferred onto another flight but there was an issue with the Airline’s operating system. It was a simple thing as when the same airline tried to put us on a different flight, their system wouldn’t allow them to take us off one system and add us to another and I thought in this day and age it is phenomenal that this can’t happen. So, I think the system change we’re going to see throughout the industry will be interesting.
What kind of obstacles have you faced getting to where you are now? Have you ever felt restricted because of your gender?
I am not sure if I’ve necessarily faced obstacles and I think that’s down to the path I’ve followed and howl interface with aviation. Working in somewhere like Pwand my previous employer, there was a path and you worked your way up. You start as a graduate and you work your way right up the ladder. It has been hard and there have probably been many obstacles along the way, but I don’t think they were any different because I was female. When I go to conferences it tends to be a very male-dominated industry but there have been very successful women in the industry who are blazing trails. I think it’s important for us as an industry to make it clear that although it maybe perceived to be a male-dominated industry and difficult to get into as a woman, if you have the right attitude there is nothing stopping you from having a career in the industry.
Why do you think there are fewer women in Aviation in comparison to men?
It’s historical and no different to many other industries which have traditionally been male-dominated including my own, but the important thing is that it has been and continues to open up but there’s more to be done. I think the way the industry is progressing and with some of the amazing role models that we have right across the industry championing diversity in its widest sense, there are lots of opportunities for women. It can be a tough industry due to travel commitments in certain roles and while that has historically been less appealing perhaps for women, that challenge now arguably impacts men just as much as women. When I think about the industry however, there are now so many different career paths in the industry where you can be part of the industry and use your expertise but achieve whatever balance is important to you.
When you were starting out in your career, was there a particular woman who inspired you?
Not when I was starting out, but there was one individual who inspired me. He interestingly was married to quite an inspirational woman and I think they both played a role in inspiring me. He and she will know who they are, and she still inspires me to this day, she’s an amazing woman! He always encouraged me to be the best person I could be. He always used to say when I faced a challenge to step back and think “I can do this!” and always encouraged me to think if I had the skill to do half of what was required, I had enough to give it a go but that also there was nothing wrong with failure. It is just another learning.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that women face when pursuing a career within aviation?
I think there may be a view that as an industry, it doesn’t have the same percentage of women participating as in other industries and seeking out those role models to follow can be challenging if you are not already embedded in the industry. When you are looking from the inside out, you can see plenty of inspirational role models that tell us all it is achievable so I think having more women involved in the industry will encourage more women into it. We need to talk about it more however, and to younger women thinking about it, or even not (yet) thinking about it. One thing I would always encourage is as a woman you can always help other women and not be afraid to do that – there a huge amount that successful women can do for younger women to help them to succeed also. The more women we have in the industry, the more coverage we’ll have of the fact that women have a huge role to play and benefit to give. We also need to be less shy about talking about our paths, our challenges, and our goals.
What advice would you give to a young girl or woman wanting to pursue a career in Aviation Finance?
Just go for it! There is nothing stopping you, the industry is completely open to male, female, anybody who wants to get into it. If that’s what you want to do, have a go at it. The people that enter the industry love it and rarely leave it. Don’t feel that there is anything that you can’t do, always think “I can have a go at this!”, and if it is not clear to you how to go about it, seek out the help. It is an industry where a lot of people want to help. I have two young kids, and I would love them to pursue a career in the Aviation Industry and would encourage them to do so because it is a fantastic industry to be involved in and will expose them to great opportunities and experiences. They already have a love for aircraft because I have that love for aircraft and travel. Always think about aviation in its broadest sense because if you have an interest in aviation, there are so many different ways of getting in and being a part of the industry. Seek out those people who can help you and never think you can’t do it!