Don't let yourself be guided by doubts

An Interview with Andrea Gebbeken, CCO at Munich Airport

When Andrea Gebbeken joined Munich Airport as the third Managing Director (Commercial & Security), she was the first woman holding this high-ranking position at the Bavarian hub. However, she brought extensive experience in aviation and logistics, including six years as CEO of Tirana International Airport and an executive role with the services arm of German railways Deutsche Bahn. In an interview with MAI Newsflash, Ms Gebbeken talks about equal career opportunities and why women should leave the “comfort zone” more often.

Ms Gebbeken, have you always wanted to become an executive?

To be honest, I didn't think about it at the beginning of my career. There was so much to learn and so much to transfer from theory into practice. Relatively quickly, I started working in projects and increasingly assumed responsibility for sub-projects and projects – so leadership gradually became more relevant for me.

Which step of your career had a particular influence on you and why?

My work as CEO of Tirana Airport had a special impact on me: It was my first major leadership role as a company manager in a foreign country, leading approximately 330 employees. I was confronted with a different work and management culture – with everything that goes with it: operative day-to-day business, strategic dimensions and intercultural challenges.

Andrea Gebbeken, Chief Commercial Officer and Director of Security, Flughafen München GmbH
During the Girls' Days at Munich Airport, Ms. Gebbeken gave female students an insight into her daily work and encouraged them to get out of their comfort zone.

Have you ever gotten the impression that as a woman you had to work harder than your male colleagues to reach certain positions?

During my working life, so far I have not really gotten the impression that women have to achieve more. In my perception, women are more perfectionist and voluntarily do 120 percent, but sell it below value – as if it were a trifle. Men, on the other hand, no matter how much they do, tend to sell it as if it were 120 percent (laughing). I know, it’s a cliché, but there is a spark of truth in it! I also believe that women are as ambitious as men. I just think that we are much more frugal and patient and don't communicate as often and as early what we have achieved and what we aim for next.

Why is the proportion of women in the top management of big companies in Germany and other European countries still very low, often less than 10 percent?

This has grown historically. People tend to promote like-minded people and similar types, as they are themselves. If you leave this to evolution, it will simply take a while to change.

So instead of leaving it to evolution – what changes would you propose?

As an initial spark, I am in favor of introducing a mandatory quota for women – as a revolutionary element, so that something can change in the foreseeable future. As a prerequisite for this, Germany in particular needs to improve framework conditions such as childcare offerings. In companies, potential managers – whether male or female – must be made visible, e.g. through mentoring programs.

Do you think that women lead differently than men?

This is difficult to answer because generally people are very different – not everything can be reduced to gender. I would say very carefully that women tend to be more likely to seek the connecting element in a group than to distinguish themselves individually from the group. Consequently, women often speak of "we", men, on the other hand, of "I" when they comment on their activities.

What is your advice for young women striving for a career similar to yours?

You will not become an executive overnight. You need a wide range of experience, which you won’t gain when staying in your comfort zone only. Instead, you need the courage to do something new and different to develop yourself. Give yourself the chance to be wrong and, most importantly: Don’t let yourself be guided by doubts, but just do it!

More and more women are working at Munich Airport's fire brigade.