How GE Aerospace’s cross-cultural teams solved the biggest problems

How GE Aerospace’s cross-cultural teams solved the biggest problems

Aziz Koleilat, GE Aerospace’s vice president of sales and marketing and general manager, entered the BBC’s Executive Lounge to talk about how an international perspective drives innovation.

Business no longer happens in a vacuum. In an increasingly interconnected global environment, leaders need to have a cross-cultural perspective to make the right decisions. Aziz Koleilat knows that.

Born in Prague and raised in Lebanon, Koleilat went to university to study biomedical engineering in the US, then earned an MBA in Canada. Now at GE Aerospace, he serves as vice president of sales and marketing and general manager for the Middle East, Turkey, Eastern Europe and Russia/CIS – and is tasked with using his global experience to build a team committed to expanding GE’s footprint in this very important region. .

“Creating diversity of thought and experience within a team is critical,” Koleilat told the BBC. “A diverse team must allow a free exchange of ideas. All the deals GE makes here in the Middle East come from a collaborative environment.” The work it has done has been successful: three out of every four commercial flights are powered by GE Aerospace or GE partner engines on airlines including Emirates, Riyadh Air and Turkish Airlines.

Now, Koleilat faces a more pressing challenge: addressing sustainability in aeronautics with the use of alternative fuels. While the problems may be different, however, his strategy remains the same: create an inclusive and innovative work environment that encourages big and small ideas alike – and shape the voice of the future of global business. “It’s interesting to see how people develop. I like to help them grow and thrive and then I move on, and I make room for them to be leaders, he said. “It’s a simple formula for success.”

Coletiat talks to the BBC about the critical role of diverse cultural perspectives and the joy of seeing your team grow.

At GE, you’ve worked across many businesses. What have you learned along the way as you gather experience across sectors?

When I arrived at GE, I started in healthcare, then power and finally to aerospace.

Having had the opportunity to work in various businesses, and move to new countries, I am sensitive to new team dynamics, new regions and new cultural dynamics. We have a tendency as business leaders to face new situations and immediately focus on the product: create the product, then go to market. Having made significant moves across sectors and regions, I think it can be short-sighted. I believe it is important to take the time to learn the unique elements of each unique market. If you can develop a deep understanding of your market, you will have a deeper insight into the product and how you can make it fit the needs of the consumer.

On a personal level, I think that movement is important for career growth. In every sector I’ve been in, I’ve learned that it’s important to understand when you’ve reached a point where it’s okay for someone else to come and take over. At some point, everyone hits a plateau where you don’t learn anything new or different. That’s when someone new must take the team to another level. I am proud that many of the health care people who used to work with me and report to me took over my duties when I moved. For me, movement is about achieving the next challenge and giving others the opportunity to grow. You have overseen several major changes in the aviation industry, including the widespread use of safe alternative fuels. What will the solution of the future look like, and how will you get there?

We are working on many things: electricity, hydrogen, open fire and many different technologies. You never work on just one thing – you have to do several things at the same time. You have to create efficiency, you have to streamline and perfect the technology. At the moment, we are heavily invested in alternative fuels, but we are also looking for other solutions for the future – something the team here is fully involved in.

One of the challenges in this region in particular is something called a “hothouse” environment: there is a lot of sand here. And in short, what happens is, when sand gets into the engine, it sticks to the propeller, and reduces the efficiency of the plane. Therefore, the use of fuel and increased. In most places, it is washed away with water, but here, the minerals are stuck to the sand. So, we developed a rinse that will really clean the engine in this region. And that seemingly small thing will be a big improvement for the environment.

More from the Executive Lounge:

EY: Karyn Twaronite
Google: Melonie Parker
Sales Force: Suzanne DiBianca
For these small but important innovations, we need to have a committed team, and have the space to drive the technology direction and the resources to do it. That’s the critic the part I come back to every time I talk about diversity: we need to encourage experimentation and open dialogue from everyone in the team to innovate.

GE is spinning off its business lines into smaller, more specialized units. What can a niche business do that a larger conglomerate can’t?

The most important thing is to really focus on our expertise, and we have focused entirely on aerospace. In that sector we focus on the future of technological development. So, this is an effort.

For example, sustainability investments in health care are different from investments in technology for aerospace. The main thing is that every sector has room to create their own technology. I think at this point because of the legacy that GE has in the aerospace industry the technology that we have, there is a bright future ahead. It is necessary to really focus on that future.

Second, we have a real opportunity as a leaner organization to try new things, take on new challenges. And it doesn’t have to move vertically to move bigger. What makes you curious is something you should pick up and try because that will build a new experience. For me, it’s still about the team. My greatest joy is seeing the teams I work with grow and really grow further.

You have mentioned the importance of collaboration several times. What do you think is most important about teamwork?

Most importantly, we need to ensure that we have diverse voices on our team. If you understand the market, you understand the product, the last step is to create a diverse team and give them space to share ideas and solve problems together using their own diverse backgrounds and expertise and value that in their team members. Companies are learning the value of diversity in all aspects of their business.

And then, most importantly, all teams need a space where they’re not afraid to tackle the tough stuff that might not work out. There needs to be a safe space where all your employees can tell you if things aren’t going in the right direction. We need to have transparency of information – especially in a very volatile environment, there are many stakeholders and differences of opinion. I truly believe in igniting minds to solve problems together as an organization, committed to that cause.

So I look at it from all different angles: putting together a team, and then giving them the confidence to voice their opinions and grow their careers. In my career, I’ve been very fortunate to work with very, very smart people who have gone on to pursue something bigger than me, and I want to continue that momentum.

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