Mariya Stoyanova is the director of product development at JetBlue, where she oversees the customer experience. Her team is responsible for designing new customer products, including Mint, the airline’s award-winning premium cabin offering. Speaking to Reed Exhibitions for a series of articles celebrating women in aviation Stoyanova says she believes an open mind, confidence and being’comfortable with being uncomfortable’ will carry women through any challenge the corporate aviation world can throw at them.
I’ve been in the aviation industry for 15 years. I started my aviation career in operations, launching Aegean Airlines’ service in Sofia, Bulgaria, where I am originally from and I joined JetBlue as an analyst with our in-house consulting team, working on cross-functional projects, 10 years ago. I came to the industry purely by chance. An airline recruiter came across my resume and called me up. Before that call I never imagined myself working in aviation. At the time I was working at an IT services company splitting my time between France and Bulgaria. I had no idea what to expect but I was very curious about it and loved to travel so I gave it a shot. It is the most dynamic and unpredictable industry I’ve ever worked in. No day is the same or like the one before. The best part about it is that you are connecting people, bringing them to new places or home to their loved ones.
I’ve always been laser focused on being good at my job and flying above any gender bias. Keeping an eye on the prize and being a team player pays off, and most importantly opens doors for more inclusion and diversity of thought. I have definitely experienced some challenges as a young female executive, but with an open mind, confidence and a sense of humor everything can be overcome and/or course corrected. Key to success is: patience – good things don’t ever come easily; persistence – failure is a temporary state and you can only learn from it; and authenticity – staying true to yourself and being genuine is critical to establishing relationships and becoming a leader.
The biggest obstacle I have found is finding the right voice for myself or more specifically the right tone. Often women can be perceived as aggressive when being confident. It took me a while to learn how to apply the right amount and nuance of assertiveness while staying authentic and true to myself at the same time.
My career highlight was launching our award-winning Mint premium service (lie-flat seats, tapas-style artisanal dining, free entertainment and award-winning service on select coast-to-coast and Caribbean flights) and being part of its first test flight. We created a brand new and unique experience and until that very first flight we had no idea if what we had designed would ever work. It was epic!
The biggest development in the last 25 years has been accessibility. Flying is no longer a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Over the past 25 years air travel has become accessible, affordable and inclusive, reaching remote parts of the world and people from all backgrounds that never imagined they’d be able to take advantage of and experience it. Our next chapter has just begun and should be focused not only on accessibility but also on sustainability. Airlines should be connecting people and places in an environmentally-responsible way, and passengers should be able to enjoy guilt-free travel.
My most important workplace mentor was my former boss, Jamie Perry. He really pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to grow and develop interest for areas that I didn’t even know existed before I started working with him.
The best advise I ever received was’don’t let a good crisis go to waste’. There are always hidden opportunities when you are facing a challenging situation. It forces you to come up with creative solutions and think outside of the box and ultimately come out of it better off than initially planned. Some of the best features of our award-winning Mint product were invented as a result of some kind of’crisis’ or challenge we faced.