WITT was so grateful for the opportunity to interview celebrity mentor, Bridget Blaise-Shamai, past Vice President of Customer Loyalty & Insight, President of the AAdvantage Program with American Airlines.
She is a wealth of knowledge & wisdom, here is what we learned from her interview:
Tell us a little about your latest position.
After many roles & monumental moments in my career, I moved into the role of President of AAdvantage Program in the summer of 2016. All of my previous combined experience led to this awesome opportunity to lead the entirety of the American Airlines loyalty program. Including partnerships, frequent fliers, data, contact center – it was 700 people in organization, all with very different wants and needs. The entire team were first rate professionals, committed to winning customers and loyalty, and loved coming to work.
I approached my leader in 2019 wanting to do something different, and was open to the idea that my next steps may be outside of AA. Ultimately, there was an opportunity to voluntarily separate from the company. As I had already been considering my next move, this voluntary separation was what I was looking for, and I was asked to stay on through the summer.
The airline industry was particularly hit hard by the pandemic between government travel restrictions and shut downs and where you could travel, there was less demand. The US government supported our economy, including the airline industry through grants and loans. As I wrapped up my career at American, I participated in the lending transaction whereby the loyalty program assets were used as the collateral. It was an incredible experience to be a part of that included a diverse set of stakeholders – the US Treasury, their advisors, lawyers, our finance and accounting teams and others. It was an extraordinary learning experience and I felt fortunate to have been a part of it.
I concluded my career at American in October and have enjoyed spending a lot more time with my family, and especially my son who has been very busy with his college applications.
ADVICE: All professionals should have a reasonable understanding of legal matters and technology. Those elements are key to enabling you to be an effective business person – lean in, get your hands dirty, it will only benefit you.
I left AA in October and have largely been helping my son with applications with college.
Why are you looking forward to participating in Women in Travel Thrive / The Day of Impact?
Women have to be in this together. It frustrates me that we still have a ways to go. Many years ago, I asked a top female executive from another company, and her view was “Men come to work everyday and only see their way up. Women have the view it’s a pyramid, that you have to be elbowing out somebody.”
The ideal situation is that we all believe we can move up and not at the expense of another. For example, I fully support and would do anything for Katie Junod, an executive at Expedia and a former colleague of mine from American Airlines, to experience continued success as a professional. That is why I am doing this.
There are also going to be times when you want to slow down your career, and turn down opportunities. Believe in yourself, because it all does work out
My mentors provide me with super objective feedback and counsel – I value that endlessly. I cannot impress upon this community enough the importance of having true mentors in your life. Everyone is going to land on their feet, and where their feet do land, they’re going to be great. As different and uncomfortable as it is at first, it will be great.
What advice do you have for the mentor pairings & networking?
Oftentimes, people meet, but don’t create relationships. They don’t keep them up.
It is so easy now with social media, texting and such to do things that don’t even require a lot of time. It still requires thought – you want to be sincere. It is better to be working with someone for a while, rather than pick their brain when you suddenly find yourself unemployed.
Seek feedback, seek counsel. Mentors worth their salt are always going to do that; amazing women create organic mentorship. This can get tricky, where mentorship really works is when you have experiences that evolve into a lot of time together and inevitably a sort of friendship is created – which becomes the foundation for mentorship.
The persons I call upon a lot now, their feedback and counsel is super objective – that to me is really worth investing time. I cannot impress upon the audience the importance of doing that.
In your experience, are there mentorship experiences that do/don’t stand out?
I will often be asked to support a candidate for a promotion, and that is the first time they’ve asked for my support. To endorse a promotion, a relationship has a huge effect. Good mentors will open up their network, but you have to have brought them along for your commitment and ultimate validation. They introduce you to others – and that doesn’t happen in a moment, it happens over the series of moments.
It is the equivalent of cram for an exam, you’ve known this all along, never works out as you think it will. Relationships are the same way.
You have clearly grown in the ranks of your career, what advice do you have for women who are navigating negotiations for their own professional growth?
I’ll share a story to help answer this question: We were in the southern part of Israel crossing the border into Sinai and from the car, I saw a vending machine. I only saw the vending machine offering regular coke – I didn’t see a diet coke which was my preference. So, I asked my husband for a regular coke. When he returned, he asked “why did you ask for a coke? Why didn’t you ask for your usual diet coke?” And I replied I did not see diet coke available from the car.
Turns out, the vending machine had a handwritten note for Diet Coke which was not visible from a distance. Morale of the story: in life, ask for what you want, not what you see.
It can feel lonely when you are putting yourself out there; and you can be ok with that. Loneliness comes with the territory of being a leader to others, and as a leader to yourself.
I think especially now, there is a lot of space for women professionals to really pursue what they want in compensation, work style, lifestyle – no one is going to ask it on your behalf.
Also, don’t go kicking yourself. Take the trade-off of coming in too high rather than coming in too low, as it is very difficult to dig out of coming in too low. In my experience, simply asking for what you want, the vast majority of the time, you’ll get it. In those moments, you’ll learn a lot about yourself.”
You mentioned how emotions can come into play – women can often be noted as too emotional at work, was this something that you’ve ever struggled with?
I was noted for passion, and never in a negative way.
I want to be careful here. You don’t want to be viewed in a one dimensional way, you want to be viewed as a highly capable business professional that has real affinity for the program and creates value for the company. Be careful about your zeal and passion, embrace it – don’t hide from it. Really caring about what you do, allowing yourself the space to see you broadly as well. Have a few things known about you that can really define you in a wonderful professional positive way.
Thank you so much for your time and advice, as our last question – are there any resources you’d recommend for our Thrive community for personal / professional development?
I believe strongly in reading – it is important to be well-read. We revolve in a culture of social media – some linkedin, some twitter – once you think about how you are using that spare time, it equates to how you invest in yourself.
Personally do like to read – white papers and innumerable news outlets. Follow Scott Galloway on linked in. I also really like Josia Nakash – the cofounder of the CEO collective.