Honeywell Aerospace

Honeywell Aerospace is a manufacturer of aircraft engines and avionics, as well as a producer of auxiliary power units and other aviation products. Headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, it is a division of Honeywell, a Fortune 100 technology company. The Aerospace business unit builds aircraft engines, cockpit and cabin electronics, wireless connectivity systems, mechanical components and more.

Lisa Butters Breaks the Myth with Full Command across Aerospace, Tech Industries

Lisa Butters is in an enviable position in the business world wherein she is running a 'garage-style' startup within the ecosystem of a Fortune 100 company. Based out of Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America, this four-year old software startup aims to digitize the $4 billion used aerospa...
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Lisa Butters is in an enviable position in the business world wherein she is running a ‘garage-style’ startup within the ecosystem of a Fortune 100 company. Based out of Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America, this four-year old software startup aims to digitize the $4 billion used aerospace parts while making use of block chain technology.

GoDirect Trade is one of the many startups being incubated by Honeywell Aerospace. However, it functions as an independent business to the extent that the platform has sellers and buyers who are in direct competition with the parent company as well. Butters has been a part of Honeywell for over fifteen years, joining them in the capacity of a SAP developer and rising through the ranks to become the senior director of digital and business transformation. It was then that she moved to the position of General Manager of GoDirect Trade (GDT).

Other than her professional achievements, she has served as a board member on About Care which empowers people to live independently, Chandler Arizona Transportation Commission, The Connected Place Council which is sponsored by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and a volunteer volleyball coach for the YMCA. She is also a mother of four kids. She talks to Women Icons Network about her experiences in male dominated industries (aerospace and technology), challenge of digitising sales in a high-end industry and gender equality at the workplace.

The Initiation

As a high schooler, Butters had no idea about what she wanted her future career to be like. “Growing up, I’ve always thought it was cool when children or young adults just knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, from scientists to doctors and engineers. I’m amazed by their strong convictions at such a young age,” she says remembering the confusing times.

Her father cut out an article in the paper about a degree in Computer Information Systems, saying it could open a lot of doors for her. That is what led to her taking up the course in Arizona State University and following it up with a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Arizona State University, and a Master’s degree in Finance from Harvard University.

It was only after taking up the course that she realised that she had always been a latent tech geek at heart. After graduating from college at the age of 19, she started her career in web development and database programming.

Corporate Experience

At her first job, Lisa Butters was excited to be a part of a team which was full of ‘big time, smart’ programmers. On her first day at work, when she introduced herself to them, only one of the ten developers lifted their head to greet her. “I can imagine how they thought I was the newcomer that was probably going to make their job harder because I didn’t ‘know enough’ to be efficient,” she says.

However, this made her determined to earn credibility and trust. For this, she had a two-fold approach: ‘Be helpful. Be humble.’ She signed up for as much testing as she could. She was honest about her lack of knowledge and understanding. She would ask as many questions as she could while being very respectful of people’s time. “I tell this story because I’ve carried these lessons with me throughout my career and at every level. In order to be successful, Be helpful. Be humble.”, she says.

GDT Challenge

Despite not having a set career course to follow, Butters has always harnessed an entrepreneurial spirit. So, when she got the opportunity to get the flywheel going and running the GoDirect Trade (GDT) marketplace, she thought it was an amazing fit.

Even though e-commerce has gained grounds in every other field, the used aviation parts industry transacted primarily via traditional sales channels before GoDirect came into existence. “If I had to sum up why the aviation industry users aren’t chomping at the bit to go online, it boils down to two things: firstly, aviation parts are really expensive (our average order is US$10,000 on GDT) and secondly, it is crucial to ensure that these aircraft parts that are flowing through our platform are safe enough to reinstall back into an aircraft,” explains Butters.

Considering the expenses they were making, it is understandable that the customers would prefer emailing and calling the salesperson directly over putting a US $20,000 aircraft part in their cart and click on the checkout button. In order to deal with the trust issues, blockchain technology was utilised to gather as much information about serialized parts in a highly secure way and then showing the ‘part pedigree’ information on the product listing database.

Ask her about the experience and Butters says, “I recognised from the get-go that there were going to be many challenges and hurdles that I would have to cross in order to get the platform up and running. But when I took a step back and looked at the bigger picture, building this platform didn’t just fulfil my personal interests and career development goals, but helped me understand the purpose of what we were building and problems that we were solving for the industry.” It is this realisation that keeps her motivated to work on the project till today.

Workplace Gender Equality

She is extremely encouraged by the progress made in terms of bringing gender equality at the workplace over the last couple of years. However, Butters still thinks more and consistent efforts need to be made in this direction. “The best thing that we can do is to try to influence and control what’s in our sphere of influence,” she suggests.

“As a female right at the intersection of the two traditionally male-dominated industries – aerospace and technology – in the last decade, it’s so common for me to walk into a meeting room and sit around a table with only men,” she shares. This has often left her feeling bad about men’s lack of interest or trust towards women’s opinion or profession. “But I’d usually tell myself that I’m going to show them what this force named Lisa Butters can do. I’m going to show them what women are capable of,” she says.

Butters believes that we can empower women in the workplace by having engaging and respectful male colleagues or leaders. She does her bit by recognizing and reinforcing other women’s ideas during meetings. “It’s really a great practice to repeat another woman’s viewpoints during a meeting and compliment the ideas. Besides, when you do talent or career discussions during the management reviews, it is advisable to make a list of three to five women who would be great candidates for future roles and growth opportunities,” she shares. She adds that Honeywell’s Women’s Advancement Program has provided her with the platform to serve as a role model to fellow females in the industry and to play an active part in creating equal opportunities for her peers.

She has even brought her husband, a software engineering manager, to the point where he makes it a deliberate point to have at least 50% female candidates to be interviewed, especially when his company does talent recruiting at universities. “He knows I’ll throw a fit if he doesn’t have an even male/female slate! I do think everyone should be given an equal opportunity for career advancement,” she reasons.

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Making her Mark in the Male dominated Aviation Business

When Malaysia-based Coleen Tan joined the aviation industry a decade back, it was a mysterious and fascinating world for her. She rose through the ranks at Honeywell Aerospace throughout her career in the male-dominated industry, to reach her current position of Regional Sales Manager, Asia Pacific ...
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When Malaysia-based Coleen Tan joined the aviation industry a decade back, it was a mysterious and fascinating world for her. She rose through the ranks at Honeywell Aerospace throughout her career in the male-dominated industry, to reach her current position of Regional Sales Manager, Asia Pacific for B&GA (Business & General Aviation).

Throughout her career, she has had to struggle, not only because of not having an in-depth knowledge about the industry but also the biases against women within and outside the industry. In this chat with the Women Icons Network, she shares how on her efforts to improve her standing in the field by continuously taking on new challenges as well as encouraging more women to join aviation in different capacities.

The Take Off

It all started with a recruiter calling Coleen who was a fresh graduate about an opportunity in the aviation giant. “I had majored in Public Relations so joining the aviation industry was beyond what I had ever imagined,” she describes her first reaction to the offer. However, it was too good to turn down and soon she joined the company as a Global Planner who planned and strategized the company’s purchase of aircraft parts in the most cost-effective way and at the right timing.

One of her most amusing discoveries in this phase of career was that almost every aircraft in the sky, be it commercial, business aviation, or defence, has a Honeywell product in it. This made her more passionate about the work she was doing. “I love how our technologies contribute to flight safety and efficiency,” she enthuses.

Her second role in the company was that of a Customer Support Manager that allowed her to gain greater insights of the business. It was her desire to learn as much as she could about the different aspects of the aviation industry that led her to move to the role of Aftermarket Sales Manager for Honeywell advanced technologies and solutions for the B&GA operations a few years later.

Pandemic Learnings 

She believes that the one lesson that everyone must take from 2020 is that health is the priority over everything else. “One needs a healthy body to continue achieving new and great experiences,” she explains.

Workwise, the big challenge has been to build a rapport with customers and colleagues in the absence of face-to-face meetings. Therefore, Coleen decided to pause and re-strategize her position. This helped her become more efficient despite not being able to travel and meet people.

She also made use of the time saved from commuting to participate in several social media discussions regarding the aviation industry. Be it a Facebook Live about women’s role in the industry or Aviation & Aerospace live interview, she made use of these platforms to share knowledge and insights to facilitate better understanding of the industry among the general public.

Turbulent Skies

Being dominated by men, aviation was not an easy industry for Coleen Tan. This was made even more difficult as she didn’t have any background in the field that would equip her with the information she needed. The learning curve was steep and yet she decided to take over new roles and new challenges.

She explains her career strategy by saying, “It’s a roadmap I built for myself to understand the overall business of the aviation industry and customer needs from different perspectives. This really enabled me to recommend more comprehensive proposals that address the challenges that the different business aviation operators are facing today.”

One of the greatest challenges for her is to prove her competency among all the experts who have a much in-depth knowledge of the industry in terms of trends and technologies. Building her credibility was especially difficult as a young female working in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Fortunately, the company helped her through this ordeal by means of growth programs which have made her confident about that she is being given an equal opportunity to grow, and that her talent is being valued. “This is proven through my experience switching into the different roles in the business aviation division over the past 10 years despite being a female. I may have had limited knowledge of the different roles and functions at the start, but I am totally confident in my competency to earn my place at the table, thanks to the opportunities provided,” she says.

Women in Aviation 

Women in the aviation and aerospace industries need to work doubly hard to be seen as credible and be trusted with responsibilities, believes Coleen. She recalls an incident from her customer support days in which she told an aircraft maintenance engineer not to go forward with a maintenance task. “Based on the failure described, I told him it would cost them more if they go ahead to perform maintenance on the aircraft wings and engine as it’s beyond their authorization. Despite my feedback, he moved ahead to “troubleshoot” the engine of the aircraft,” she remembers.

The cost did escalate, just as she had told him. She then had to work with his team to minimize the loss. The incident helped her earn some credibility in the industry especially among the mostly male engineering staff. She credits the resources provided by Honeywell for being able to respond to the challenging customer issues in spite of her non-technical background.

She stresses the point that there is an unconscious bias in the aviation industry as well as its customers that women’s roles are only limited to being air stewardesses. “I find this offensive as I believe that many other professions in this industry, such as pilot, engineers, sales and support teams, should practise gender equality,” she says, adding there is no shortage of examples of female industry leaders today.

At the same time, there is a need to change this perception among the public at large, she believes. She often talks of her experiences in the aviation industry in public events in Malaysia. “I also hope that more women would be encouraged and inspired to come on board the aviation industry,” she says.

Gender Balance at Work

According to Coleen, an organisation can show its commitment towards a gender balanced workforce through consistent education and communications on gender equality, having anti-harassment policy in place as well as hiring a good mix of gender in the workplace. She believes that a good mix of gender makes for great teams as every person has different strengths. “Also, we can inspire each other to be better by exchanging views, perspectives, and experiences,” she says.

Talking about Honeywell’s Inclusion and Diversity initiatives, she informs, “I have seen significant changes during my past 10 years with more female talent in the team across different business divisions. Some of the women leaders in the company are the main brains that initiate the latest technologies for aviation, such as blockchain and connectivity technology.”

Achieving this gender equality is not possible without the help of men, she believes. She says she has a great appreciation for men who can celebrate the success of their female colleagues. If you are a people manager, please give fair opportunities and recognise the working relationship with females as a mutual partnership to achieve diversity.

Future Perfect

While the corporate world is doing its bit to promote gender diversity, Coleen feels the real changes should start from the family. “Sons should be taught to have a role in doing household chores, such as cleaning, cooking and other similar tasks that are usually associated with daughters. Fathers can be role models as well,” she suggests. This change in the domestic sphere is the most challenging aspect of the fight towards gender equality, she believes.

She asserts that until the next generation understands the need for gender diversity and practise it, the battle is an uphill one. “When sons and daughters have not practised respecting the different genders, corporate policies can do little good, especially in traditional societies like ours,” she says.

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