Meet Global Women's Scholar: Jo Hjalmas

My career journey: From pilot to COO

Hi, I'm Jo, current Modular Executive MBA student at Bayes and a scholar on the Global Women's Leadership Programme.

Bayes Business School is my first real academic experience. From as early as I can remember, I wanted to be a pilot. As soon as I finished college, I applied to a flying academy called FTE Jerez in Spain where I completed my Airline Transport Pilots License. I spent 15 months completing 14 written exams and a number of practical flying tests before graduating in June 2008. With only a handful of women and over 100 men training to be pilots, this experience was formative for me in building resilience, discipline, and...downing pints (I got the quickest time on my course!).

My professional experience has been an adventure. Graduating from flying college in a recession was tricky. I ended up moving to the Isle of Man and flying for a number of organisations with Air Ambulance, cargo, aerial survey, and passenger flights. In 2014, I hung up my headset and swapped the flight deck for a desk. I initially worked in Sales for a pilot training company, organising courses for some of the world’s largest airlines. I was then put on a leadership fast track and moved into an operational and change management role. Ultimately, I ended up as the UK Academy Director, managing two cadet training locations at Bournemouth and Cranfield Airports. In 2020, I was awarded a Presidential Fellowship to the Royal Aeronautical Society, which is one of my proudest accomplishments to date!

With this experience, I realised that my real passion was change management and business transformation. I just love solving problems, the more complicated the better! Since COVID, I have worked for a few different organisations. Initially, on a fixed-term contract as a Group Operations Director mainly working on building operational resilience. Following that, I rejoined aviation and worked for ZeroAvia, a start-up building hydrogen-electric engines for aircraft.

More recently, I have moved into Financial Services and I am the Chief Operating Officer for a financial advisory firm in Poole, on the South coast of England.

What motivated you to study at Bayes?

Over the years, I have worked with some inspiring people who have pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was regularly in meetings where I needed to subtly Google some words that were used. In the end, I thought an MBA would be a great way to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. Having spoken to people that had done the course, they said that it was not only educational but a life-changing experience.

My husband is a Bayes Alumni so I knew that the Business School had a great culture and recruited people with interesting backgrounds. Studying around a diverse mix of students has been enlightening and hearing different perspectives and viewpoints has enriched my experience.

How have you found your studies so far?

To date, the MBA has been excellent. I’ve enjoyed the variety of different subjects and the challenges that go along with having to learn about multiple areas of business. There are some topics that I did not know so well and I have been pleasantly surprised with how much they have interested me.

My cohort is also something special. I’ve made some friends for life and their support and encouragement along the way have got me through some of the more pressured times.

What are your career aspirations?

I want to keep working in roles where I can keep learning and pushing myself. As you can see from my professional experience, I get bored quite easily so I will keep seeking out short-term projects where I can have a real impact on businesses. From the MBA, I feel that change management and business transformation is my forte.

Global Women’s Leadership Programme

After I applied, I was contacted my someone at the university who encouraged me to apply for the Global Women's Leadership Programme (GWLP) scholarship. The process was so simple. I had a very enjoyable interview with Canan (previous GWLP Director) which felt more like a conversation. We discussed various topics around female empowerment and our feelings towards equality in the workplace. Shortly afterwards, I received the notification that I had been successful and wept like a baby!

After feeling huge levels of imposter syndrome being accepted to a Business School with no formal academic qualifications, it was a welcome validation that I may have what it takes to succeed on the programme.

The GWLP is such an impressive part of the university and very much needed for the women who participate. Before joining, I attended a skills workshop on negotiation and was impressed at the talent that they bring in to support the MBA curriculum.

I was lucky to inherit the running of the Peer Mentoring Programme in its third year of running. Together with Cass (another scholar), we brought together women from different MBA and Masters programmes at Bayes to collectively support and encourage each other. Real friendships have been made and I’m so very grateful to have extended my professional network in this way.

Have you had any particular women role models that you're inspired by?

I’m privileged to have many. Although I’ve mainly worked in male-dominated careers, I’ve worked with plenty of women that I can only describe as ‘next level’. The kind of women where you see how good they are and try to instantly emulate their skills.

Outside of work, my greatest women role models have to be Baroness Karen Brady, a force to be reckoned with and the single reason why I watch The Apprentice!

Also, one of my best friends Jenna, who is a stay-at-home Mum to two small children. This is a job that is seriously underrated! Her resilience is a constant source of inspiration for me. There are plenty of times when I have tricky work situations and I think of her. If she can get through the day with everything that motherhood brings with no respite, then I can certainly get through this [insert standard work event that people moan about].

What makes a good leader?

Every day, I’m still learning about what it takes to be a good leader and I don’t see that stopping any time soon. For me, the fundamental leadership mission is to get the right people in the right jobs and then empower them to do the best that they can. When this happens it can create magical teams that can accomplish so much (and have fun along the way).

Alongside this, the main principles that I try to abide by are:

  • Effective Decision-making – Perhaps this has come from flying but the best leaders I have worked with are effective in decision-making. You won’t always be right, but you can’t be scared of making tough decisions. Acknowledge how long you have to make a decision, and the options you need to consider. And then most importantly review. Sometimes you may need to back track but if you abide by the 80/20 principle, you won’t be far wrong.
  • Communication – I’ve found that one of the most common grumbles with leaders is that they don’t communicate enough. I try to take the time to speak to people regularly, whether through 1-2-1s, team meetings or town halls.
  • Integrity – Delivering good news and bad. If I don’t know, I say.
  • Fairness – It is critical to act in a predictable and fair way.
  • Authenticity – Whenever I’ve tried to act like someone I’m not, it’s come back to bite me. Trying to be your authentic self in situations, even if sometimes it makes you seem vulnerable, enhances your professional relationships. People need to see the real you.

Find out more about the Bayes Global Women's Leadership Programme and our scholars.