From Afghanistan to corporate life: Lee de Winton is now running airports

From Afghanistan to corporate life: Lee de Winton is now running airports

Lee de Winton
Lee de Winton is the CEO of Sydney Metro Airports (Bankstown and Camden) with a portfolio that includes over 400,000 movements each year, training 2000 pilots annually and supporting a customer base of over 100 companies.

So how did she get there? de Winton tells us that a ‘five year plan’ early on has set her up well, including through her experience in the Navy and Air Force.

She’s served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Sudan in Management, Air Traffic Control and Aviation Safety related roles, at one stage leading an entire base in Afghanistan.

But still being relatively new to the corporate world, she says that networks have been vital in her transition to a CEO position.

Below, she shares more on the importance of networks in her life, both professional and social, as well and why the word ‘no’ is just the start of the negotiation.

de Winton is a finalist in the Corporate category of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards.

Our finalists are sharing some awesome career wisdom in these Q&As, as well as more on their back story and leadership journey. See our growing hub for this content here

And tickets to the 2019 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards are still available at the time of publishing, here

Has your career in this field been planned or has it happened by chance? What put you on this path today?

Interestingly, when I was younger I was an absolute slave to a five-year plan. That method served me well in the Royal Navy and into my time in the Royal Australian Air Force, including deployments in Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.  This role? Well it’s like coming home. My Defence experience, starting as an Air Traffic Controller and ending as the Commanding Officer of an Expeditionary Squadron, responsible for setting up airbases overseas, all appear to have been the foundation for this. My interim role with Qantas Freight provided the insight into multiple customer airlines and large scale P&L – all ending up here.

What are you working on right now that’s got you really excited?

This is a question that is difficult to answer without an excessive amounts of excitement.

I am in the role of CEO Sydney Metro Airports and am responsible for Bankstown and Camden Airports. These are two of the most important General Aviation airports in Australia, with the majority of the Emergency Service Air assets, 180 business on both and a combined annual light movement total of approximately 400,000 movement per year.

My airports train over 2000 pilots per year, many of which will go onto airline roles, making holidaymakers dreams come true. But even better is our future. Under the Ownership of First State Super these airports are on track to be rejuvenated into larger areas of employment to meet the needs of a growing Western Sydney Community.

However, what’s first is a new Police Aviation Support Branch Headquarters that commenced construction approximately six weeks ago and will open mid 2020. It really doesn’t get more exciting.

What’s a key issue facing women in your profession or line of work right now?

Similar to many of these professions, gender (and cultural) equality is always a hot topic. What I do like to see is how the women in these roles already are reaching out to help others with the organisation such as the Australian Airports Association and Royal Aeronautical Society commencing formal mentoring programs to assist. Well done to those organisations and others doing this work.

The best tip you’ve been given in your career?

For me is that ‘no is just the start of the negotiation’.  I have been brought up by a fiercely Scottish mother, who raised me to have a voice and to try and ensure it’s correctly/appropriately heard.

How have mentors, sponsors or some other kind of support system aided your career, if at all?

For me, mentors were very unofficial in Defence. It tended to be around keeping in touch with previous bosses and asking their advice, noting there is always a Chain of Command consideration.

Nearly five years later, I love my network, friends and mentors and am grateful for their help.

Being relatively new to a Corporate environment, there are always going to be questions that I have no answers for; there are times I’ll need advice and there are times I will need to just run my thoughts over another sense check. I have an amazing group of people that provide all of that. And I hope I provide the same for them.

As well as your career, what other priorities do you juggle?

I don’t have a large family in Australia, so don’t have much direct juggling to do. My parents are overseas and my herding of those amazing people only happens for four months every year. One could say that is more than enough!

How do you manage your wellbeing and stay at the top of your game?

I manage my wellbeing by investment in my amazing group of girlfriends here in Sydney. I am originally from Scotland and when I first arrived in Australia it was unusual not to have a history here, but that feeling is long gone. I am lucky to have this exceptional network that I cherish, and when they read this – they will all know who they are. Thanks ladies!

Where do you currently get news and info regarding your industry and career?

Industry and career information specifically comes from a variety of sources including The Australian, Australian Aviation and the Australian Airport Association. But for business information then the AFR is a daily must-do with the Women’s Agenda e-mail arriving conveniently at lunch time!

Got a business or career book or podcast you’d recommend?

For anyone considering a career change try ‘How Green Is Your Parachute?’

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