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Airnorth CEO Daniel Bowden Discusses Bristow and Airnorth Cultures, Leadership and Work-Life Balance

November 03, 2015

Daniel Bowden was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Airnorth July 29, 2015, as part of the planned transition following Bristow’s acquisition of Airnorth earlier this year. Bowden joined Bristow in 2008.

In moving from dedicated finance roles in Bristow to the chief leadership role of Airnorth, what areas of personal competency do you draw on to be successful in your new role?
Both roles require similar competence. I've always been enthusiastic, and I like to engage with my team and share my passion for the business. I'm open to new ideas and change within the business, and I like to get my hands dirty. These qualities have translated nicely into my new role, and I'm hoping they will have the same impact that they did when I was in finance.

You are a Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA), and it must seem a long way from your early days in Finance. With the benefit of hindsight, if you had your chance to tell a young Daniel Bowden going through his CPA education and certification some areas to focus on or take special note of, what would these be?
I would tell him to take time early in his career to set goals and focus his efforts towards those goals. Early in my career, I tended to work and gather the expertise to do my job, but I didn't get out of the weeds to look ahead and think about where I would end up in the future. For the first five or six years, I was simply working hard and getting my skills up to where they need to be. I wasn't thinking about where I was heading with all the work I was putting in and what I wanted to be doing long term. I figured out later that I wanted to be a manager within the organization. I wanted to be a decision-maker, someone who helped grow business and made changes for the better. I would tell young Daniel to take time out, take a deep breath, and think about what he's trying to achieve and make a plan to get there.

I would also tell him to build good relationships a little earlier in his career. I've been at Bristow for eight years and I've met some really good leaders within the company. I was part of a Leadership Development Team (LDT) a couple of years ago. This opportunity expanded my network of contacts and relationships with leaders around the company.

I'd also tell him how important mentors are in his career. I've had a really good business unit leader and he's mentored me in some ways, whether he knows he has or not. Relationships like these – where I can reach out to people within the group and get their guidance, support and a better understanding – are invaluable.

How would you describe your style of leadership? Do you think your style has changed from your early leadership days? If so, why?
These days, I'm far more participative and motivational in my leadership approach. When you step into the role of CEO, you're no longer the subject matter expert of your particular area. I have a lot of really strong, experienced subject matter experts reporting in to me. I find myself using more of a collaborative approach to managing and gathering ideas. I've always been very comfortable making the final decision, but, lately, I'm far more engaging with my team and it's more of a two-way conversation than in the early days. It takes maturity to realize that you need to engage and motivate your team, set goals, and help people along, rather than demand action.

In a company like Bristow that has made several acquisitions, new leaders are often faced with the challenge of working alongside previous employees and even owners. Do you have any advice from your experience?
It's important to put yourself in the shoes of those people within the business you just acquired and get an understanding of what their motivations and concerns are. They may not be quite sure what will happen post-acquisition, and the sooner you can allay any unwarranted fears, the better. Then you have to build rapport and trust. It's important to be honest with employees about Bristow's motivations – where we want to take the company, what role I play, what role they'll play. It's about being open and honest, and treating people with respect. So far, it's been a good transition and integration because Bristow has done what they said they would do. There's been an openness about the whole transaction.

In your CEO role, you have a diverse group of people working for you. Do you see yourself as a mentor or coach? If so, what do you see as your chief areas of focus?
I have an extremely talented senior leadership team with strong subject matter experts in their fields of work. As an effective coach of that team, my role is to ensure they are clear on the company's vision and that they are aligned, appropriately resourced and working together towards our strategic objectives.

Are there challenges associated with the style differences in management and culture between Australia and the U.S.?
I don't see too many challenges or obstacles in the style differences in management and culture. Australians are immersed in U.S. culture through television, so are becoming more aligned with time. Australians are fairly uncomplicated people who want to be communicated with regularly. As a leader, you need to get out in the workforce and engage. Australians don't like showy leaders; they prefer leaders who are down to earth – that's how we engage.

How do you balance work and family life?
When you have the opportunity to, you just have to put the family first. Everyone has out of office hours' demand. When you do have time with your family, it's vital to make the most of it!

If you could project 20 years into the future, what will you be doing and what experiences would you like to have under your belt?
Hopefully, I will be sitting in my boat with a fishing rod in hand with an exciting career in aviation under my belt!