Singapore Airlines names first female CFO: 10 things to know

In becoming CFO, Jo-Ann Tan becomes one of three women that make up Singapore Airline's 14-strong leadership team
As Singapore Airlines names its first female CFO, joining a growing number of major carriers with women executives, we look at how the industry is changing

The business world has scored a hat trick of female leadership firsts this week (and it is still only Tuesday).

While Turkey’s first-ever female central bank chief, Hafize Gaye Erkan, took office, drinks giant Diageo appointed its first female CEO (Debra Crew), making her just one of nine women to lead an FTSE 100 company, and the world’s best airline (Singapore Airlines) named its first-ever CFO.

Currently serving as SVP of Marketing Planning, Jo-Ann Tan will take the top finance role at Singapore Airlines Group (SIA), and join two other women executives in the 14-strong leadership team.

She will be responsible for the company’s corporate planning division and oversee the finance division directly, including accounting, taxation, financial reporting, risk management, insurance, and investor relations functions.

This move by the World’s Best Airline comes just weeks after Qantas replaced outgoing CEO Alan Joyce with Vanessa Hudson, its first-ever female Chief Executive, and arrives as the Singapore flag carrier works towards achieving gender parity by 2025.

Singapore Airlines is one of the signatories of IATA's initiative 25by2025, which is designed to improve diversity following allegations, but so far only half of its members have signed up.

The news of Jo-Ann's appointment also comes amid a shakeup of the airline’s C-suite, and just weeks after the Group posted the highest full-year net profit in its history.

As the airline makes history once more, appointing its first female CFO, here are 10 things to know about JoAnn Tan, SIA’s advancement in female leadership representation, and how the aviation industry is moving the needle towards gender parity – though still has a long way to go. 

1

C-suite shakeup at Singapore Airlines

As the new CFO of SIA, Singapore national JoAnn will step into the shoes of Tan Kai Ping, who has held the finance chief role since May 2021 and who was instrumental in the merger of Air India and Visatra back in November 2022– a merger that is designed to bolster SIA’s presence in India. He has been with SIA Group for nearly three decades, bar a secondment of three years as President of Shanghai-based Great Wall Airlines.

Tan Kai Ping is moving into the Chief Operations Officer role replacing current COO, Mak Swee Wah, who is retiring after spending more than four decades at the airline. He most recently instrumental in growing the airline back to pre-pandemic levels.

Current CFO Tan Kai Ping is moving into the COO role at the airline

2

JoAnn is credited with being a transformational leader

Jo-Ann joined SIA in 1999 and has held senior management positions in the cabin crew planning and training, loyalty marketing and network revenue management departments. Appointed Divisional VP Business Transformation in 2017, JoAnn successfully drove the company’s transformation programme that initiated projects such as the integration of SilkAir into SIA and the SIA-SATS join review, as well as other new business opportunities.

3

She has helped SIA build back post-pandemic

In her current role, as Senior Vice President Marketing Planning, which she has held since April 2021, JoAnn has led the airline’s efforts to restore its network connectivity and capacity after international borders reopened since the pandemic.

“This was critical in helping (SIA Group) to capture the significant pent-up demand for air travel and deliver record passenger revenue in FY2022/23”, the airline said in a statement.

As SVP Marketing Planning since 2021, JoAnn led the airline's efforts to restore its network connectivity

4

She has helped to deepen strategic partnerships with multiple airlines

Under her leadership, SIA has also deepened its strategic partnerships with multiple airlines around the world, “entrenching its presence in key markets and giving customers more options”, the statement read.

JoAnn, who holds a masters in Engineering from Imperial College London, also played a major role in creating new connections with SIA’s budget airline Scoot and oversaw other businesses that are part of the Group, including KrisFlyer, Kris+, and Pelago.

5

Women make up 25% of Singapore Airlines’ senior management positions

The airline, whose goal is to achieve gender parity by 2025, has made significant progress in female representation in recent years, with women now making up 45% of the airline’s workforce (up from 35% in 2015) and 25% of senior leadership roles, up from just 10% in 2015. The board of directors meanwhile has 30% female representation.

6

Singapore’s senior leadership team has three female executives

Of the 14-strong senior leadership team at SIA, just three are female, including JoAnn. Lee Wen Fen serves as Chief Sustainability Officer and is also responsible for corporate planning at the airline, while Vanessa Ng Wee Leng has served as SVP of Human Resources since 2017. Vanessa has led HR in numerous organisations including at Temasek International Advisors.

Vanessa Ng Wee Leng has served as SVP of Human Resources since 2017

7

Singapore Airlines is top 10 company for women to work

The airline’s efforts to promote female representation have been recognised by various organisations, including the World Economic Forum, which ranked Singapore Airlines as one of the top 10 companies for women in the world in 2022.

Among initiatives the airline has in place to promote female representation ­ a mentorship programme that pairs female employees with senior female leaders, a training programme that provides female employees with the skills and knowledge they need to advance their careers, and a flexible work arrangement policy that allows employees to work from home or on a part-time basis.

8

Executive female representation growing in aviation

While just 6% of airlines are led by female CEOs, according to IATA, data from Flightglobal's latest survey shows improvement with the number of female chief executives across the top 100 airlines doubling YoY. 

Earlier this year, Dorothea von Boxberg was appointed new CEO of Brussels Airlines, while last year Annette Mann took the helm of Austrian Airlines, Marjan Rintel was named CEO of KLM, the world’s oldest airline, and Guliz Ozturk took over at Pegasus Airlines, marking the first time in Turkish civil aviation history that a woman helmed an airline.

Qantas rival Virgin also has a female CEO, Jayne Hrdlicka, in place since 2017, while Irish air carrier Aer Lingus appointed Lynne Embleton as chief executive in 2021, and in the last few years, Iran Air and RwandAir have put in place their first-ever female CEOs – Farzaneh Sharafbafi, and Yvonne Makolo, respectively.

The CFO role is better represented, with women making up 13% of finance chief positions, Flightglobal date finds, the same as the Chief Commercial Officer role, however it is the HR role in aviation that is most gender diverse with 40% female representation. 

Vanessa Hudson became the first female CEO of Qantas earlier this year

9

Singapore Airlines saw record profits in 2022

She has been part of the executive to steer the airline back to recovery and into record profits. SIA Group posted record US$2.7 billion annual profits in 2022 on the back of what it says were “proactive strategic initiatives” and “pre-emptive preparation” taken during the pandemic. This marks the group’s first profit in the three years since the pandemic began.

Group revenue more than doubled YoY to a record US$17.8 billion, led by a four-fold jump in passenger travel revenue. The airline recovered well from the pandemic introducing new policy changes and routes, reducing its fleet, investing in new technology and working to rebuild its brand and customer loyalty, including introducing a new loyalty programme, KrisFlyer Plus, in 2022.

10

Singapore Airlines consistently named 'world’s best'

The airline is consistently named world’s best in both consumer and industry rankings. As well as being named the best international airline by Travel + Leisure readers for 27 consecutive years, Singapore Airlines has secured the ‘World’s Best Airline’ accolade by airline-ranking firm Skytrax four times, including in 2023.

The award-winning airline posted record US$2.7 billion annual profits in 2022
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