Episode 35: The Art of Taking Chances — The Story of Karin Muller

By Karin Muller

Karin Muller grew up in Bavaria in Germany, but she has a very international background. Born to a German mum and with an Anglo-Indian stepfather she has relatives dotted around a few corners of the world — and one thing she always knew was her love for networking and travel.

It’s a little tricky to put her in a specific box, mainly because she never really had a “plan” or set out towards a specific professional direction. One thing was sure, though, it had to revolve around customers in some way, shape, or form; it was always “Happy Customers – Happy Karin”! Looking back, she considers herself very lucky that some exciting professional opportunities came her way and that she took them when they presented themselves (and even when not) and so far, they all have worked out very well. She has no regrets as she knew the value of taking chances!

Karin was always more pragmatic than academic, and she is not afraid to admit it. She wanted to enter work life sooner rather than later and therefore opted to complete an apprenticeship once she completed secondary school rather than going to university. Her choice of education provided her with a solid commercial background and subsequent qualifications. Apprenticeships in Germany provide an excellent basis as it combines working life with education and lasts between 2-3 years depending on the type of school.

After she completed her apprenticeship, a couple of stints in marketing, and another in a laboratory handling human samples (it was not for her), she then needed to evaluate which industry to join. She needed to find a new direction to have a fresh perspective.

She joined a temp agency which provided her with an opportunity to take on a couple of temporary assignments in admin roles. Interestingly enough both placements were offered to her because she is bi-lingual and both assignments ended up being within the aircraft industry.

One of the assignments was to cover one of the secretaries on an extended vacation at a Bombardier Service Centre about 70 kilometres away from home. Before accepting the mission, she took a trip up there on a Sunday to see if was commutable and the minute she saw that airfield and the business jets she was hooked. In fact, on her first day, she was shown around and when she walked into the hangar and saw these beautiful Challenger 600/601 she fell in love! Joining that temp agency was exactly the kickstart that she never knew she needed to enter the exciting world of corporate aviation!

She joined Bombardier as a temp secretary and left as a program coordinator. Having worked for this renowned aircraft manufacturer in various roles and departments has afforded her the opportunity to learn about aircraft maintenance and the aircraft spare parts business. She was so intrigued by her colleague who was coming into the office in the mornings telling her about the latest AOG missions he dealt with over the weekends/nights/out of hours and wanted to be part of that. Why one might ask? Because she saw this as an opportunity to play a major part in keeping her clients aircraft operational. Her boss gave her the opportunity to become part of the AOG team alongside her day job! No day was ever the same and serving such a diverse client base is one of the most cherished memories of her working life. She even experienced hand-carrying parts to grounded aircraft herself!

However, when the company made some fundamental changes by re-locating the service center to Berlin, she decided that was the time to move abroad and she did just that, 2 weeks later. Why? She wanted to take destiny into her own hands, not waiting for looming redundancies. That’s when she found herself in an entry-level position in the world of Finance – in London, UK. Nothing she ever even considered but she had a hunch that working for GE Capital could only be a good thing. And again – her beginning was humble working as a Personal Assistant, she soon received the opportunity to become a Six Sigma Black Belt, working on the integration of a business that was acquired in Dusseldorf, Germany.

3 years in that industry, she was craving and missing aviation. So, she searched high and low and came across a job posting for a position she knew she was not qualified for but somehow managed to secure an interview with. She was told that they had already identified a candidate, but she was asked if she ever considered working in Purchasing.

Her response? “Not sure what it is but I’ll take it!”

She then worked as a buyer for AAR, a very well known aviation services company. And there she was buying large engine components, not a clue how engines worked, but hey, one can learn right? Being a bit of a chatterbox and an opening becoming available in sales it was suggested she moved into sales for the airframe parts division and that was the beginning of her career in Sales and Business Development. All she thought, oh yes that means client contact and traveling – exactly what she always wanted!

A few years into her career with AAR she had a chance conversation with one of her past business aviation clients who later on she convinced to became her mentor and suggested she should talk to CRS Jet Spares as they were looking for a European Sales Manager for Aircraft Parts Sales and as she missed the world of corporate jets so she took a trip to Florida, had a lovely chat and joined.  Then another few years later another chance meeting happened with one of her old AAR colleagues who suggested she takes his then job at Sterling Global Aviation Logistics since he was looking to move on and when he told her that he thought that the world of AOG logistics would be a great fit for her, again she jumped onto the opportunity.

That was 16 years ago and she just recently moved on from her Regional Director of Sales and Business Development EU role and has now joined Airspace, an award winning tech disrupter offering time critical logistics solutions where she focusses on supporting the company’s expansion plans – as their Sector Vice President Aerospace!  — a long journey full of happened upon chances and serendipitous opportunities.

Being in her position and the perspective that she has, Karin still believes that there are still too few women in the industry as it is not heavily promoted from a young and impressionable age as a viable option. She believes that, finances, or more importantly the lack thereof, plays a big role too, not everyone can afford aviation-related education and training and it is mostly reserved for the privileged or the ones who have sacrificed so much and saved hard.

Though so much more is now being done to promote careers across the board and moving away from the traditional views of what roles boys or girls should play, there is still the question of: How can we drive change? The quick answer is by actively promoting this advocacy. Take the growing number of nonprofit organizations for example. Women in Aviation, The 99s (Female Pilot Organization founded by Amelia Earhart), AWAM (Female Mechanics), Youth Mentoring Programs, Build a Plane Projects, various STEM initiatives supported by NASA, and one very close to her heart is the Women in Corporate Aviation (USA).

Karin has been volunteering for the past 18 years as the International Director helping to promote, network, mentor, provide scholarships to support the next generation of females to learn about and enter corporate aviation as well as support existing females that are looking to move into business aviation or a change in direction — just like Karin did.

Does culture play a role? To a certain extent, yes. As accessibility to the industry can vary quite a bit but look at the positive impact that organization like The WIAA Project is doing. Promotions like these can certainly have a very great way of promoting the industry globally. The exciting world of Aviation is one world, one family, one mindset! We speak the same language and follow the same dream and that needs to be promoted. The passion for aviation is the glue that holds us all together.

Men can also play a significant part in ensuring that they show their children that it does not matter what gender you are, it’s the best person for the job that is important, male, female, non-binary – it doesn’t matter. An open mind will inevitably make the industry more inclusive and diverse.

Karin has a strong belief in the importance of Roles Models. We, as an industry, need to show up, we need to give back and mentor and encourage. One of her most treasured memories is a trip to Malawi. 80 female pilots (corporate, private, helicopter, student pilots) flash mobbed outside the local shopping mall; that small act certainly created a lot of awareness in that part of Africa and showed that girls can soar! This was thanks to the tireless effort of one local lady that is a corporate pilot herself and the governor of the African Section of the 99s. It was very impactful to the local community.

There are, as mentioned, many non-profits that are out there, just to name a few:

  • Women in Aviation
  • Women in Corporate Aviation
  • The WIAA Project (Women In Aviation Asia)
  • The 99s
  • Various youth Mentoring Projects, Build a plane initiatives, and more…

Karin wanted to leave us with the most inspirational advice she has received is from the MD at AAR who took a chance on her. “Skills can be learned, but traits cannot”. Admittedly, Karin said that some of her skills were lacking back then. But the MD saw traits that he felt would make her an asset to the company and that is a philosophy Karin has always followed. The character of a person.

That one belief made her hungry to succeed, to not follow the “easy” option, and most importantly to take chances. And the best is yet to come! Well, the best came! Since writing this story, Karin was offered the opportunity to become the Sector Vice President Aerospace for AIRSPACE. Another chance meeting when the time was right and with such a charismatic, supporting CEO and Co-Founder, she took a 6 months break and readied herself for the new chapter in her career and oh yes, packed endless holidays, ThePowerMBA and Embry Riddle studies into her break and says “don’t underestimate the value of investing in yourself and that it is NEVER too late to learn new things”. You can network with Karin at  karin@airspace.com and www.airspace.com

Karin Muller