Katherine Suttor (Fr 2006) is a Senior Manager working in strategy at Qantas Loyalty. Katherine shared some of her experiences during her time at St Andrew’s, studying abroad and life after university. Working in an industry that has been heavily impacted by COVID, Katherine also sheds some light on how her role and work has changed pre and post COVID. Katherine is still involved with the College and is a current member of the St Andrew’s College Alumni Society. Read on to find out more!
Please tell us a bit more about yourself – where are you originally from and where did you grow up?
I’m a home grown Sydneysider – I was born and grew up in Waverley, just up the hill from Bronte Beach.
Why did you choose to reside at St Andrew’s College?
I wanted to attend a residential college because I had boarded my last two years of high school and felt what I learnt living with my friends was as valuable as what I had learnt between school bells. St Andrew’s was my first choice due to its balance of achievement with equanimity and fun.
What parts of college life were you involved in?
When I wasn’t at work or in lectures I was donning my Drew’s jersey to support my friends. My greatest feat at Drew’s was perhaps adding avocado to the menu as the student kitchen rep.
Could you please tell us more about your time abroad studying at Hong Kong University of Science & Technology and Harvard?
Where to start, both those times were life-changing experiences! I had never been to Asia prior to HKUST, and I would never have applied if it weren’t for two of my close friends at Drew’s, Chani and Gracie, who were from Hong Kong and gave me a taste of how fun it would be. Being able to study in Hong Kong allowed me to live and breathe the culture more than I otherwise would as a tourist.
The same can be said about studying my MBA at Harvard. Learning via the case method was an interesting change from USYD lectures, and I had the chance to learn as much from my peers as from the professor. In both instances, being able to learn around the world has enriched my learning and understanding more than could ever be found in textbooks.
Do you have any advice to give to people wanting to study and work abroad?
- Go for it! The worst type of failure in my mind is those who think and never do. For every gain I’ve had plenty of failures and I have learnt that you will never know if you never try.
- Rally your support team. Many amazing people contributed to my overseas admissions. So surround yourself with supporters and promoters and be ready to do the same for others when the time comes.
- The hardest experiences are often the most transformational. I went to Hong Kong and Boston knowing nobody there, and at times it was the loneliest I’ve ever been. However I left both places with some of my closest friends remaining to this day.
Why did you decide to do an MBA?
St Andrew’s was actually a key reason. The truth is that I sought the experience itself more than the MBA degree. The chance to meet curious, intelligent and driven people from around the world in a similar setting to the residential learning I’d had at St Andrew’s was a key motivation. What I ended up with was more personal and professional learnings than I ever expected, transformational experiences as well as forged memories and friendships that will be with me for life. When people ask me if an MBA is worth it, I tell them it depends on what they are looking for. In my case, it is a resounding yes!
Could you please tell us a bit more about your role at Qantas? What do you enjoy most about it?
I work in strategy at Qantas Loyalty. This involves working across our brands (e.g., Qantas Wine, Hotels, Money, Insurance, Store), programs (Frequent Flyer, Points Club, Business Rewards) and partnerships (e.g., big banks, Woolworths, BP). My role involves helping lead a fit-for-purpose, multi-disciplinarian team to head the development of priority initiatives.
I was drawn to Qantas Loyalty because I am interested in fast-moving, behaviour-driven industries and digital ecosystems had piqued my interest whilst I was in management consulting. What I enjoy most about my work are the challenges to learn and grow in a supportive environment.
Working for an airline company, how has your work been impacted by the COVID 19 pandemic?
My career at Qantas Loyalty comes down to two halves, pre and post COVID. I spent one year prior to the pandemic focusing on the retail growth strategy for Loyalty. Then in July 2020 we underwent significant change and I was moved into the central strategy team, a different group of amazing people, and shifted focus to recovery across all Loyalty.
During COVID, Loyalty took on an even more important role for the Qantas Group. With it came a sense of responsibility and urgency to do everything we could to support the Group and maintain engagement with our frequent flyer members while planes were grounded. Being amongst genuine, supportive and inspiring colleagues was the critical ingredient in getting through the uncertainty and change of the pandemic. It is only through real teamwork that we’ve gotten through COVID the way we have.
What do you like to do outside of your work?
Outside of work I like to be outdoors and moving. My happy place is in the mountains – ideally with snow on them but I’ll gladly take sun too if it comes with a bike.
What are you reading/ watching or listening to at the moment that you’d recommend?
Over Easter I read The Paris Library. It’s a novel set in Paris during WWII and a great reminder of the power of everyday heroes and the importance of friendships in shaping our lives.
Do you have any words of advice to young Androvians thinking of pursuing a career in your industry?
Everyone is different so it would be remiss of me to offer up generic advice for working in strategy. What I can say is what has worked for me and that is having a background in management consulting. From it I have the toolkit and broad exposure across industries and topics to help tackle most problems.
For those interested in aviation, I’d say don’t be discouraged by what you’ve seen through COVID. The airline industry is hugely dynamic – from operations, engineering and asset management to product design, workforce management, network & commercial planning and loyalty. If you have passion and an open mind, you’ll be rewarded with endless opportunities. The industry is one of the most challenging in terms of economic, commercial and natural factors, but as anyone in the industry will attest, that’s part of the constant sense of stimulation and reward.
Is there anything else we should be asking you?
If you’d asked me what advice I’d give myself during my time at St Andrew’s, I’d say it was to back myself. I was never the smartest in the room nor the most athletic nor most sociable, but I was determined (maybe at times stubborn). This has proven to be just as important for my career to date as any other attribute. So for current students thinking what’s next, trust your instincts and know that with had work and perseverance you can see it through to your goals.