Ursula Silling, fostering innovation for aviation and travel, geek early adaptor, living and breathing innovation and the connected world

Ursula Silling, fostering innovation for aviation and travel, geek early adaptor, living and breathing innovation and the connected world

Hi, I’m Ursula. I have been working with renowned aviation, travel and technology groups for more than 20 years - in different markets, with different business models, but always extremely tough and very competitive environments. I started from scratch in key departments such as network planning, revenue management, controlling. Then I was promoted fast to take up more responsiblity, and ulitmately worked most of the time as a member of the executive team and board in charge of all the commercial areas.

I have always been driving change - and technology to help move forward faster and better. I decided to found my own company and use my experience and energy to help businesses and their people to move ahead and make a difference. I am passionate about what I do, and I motivate my team and people I work with to go and think beyond boundaries and make the impossible happen and embrace change as the new normal.

Please find below more details about my background.

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Ursula Silling

  • Founder & CEO at do things differently - XXL Solutions

  • MD at think future - Hamburg Aviation Conference 

  • Travel tech start up advisor

  • Founder of the first global virtual innovation club for aviation & travel 

  • Visiting Lecturer at City University of London 

  • Mentor at Everwise, Author and Writer

Fostering innovation & digital transformation for airlines, airports & travel. Obsessed with the customer and making things happen in the digital age. Geek and global citizen.

What – commercial strategy, digital transformation and change management, modern revenue management and pricing, customer experience management and state of the art loyalty strategies, retailing, ancillaries and product development, modern network planning methodologies, sales transformation, marketing and distribution and new technologies as enabler for an agile commercial strategy. Other activities include customised market and trend watch, research in the areas of loyalty and innovation, organisation of think tanks and strategic hackathons. Mentoring, coaching, organisation and process redesign and accompanying strategies to make things happen. 

Who - A unique blend of academic and strategic, vast experience in all commercial areas and different countries, cultures and business models, she held senior executive and board membership positions with Lufthansa Passenger Services and for Lufthansa Systems, British Airways Group (Deutsche BA), Virgin Express / Brussels Airlines, the TUI group and Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines. 

She started her own consultancy and outsourcing company XXL Solutions in 2010, with a focus on customer, technology, new revenue models and innovation. Since then she worked on transformation projects including among others Aer Lingus (distribution platform strategy and digital), Monarch Airlines (whole commercial range), Air Malta (survival strategy and quick wins without investment), Peach Airlines/Japan (ancillary revenue strategy), Hamburg Airport (innovation hub) as well as ebay, banks and insurances (modern loyalty strategies). Ursula is also a travel tech start up advisor and does volunteer work as a mentor at Everwise.

She also has an academic life replete with lots of theorising, writing. and (guest) lecturing about all this stuff. She has just started as visiting lecturer at City University of London. She organises the Hamburg Aviation Conference, a think tank bringing aviation together with different industries and science to discuss  She is a co-author of “Aviation and its Management - Global Challenges & Opportunities” (to be published November 2018) and a partner / contributor at medium.com. She has written several articles on modern aviation management, for Airline Business and 

Ursula is a renowned  speaker and moderator at a number of conferences and business events. 

Ursula is in the process of completing an MSc in Sustainability and Environmental management at the University of Derby, UK.  

Who - some “stories” from a couple of Ursula’s past airline activities - During her time with Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines she was in charge of 350 people globally and $800 mn revenue, covering short haul and longhaul operations and extensive feeder traffic. Her main focus during this period in the economically difficult years 2008/2009 was crisis management and implementation of quick wins with major customer and partner  contracts, tactical network improvements, aggressive promotion campaigns, marketing and sales planning and customer focus, cost saving and service differentiation opportunities. She restructured sales into a modern and agile team, realigned the network and codeshare partner strategy medium and long term, negotiated significant significant improvements for IT contracts and developed a medium and long term strategy and vision. 

Ursula made the merger between Virgin Express - a low cost carrier - and SN Brussels Airlines - a traditional network carrier - happen as EVP Commercial, leading a team of 330 people worldwide and being in charge of €900 mn revenue globally. Next to a huge cost saving exercise and designing the new commercial organisation she drove the rebranding to Brussels Airlines with very low spend, building on the strengths of both airlines. She also introduced premium economy and bundled product propositions (which were later widely adopted by the Lufthansa Group and other airlines), she  drove digital and direct distribution and introduced distribution charges for indirect bookings (which were later abandoned as part of the investment by Lufthansa, to then be re-introduced by the Lufthansa Group 10 years later).

Ursula introduced a brand management structure and processes as a basis for modern marketing and customer orientation as part of the new organisation, driving a holistic approach by all commercial and operational entities to common goals and improving customer insight. She implemented Net Promoter Score for customer satisfaction management in the very first weeks and injected customer centricity into the organisation, including ground handling and cargo. She modernised revenue management, taking into account real time developments and customer insight and adding an operational research dimension to support with data and process change. 

She also led several procurement tenders, among others PSS system suite and internet booking system providers; call centre platform providers and service suppliers, GDSs, marketing and media agency, cargo sales agency, catering supplier, loyalty provider;. She defined SLAs and bonus systems and achieved a double digit percentage of annual cost reduction, cash flow or ancillary revenue increases.

During her time  as Commercial Director with HLX, the low cost subsidiary of TUI, she looked after €290 m turnover and 4 mn passengers and was responsible for a 15 m marketing budget to achieve awareness for the new airline. She introduced a methodology for measurement and continuous improvement of promotional effectiveness. And she developed a structured approach for network development to allow fast yet controlled growth, supported by efficient revenue management and digital platforms. She also built an agile sales team. 

Having realised throughout her career the importance of technology to enable commercial strategies she had spent two years as Director Account Management with  Lufthansa Systems, responsible for €250 mn revenue and introducing customer orientation and process re-engineering to a technology company and enhancing her technological understanding.

Where – Her company and main base is Switzerland, but Ursula spends most of the time where her customers are. Her main areas of activities include Europe, Asia, Russia and Africa.

Why – The sheer passion of making things happen and creating an impact with people and customers. Using all the opportunities that the digital age offers to create a win-win-win solution to every situation. Innovative, authentic, independent, result oriented. 

Specialties - do things differently - Motivating teams and helping them to embrace change, building on each individual’s strengths. Designing and implementing business process change and authentic innovation programs. Understanding the commercial spectrum from scratch, old and new world. Helping organisations with fast turnarounds and sustainable strategies to succeed in the current dynamic environment and to turn the challenges of the digital age into opportunities.