Abir Kazan has over 20 years of diverse management experience in the defence and aerospace industry. In April 2018, she was nominated as the capture manager for SkyAlyne – a partnership between Canadian aerospace and defence companies CAE and KF Aerospace; formed to compete for the Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) Program. FAcT is Canada’s ambitious, next-generation training and support program for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). The contract is expected to be awarded in 2023.
Abir was selected as a Game Changer for the Feb/Mar 2021 issue of Vanguard. Here is the full interview.
How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?
After a brief stint in telecoms, I started my journey in the defence and security industry with CAE in 2001. I’ve held roles as a proposal manager, project manager and now as the capture manager for SkyAlyne – CAE’s partnership with KF Aerospace formed to compete for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s Future Aircrew Training (FAcT) Program.
Along the way, I’ve found my experience has highlighted my inherent strengths, namely my customer-focus and my organizational and communications skills. It has further broadened my ability to comprehend, recommend, review and challenge the overall solution in support of the costing and the authoring of a winning government proposal.
What is your role at your organization today?
As the capture manager for SkyAlyne, I lead a team of experts from across Canada to prepare our proposal for FAcT. The FAcT program will be the most extensive service contract in RCAF history (and one of the largest in Canadian history).
In addition to being responsible for leading our capture team, I serve as our interface with the Canadian government as we go through the process.
What was your most challenging moment?
Every phase in a career has its challenges; I’ve always embraced these as opportunities to step out of my comfort zone and learn, adapt, create and grow. After I switched industries early in my career and stepped into the unchartered territory of defence, I focused on building relationships and surrounding myself with experts to gain the knowledge I needed.
What was your ‘aha’ moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?
I realized early on during my career that driving results comes from proper stakeholder management and engagement. When stakeholders understand the context and the importance of a request and how it relates to their objectives, they will be positively engaged and motivated to deliver results.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
With SkyAlyne and the FAcT Program, we have a chance to do something very special in the world of Canadian defence. Not only are we presenting a truly Canadian option for aircrew training to DND, but I’m thrilled to see the investment and advancement in technologies. Exciting innovations in Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) will be integrated into our programs and improve aircrew training throughput for the RCAF.
What is the best advice you received?
Be soft on people and hard on issues!
What is a habit that contributes to your success?
Having a positive attitude and energy keeps me motivated and productive and affects my co-workers and team. I truly believe that people are drawn to positive energy. That is key to building solid relationships based on respect, trust, openness, transparency, and ultimately, being successful at working together and bidding on large and complex government procurements.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
Organizations that foster diversity and inclusion best embody the innovation mindset.
Two female executives (SkyAlyne Board Chair Tracy Medve and President France Hebert) lead our partnership. We also have several women in leadership positions on our team, including myself, the capture manager. This is traditionally atypical of large defence organizations, and we are happy to break the barriers. We take diversity and inclusion very seriously and we are currently engaging and collaborating with Indigenous communities as we plan for the future of SkyAlyne.
Ideas are created by people. A diverse and inclusive team with multiple perspectives, values, and backgrounds will drive innovation and ultimately lead to a stronger program for our customers.
How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
Firstly, the very creation of SkyAlyne is innovative. We are taking two large, experienced Canadian companies and joining them to compete with several established international defence companies for one of the most important contracts in RCAF history. While we’re at it, we will leverage our parent companies’ world-leading expertise in innovative technologies to provide the RCAF with a faster, better, and more efficient aircrew training program and help prepare them for the challenges of the future.
What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?
The daily routine and the lack of time for reflection can stifle innovation and reinforce the status quo. Innovation is not solely related to the field of engineering and science, nor is it limited to products. Processes, approaches, and methodologies can be innovated, if the recommended change creates value. The introduction of data analytics can help offload resources from performing tedious tasks and allow them to reflect and innovate. In other words – introducing innovation leads to more innovation!
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
Innovation is well-ingrained in the cultures of our parent companies KF Aerospace and CAE. For example, in 2018, CAE announced a $1 billion, 5-year investment program in innovation to stay at the forefront of the global training industry. In October 2020, CAE also became Canada’s first carbon-neutral aerospace company. This culture of innovation will flow into SkyAlyne as we build a Canadian-based solution to the RCAF’s future aircrew training needs.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) will drive the biggest changes in the next few years. The coupling of AI and IoT will allow industry to obtain predictive, prescriptive, and continuous analytics for better decision making. People may perceive AI as taking over human jobs; the reality is AI will change the future of work by automating tedious, time-consuming tasks and make humans more effective at what they do.
Technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will allow pilot students to supplement their training efficiently and effectively, whenever/wherever they want. This will help improve their learning and ultimately reduce the factors that can lead to pilot shortages.
What is your parting piece of advice?
Be courageous and don’t shy away from challenges! Overcoming the challenges helps you grow and be a better version of yourself.