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May
13
2024

Executive Watch - Aleks Banas, CEO of Air Maestro and Spidertracks

Posted 5 days ago ago by Admin

WORKING MOM AND DOUBLE CEO


“My promotion to the CEO role at Air Maestro came at a unique time - I was six months pregnant with my son—with no prior CEO experience,” Aleks Banas says to begin this profile of a working mother who has risen to CEO of not one, but two aviation technology companies: Air Maestro and Spidertracks. The Polish-born Australian, gives voice to what has become the unofficial anthem of her current country—the song sung by the folk band, The Seekers: “I am Australian.” The late Judith Durham sang its third verse and chorus in crystal soprano:

 I'm the daughter of a digger
Who sought the motherlode
The girl became a woman
On the long and dusty road
I'm a child of the depression
I saw the good times come
I'm a bushy, I'm a battler
I am Australian.

We are one
But we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come
We'll share a dream
And sing with one voice
I am, you are, we are Australian.

While every word is not literally true of Banas (she’s way too young to be “a child of the depression”), those words capture the spirit of her humble, but proud, family’s battling history. Her working father suffered a disabling injury in his 30s and it fell upon her mother, toiling as a cleaner, to put food on the family table for their only child. “She still works,” says Banas. “I come very much from a working-class family.”

Student Consultant

That exemplary work ethic served young Aleks well, who by the time she was in high school excelled in subjects such as (deep breath): languages, mathematics, drama, english, and science. In fact, the only thing that she really struggled with was narrowing down her many interests. “I had no idea what career path I was going to go down. I thought I was going to either be a lawyer or a forensic psychologist.” Then, a forensic psychologist scared her away from that field with a few horror stories, so Banas now confines her psych interests to reading child-psychology books to aid her and husband, Simon, in parenting their 7-year-old son. Eventually Banas narrowed her academic pursuits to two undergraduate degrees: one in computer science and the other one in arts with majors in psychology and multimedia.

In 2003 during her final year at university, Banas began working for a small consulting firm specializing in technical writing, website development, and process improvement, which led to her first career job. “Over the course of four years, I had the opportunity to collaborate with diverse clients, ranging from financial institutions to software development firms and government organizations. This role proved to be an ideal fit for me, allowing me to apply the knowledge I had acquired at university and dive straight into the business world,” she explains. Dive she did, with eyes and ears wide open. “I’m a good listener and consulting allowed me to listen to and learn from many clients, by asking lots of questions. I’m also a good organizer and I would listen and come up with organizational tech tools to make my clients’ lives a lot easier. I met a ton of people and experienced many different business cultures. When I walked into a new client’s workplace, I could feel their culture from the start.”

Air Maestro Takeoff

In 2007, she was experiencing the culture of her consulting client, Air Maestro (a subsidiary of Avinet), which was then a new developer of web-based aviation software that focused on safety and operational applications. Air Maestro’s CEO was impressed with her and pulled Banas aside with an offer to bring the confident, outside consultant into his company.

Banas seized the opportunity and began serving her new employer as a customer support and quality manager when Air Maestro had just sold to their third customer. “I came in very early in their history and grew the business alongside Air Maestro’s managing director. During the next eight years, we significantly expanded the customer base and I was involved with all facets of the business from sales, quality management to training. I had the privilege of working closely with many of our first 100 customers during their onboarding process.” Today, Air Maestro has customers in over 50 countries, and Banas still likes to hear from them, “I’m very open to feedback, whether positive or negative. We’re not the aviators, so we need to listen to our customers to know what they want to make their lives easier.”

Bold Leap

Her broad, but intensive, work history throughout the company prepared Banas to rise when Air Maestro’s CEO retired. “I thought I was already doing a lot of what the CEO job called for, so I put my hand up to become a candidate.” The board of directors agreed and promoted her to CEO in 2016.

Banas works with the Sri Lankan development team

As mentioned, that promotion occurred when Banas was six months pregnant. “With no prior CEO experience, I deeply appreciated the trust and support of my directors who took a bold leap in promoting me. Their belief in my abilities meant everything,” she says, but first she had a son to deliver. “The CEO stayed on until I had my son and I spent much of my maternity leave figuring out organizational systems I wanted to implement. One area I lacked experience in was finance, and that’s the first area I wanted to tackle (the financial reports were too slow coming in) so I don’t shy away from hard challenges, but it was demanding trying to figure that area out,” she says.  Banas was intimately familiar with other areas of Air Maestro and she says those came together much easier.

Spidertracks

In 2023, seven years into her CEO service, Banas doubled her duties when Air Maestro merged with New Zealand-based Spidertracks, a producer of integrated, end-to-end, software and hardware designed specifically for aviators. It enables access to meaningful flight data by operating in over 103 countries.

While Air Maestro’s and Spidertrack’s services now mostly operate in tandem with one another, Banas reveals that the teams worked hard to slowly integrate them in a way that doesn’t confuse current customers, but helps them. The first part of that integration, auto flight logs, has been released in Spidertracks. Coming soon will be new functionality that feeds the flight logs automatically into Air Maestro. That should reduce manual entry errors and save pilots’ time. “Later this year, we’re looking to automatically load events that Spidertracks detects into Air Maestro’s safety module, which is a full SMS tool,” Banas said. She’s aware that some pilots might feel that “Big Brother” is watching over their shoulder too closely, but she has an answer for such objections. “I think the culture is changing; I hear objections like that less and less. Wouldn't it be great if the operation’s safety manager is getting accurate Air Maestro reports that notify him or her that a pilot may need more attention or training in a particular area? It’s about saving lives.”

Likewise, she believes that technology can assist aviation and make it easier and safer. “Advancements in technology present numerous opportunities for software vendors like us to enhance safety and efficiency within the aviation industry,” she elaborates. “We are shifting our approach to leverage developments in machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) to provide tools designed to optimize operational procedures. I believe that routine tasks such as scheduling and training can experience substantial improvements through these innovations.”  

Banas also became CEO of Spidertracks in the merger. One might think with her double-CEO and family responsibilities, Banas’ schedule would have little-to-no free space. They’d be right. “I don’t have a ton of extracurricular activities because I don’t have the time for them. Work and my family are mostly my life and I think women can succeed at both,” she said.

Banas team building with the Auckland crew

 

Rest and Recreation

Yet, her full schedule doesn’t mean no life outside of work. “I have a passion for travelling and immersing myself in new cultures and experiences. (Her favorite spot is Fiji, where she got married.) At home, I enjoy cooking and entertaining family and friends.” When Banas invites those guests to enjoy the weather from the backyard of their Adelaide home, they are treated to whatever craft beer husband Simon is perfecting. The chemical engineer has turned his avocation for craft beer into a side vocation with his Yeo Haus brand. “Our backyard is a brewery,” laughs Banas. (She brags on his brews, but prefers wines from Australia’s renowned nearby vineyards.)

Nurturing   

In our interview, Banas takes a moment to reflect on her rocket-rise to CEO times two. She says the best CEO advice she got was to nurture a team of “mini CEOs” who could proficiently lead their own teams. “I’m constantly trying to mentor my team and I think I’m doing it successfully, but I still struggle to get out of the way sometimes and let people flourish,” she says. “That reluctance is not so much from a trust issue, but because I really like to know what’s going on and hear directly from my team. I like to offer advice when it’s relevant. Mentoring is always a work in progress.  I'm privileged to collaborate with outstanding leaders within the organization and have been proud of their growth and achievements.”

That “proud of their growth and achievements” phrase sounds almost like a proud mother talking. Banas is. “I see this opportunity not just as a personal milestone but also as a statement about the possibilities for women in leadership. It's my hope that my journey sets a precedent, showing that women can successfully balance motherhood and career advancement. Looking back, I often reflect on that time (when she was promoted to CEO) as a period of nurturing my two 'babies'—my newborn son and my new career.”

The working-class girl sought the motherlode
and became a woman on the long and dusty road
… and saw the good times come.  

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