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Thomas Haagensen and the orange spirit

The sky’s the limit when you look at the career of Thomas Haagensen ! After graduating from HEC Lausanne, Geneva-born Haagensen joined Tetra Pak in Switzerland, and then moved to the company’s branch in the Middle East, before taking off for a new professional destination – with easyJet. Since 2008, he has been the airline’s Regional Manager for Northern Europe. The HEC alumnus talks to us about his work, his studies and his daily routine at the heart of the airline with the signature orange livery.

lHECture : What does your work at easyJet involve?

I am the Regional Manager responsible for Northern Europe and the strategies to develop this market. This includes factors ranging from the development of the brand and the portfolio to the profitability of the market. In Switzerland, for instance, it is necessary to implement a growth strategy for the three airports – which all have completely different needs; we have to maintain the level of profitability, think up new products which do not cannibalise the sales of our existing ones, etc. It’s also a political : we have to position easyJet as an indispensable factor of growth in Switzerland in the perception of its stakeholders. Fortunately our position makes this task easier : we are the leading airline in Geneva and Basel and the second largest in Switzerland.

lHECture : Did you already know what you wanted to do professionally when you chose to study at HEC Lausanne?

No, I had no set ideas about a career. Rather the opposite: I had always been involved in a lot of different areas – I was attracted by diversity. Medicine, law – I found everything interesting. I wanted to maintain this diversity and I felt that HEC would open up many doors for me. My family background is very international and I wanted to remain in this same environment after completing my studies.

lHECture : what did you do, after graduation ?

I worked for a few months to make some money, and then I spent a year travelling with a friend (who’d also been at HEC). After that I worked for Tetra Pak, first at Pully, then in the Middle East.

lHECture : easyJet has a very strong brand image. What is it like from the inside?

To give you an idea, today I’m in Berlin, I spend one or two days a week at the headquarters in London and I’m very often in Geneva. In addition to being international, the company has a very flat management structure; it is very open with direct access to the management. The headquarters in Luton are a good example: they are still located in a maintenance hangar. Half of it is occupied by maintenance, and the other half by an open-plan office space with desks for the staff and for the CEO.

It’s a very dynamic company, operating in an industry where things change very quickly, where you need to respond super fast. From one day to the next, there might be a strike at one airport, an epidemic breaking out in another country, a volcano erupting that was previously unheard of, etc. The market is highly competitive; you need to know how to bounce back very quickly. Every Monday, during our meetings, we never go back over the week that has passed. We focus on the future.

Of course there’s also the pressure to produce results – that’s normal. easyJet is a publicly listed company, with shareholders who expect results. Punctuality has to be first rate, any investment has to be recovered quickly and all routes are under constant scrutiny.

lHECture : Did HEC Lausanne help you to adapt to this world ?

Of course. Studying at HEC gave me a sound foundation of knowledge, but above all it made me open, gave me the ability to adapt. Covering a wide range of different areas means that one is prepared for reality later on, and not taken by surprise when one finds oneself in certain situations. In addition, HEC provides an extensive network of contacts, and above all a good bunch of friends!

lHECture : What drives you at a professional level?

What I’ve always been passionate about is developing and being faced with new challenges. At Tetra Pak, I really enjoyed setting up new projects, especially in the Middle East. easyJet gave me the chance to join a company which has an enormous growth rate and is highly profitable. It’s a brand that is established all over Europe, which has numerous projects under development and many more to come in the future.

lHECture : What advice would you give to current students?

I don’t really like giving advice… What I would say is that, although the academic basis is very important, you shouldn’t forget everything else. Studying is also an opportunity to develop your way of expressing yourself, to make presentations within a group, to learn languages. You shouldn’t hesitate to go abroad, to seize all the opportunities which are not necessarily part of the academic world.

Interview with Clara Marc, November 2012, Geneva.

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