April 12, 2018

The Sky's the Limit

By: Kourtney Schott ’18

Former Zag Andy Schneider (’87) recently accepted a new role as Alaska Air’s Vice President of People, essentially heading up the company’s entire human resources department. Schneider graduated from Gonzaga with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting and obtained her MBA from the University of Washington. I sat down with Schneider to ask her more about her new position and her experiences in the business world.

KS: What business experiences have prepared you for your new position as VP of People at Alaska Air?

AS: Part of my preparation came from working at Alaska for a very long time – 29 years to be exact. I’ve been able to see what makes the company tick and understand the culture. In addition, I always had jobs where I directed large groups of people. For example, when I was VP of In-Flight and Call Center Services, I oversaw more than 4,000 flight attendants and 1,000 more customer care and reservation agents daily. Every one of my responsibilities was working with groups of employees that have been unionized, which was important since 85% of our employees are in a union.

KS: What is the most challenging part of this role? The most rewarding?

AS: One of the most challenging parts is that frankly, there’s still a lot I’m trying to learn. Our integration with Virgin America has also been challenging because there are many systems that need to be integrated. We also need to make sure we are getting the culture right and that people are feeling valued in this transition.

The most rewarding part is the honor for me to lead this group. I’ve come to a better understanding of the role HR plays in the organization and how much we affect its operations. Plus, I get to work with amazing people on my team.

KS: Who is your business idol?

AS: I wouldn’t say that she’s my idol, but I really resonate with Sheryl Sandberg (Chief Operating Officer of Facebook). I like how she talks about women in the workplace and how we need to work together. Warren Buffet is another business leader I really like because he’s principled and values-based; he has a down-to-earth approach.

KS: How would you characterize your leadership style?

AS: In general, I would say I’m pretty down-to-earth also. People tell me I’m “real;” I don’t try to sugar-coat who I am. I strive to be inclusive and listen as much as I speak, getting opinions from others. Being action-oriented is also important to me because the worst thing in business is being paralyzed by not being able to make a decision. We don’t do brain surgery here, so if something is not quite right, we can adjust as we go, and that’s how I like to approach what I do.

KS: What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring business professionals?

AS: As much as you shop for an exciting job and chase a salary, you need to find an organization that shares your values and aligns with who you are – somewhere that makes you happy. I think some students that are fresh out of college get too caught up in the big name of a company or a high starting salary, and they end up making themselves miserable. I would say, always go for values first.