Today, the election of the Dutch “Topvrouw van het Jaar” (female executive of the year) election takes place in Amsterdam. At To70, we value female leadership, with three female managing directors: Wenjing Zhou (To70 China), Nikki Limtanakool (To70 Thailand) and Ella Soltani (To70 Belgium). We interviewed Ella to understand what drives her to take this leading role.
Why did you choose to work in the aviation sector?
When I was two years old my dad took me and my mom for a flight in an Aérospatiale SA316 Alouette III, it was obviously my first time in a helicopter, but it basically set the scene. My dad has been a helicopter pilot for more than 40 years and my brother is one as well. I am the middle child and only daughter. With two brothers, I always wanted to do stuff that boys did just to prove that girls can do that too. So when I was younger I wanted to play soccer and be a pilot, because it was cool and mostly boys did that. But as I grew up I started to really fall in love with all aspects of aviation, from flying to the engineering and operations and everything it represents.
What is your biggest success and how did you achieve it?
Going from being a refugee to becoming a successful business woman and role model for my daughter. My roots are in Iran and I fled the country together with my parents and brothers. For a year we stayed in Turkey, not knowing where we would eventually end up. I was 6 years old when we came to the Netherlands. I didn’t speak the language, had no further family or friends and had to start from scratch. So to be able to say now as a war child and refugee that I am the managing director of To70 Belgium makes me proud. It sure wasn’t easy but if there is one thing I learned from my family it’s that by working hard you can achieve whatever you want.
Who is your role model?
My father. The passion and dedication that my dad has for everything he sets his mind to is incredible and truly inspiring. If it wasn’t for his commitment to leave Iran and give us a chance to build a brighter future I wouldn’t have the opportunity to pursue a career in aviation. That is why he is my role model. I remember once I was complaining about how difficult studying Aerospace Engineering was. He came to me and gave me a picture of himself and told me, “You think this is hard? Put this on your desk and whenever you have a difficult time: just look at it and it will put ‘difficult’ in a whole new perspective.”
When you were asked to come back to the To70 family and become director of To70 Belgium, what were your considerations?
It had always been my dream to have my own company and to be quite honest if they wouldn’t have asked me I would have pursued it in a different way. Even when I wasn’t working for To70 I kept good contact with the managing directors at To70 Netherlands. I really like their entrepreneurial mindset. So when I got the opportunity to work together with them and build up the Belgium branch I didn’t hesitate for a bit.
What makes you different from others?
I am a real people person and super curious. A great combination for working in consultancy in my opinion. Learning new things every day makes me happy. It opens your world a bit more every time. I am also very enthusiastic and with that I like to engage people and inspire them to do what they love every single day.
What is your ambition with To70 Belgium?
That To70 Belgium will be the number one independent advisor and partner for our customers in Belgium by helping them with their aviation challenges. Additionally, I like to contribute to a strong To70 Europe team. It is great to see how the To70 family is growing with passionate people. As Simon Sinek says (writer of the books Start With Why and How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action): “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
About To70. To70 is one of the world’s leading aviation consultancies, founded in the Netherlands with offices in Europe, Australia, Asia, and Latin America. To70 believes that society’s growing demand for transport and mobility can be met in a safe, efficient, environmentally friendly and economically viable manner. To achieve this, policy and business decisions have to be based on objective information. With our diverse team of specialists and generalists to70 provides pragmatic solutions and expert advice, based on high-quality data-driven analyses. For more information, please refer to www.to70.com.