Like many DAX-listed companies, and like many in the aviation industry, Lufthansa has long been male-dominated. “We have a lot of engineers and pilots, and these departments tend to be made up mostly of men,” Menne says. This was even more the case in 1989, when she joined the company. She remembers the recruitment day she attended and the fact that she was the only woman there who wasn’t applying to become a flight attendant. She had studied business administration and worked at ITT, an American manufacturing group, and she was fascinated by the glamour and international scope of a big airline group. “The travel aspect was attractive,” she acknowledges. “For me, Lufthansa was a dream employer.”
Today, Menne thinks air travel has lost some of that prestige: “Flights have become a commodity,” as she puts it. The airlines operate in a competitive market with thin margins, and former state carriers such as Lufthansa are in a particularly difficult position, squeezed by low-cost carriers in Europe and by well-funded Gulf carriers on intercontinental routes. Lufthansa has responded to these challenges by cutting costs and expanding new offerings, such as Germanwings and Eurowings, while still taking care of its brand appeal.
For a CFO, this situation brings its own set of challenges. In 2013, Menne had to announce plans to close offices in Hamburg and Cologne. But a CFO can do more than lead cost-cutting initiatives; she can also play an important role in transforming Lufthansa into a competitive, diversified aviation group – a notion Menne likes to stress when talking to investors and analysts. “We’re not just an airline, but a group of 13 airlines, and we have successful subsidiaries for repair and maintenance and catering services,” she explains.
Menne has just returned from a trip to New York, where she met with investors and analysts. “It’s part of the job description,” she explains. Menne likes talking strategy, which, she argues, fits the profile of a modern CFO. “Ten years ago, it might have been enough to make sure the numbers added up. But these days, the CFO is more involved in the strategy of the business.”
The word she likes to use when describing Lufthansa’s multilayered corporate transformation is Kulturwandel – a cultural shift. In this transformation, Menne sees her role as an advice-giver who interprets the numbers for the board and chief executive and helps them understand the financial implications of strategic decisions.
“It’s important to know whether a certain investment changes the dynamic of the group. We don’t want to grow at any cost; we want to be profitable,” she says. Part of this evolution is a stronger focus on value-based management. This year, the group changed reporting metrics from cash value added to return on capital employed. And this is just an early step. “It will take time for this change of culture to filter through to all departments,” Menne says, “but it will help us make smart investment decisions for the future.”