Cargo Champion – Danita Waterfall-Brizzi
10 / 01 / 2014
IT MAY be one of the oldest, most overused proverbs: If you don’t succeed, try, try again. But it does actually work. Success leaves clues and one of them is that perseverance is essential fuel for lofty ambitions.
If you are still in doubt, ask Danita Waterfall-Brizzi, director of cargo sales and service Europe, Middle East, India and Africa, at Delta Air Lines. “I have an innate drive not to give up,” she admits. “That can pull you through thick and thin.”
She did not always know specifically what she wanted to do. “I’d always see a goal to meet or a contest to win and from a really young age I’d create a plan – and then figure out how to do it, engaging people I could learn from along the way.”
Her mother taught her to embrace the differences in others, so it comes as no surprise that Waterfall-Brizzi was an inquisitive child with a desire to see the world beyond the rainy coastal seaport city of Seattle. Her degree choice – political science – fuelled her curiosity even further, as she was now working closely with international students.
She took the bold step of moving to Washington DC to further her education. There, she embarked on a master’s degree in Russian Studies. Serendipity came calling in the form of an internship with an international government organisation dealing with arms control. “That further exposed me to what is happening in the rest of the world,” she recalls.
It wasn’t long before she began to attract the attention of global companies in a race to snap up the latest crop of young, gifted graduates. She jettisoned her original plans to attend law school and work for the US government after being seduced by the Pan American Airways Management Training Program. In 1989, her career in aviation took off and in no time at all, she was making good use of her Russian, ensconced in Moscow for 20 months to learn everything about the airline’s Airport Customs Service (ACS).
Waterfall-Brizzi was then transferred to the Pan Am European headquarters in Frankfurt, as regional analyst support for both ACS and passenger sales management during Delta’s acquisition of Pan Am. The job involved assignments in Belgium, Sweden, and Atlanta. Not only did she start realising her dream of travelling the world but she also embraced her introduction to the finer things in life.
Her baptism to high living was whilst attending a regional meeting of senior international colleagues in the south of France. Everybody was very happy to give advice and tips to management trainees about the finer things in life. “I can remember being at the meeting and a bottle of Calvados coming round [the table] and I asked: Oh, what’s that? And a senior Belgian manager replied: ‘Oh, Danita that’s a little taste of heaven.’
“My time in the airline business has enriched my life in so many ways, given me exposure to many cultures, walks of life, foods and wines.”
When HQ relocated to London, she followed – in the elevated position of manager of sales training and administration. She went on to distinguish herself, establishing the first passenger and cargo sales training department in Europe, as well as the first European-based Regional Assistant Step Up program. In 1994, she returned to Moscow as executive director – to successfully snatch a joint venture between Delta and Aeroflot from the jaws of bankruptcy.
Cargo beckoned two years later when she became regional director, cargo sales and operations in Europe, Middle East, and India, responsible for a budget of US$185m.
“I particularly liked cargo then and now, because there is never a dull moment, as the world economy influences our daily business. I gravitate to challenging, exciting and interesting kinds of things in my personal and my professional life. I am in an industry that is a people business and doing something that’s benefiting or creating value for somebody.”
She has not been immune to some of the issues that arise from an industry that has been an all-male domain, and not the best breeding ground for sisterhood. “I will never forget when a woman from the cargo industry who was, at that time, senior to me, arrived for a meeting. As I attempted to greet her, she pushed her coat and hat at me and rushed by into the room, not realising that I was one of the chairs for the meeting,” reveals the mother-of-one. “I just thought: ‘Oh boy, shame on you’.”
Taking that discourtesy on the chin, she calmly went on to address the gathering of senior executives. “That was the late ‘90s, but I think the air cargo industry is changing [in this respect]. I see that through many of our customers who are women in senior positions -and, certainly at Delta, where diversity and creativity are valued elements.”
It is plainly obvious to any observer that her mother’s efforts to instill in her bright-eyed daughter the importance of loyalty and integrity have guided her through life’s travails.