MAC Alum ’13 learns to thrive under pressure at JetBlue – North Carolina State University | Hot Mobile Press

By Ashley Rabinovitch

Yakir Malul (MAC’13) divides his time at JetBlue into two periods: pre-pandemic and post-pandemic.

He joined the airline in mid-2018 as senior continuous improvement analyst and quickly rose to the role of continuous improvement manager and PMO in early 2020. Then the pandemic struck, throwing the aviation industry into crisis. The 9/11 attacks caused a 7% drop in overall travel, but in 2020 travel plummeted by 70%. At one point, Jet Blue was only operating 25% of its flights. Now, two years later, it’s still feeling the aftershocks as it struggles to rebuild its workforce.

There has never been a more challenging time to work in the industry but Malul has learned to thrive under pressure.

Take the next step

Malul hails from the Tel Aviv area and served in an intelligence unit in the Israel Defense Forces from the ages of 18 to 21. After he finished his service, he was recruited to compete in swimming at Catawba College. “I had never been to the United States before I came to North Carolina,” he recalls. “At first I asked myself what I was doing here. The culture was so different.”

Luckily, the swim team provided a diverse, close-knit group of friends to help with the acclimatization process. As an army officer, he had also developed significant mental resilience. “In the army, they keep telling you to move on and take the next step, that’s a mentality I picked up,” he says.

Malul was struggling to find a focus within the business world when a professor encouraged him to go into accounting, stating that accounting offered a ticket into almost any career he could pursue. As he progressed in his accounting courses, he appreciated the way the subject provided building blocks for other areas of business. “I gradually realized that bookkeeping is much more than calculations,” he recalls. “I was good at planning and executing processes in a larger context, so it turned out to be a great fit.”

As an international student, Malul had two choices after graduation: return home or pursue a master’s degree. He was put off by the cost of graduate programs until a professor told him about the opportunity to earn a Masters of Accounting (MAC) degree from NC State’s Poole College of Management. “I put everything on one card and it worked,” says Malul. The MAC program (with support from EY) offered him a company-sponsored scholarship that covered his tuition and included an internship opportunity with a high probability of conversion to full-time employment. He didn’t hesitate to take the next step.

rise to the challenge

Looking back, Malul appreciates how the MAC program has enhanced its ability to solve problems in a collaborative and innovative way.

The team approach to problem solving in the classroom combined with the emphasis on effectively presenting and communicating information has really set me on the road to success.

After his MAC, Malul spent the next four years at EY, first in IT testing and later in HR consulting. The task of improving workforce efficiency came naturally to him, and he managed a smooth transition out of public accounting. At JetBlue, he used his mastery of designing and implementing processes to ensure talent is nurtured and utilized effectively.

When the pandemic struck, he and his colleagues worked at a grueling pace to downsize JetBlue’s workforce without introducing frontline layoffs or furloughs. He worked closely with management to keep the company solvent by offering retirement packages and negotiating paid home leave. “We were just in survival mode,” he recalls. “This year felt like three or four years.”

Malul is now the airline’s General Manager for airport business optimization and PMO, a role that requires him to manage a team of three on the project side and more than 60 people between the call center and the inventory team. “It’s a 24-hour job that requires a deep understanding of how frontline staff and crew work,” says Malul. “What I enjoy most is being in a position where I can turn strategy and vision into reality for my team.”

With a turnover rate of over 30% on new hires across all airlines, employee retention has become a top priority for Malul. Air travel recovered faster than expected after the first wave of the pandemic and airlines have scramble to rebuild their workforce overnight.

Malul is committed to reversing the downward spiral by fostering a supportive culture and offering better compensation and benefits packages. “People want to be valued and feel like they can make a difference, but they also want to enjoy their work,” he says.

We’re doing everything we can to bring back a culture of fun and letting employees know their leaders are there for them in every way.

JetBlue has scaled back its summer schedule to prevent staff from being overwhelmed, but Malul’s schedule will remain fully booked for the foreseeable future. “It’s been tough at times, but I’m passionate about solving the problems that come my way,” he says. “It never gets boring”

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