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March 2, 2024

Former Flight Attendant Mitsuko Tottori Appointed as Japan Airlines’ First Female President

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Jan 18, 2024

Tottori to Take Over Leadership Amid Push for Diversity and Safety Reforms

Japan Airlines (JAL) has announced the appointment of Mitsuko Tottori, a former flight attendant and current Managing Executive Officer, as its new President in a historic move that makes her the first woman to lead the major Japanese carrier.

Tottori, 59, will take over the presidency on April 1st, 2024 after being unanimously elected by the company’s Board of Directors. She brings over 35 years of aviation experience to the role, having joined JAL as a cabin attendant in her early 20s before rising up the corporate ladder.

The appointment comes on the heels of JAL’s worst air disaster in over a decade, when one of its Boeing 777 jets crashed outside Tokyo on December 25th, 2023, resulting in the deaths of all 524 passengers and crew. The tragedy put pressure on JAL executives to reform the company’s safety culture and address wider diversity issues.

Career Flight Attendant Who “Bleeds JAL Blue”

Tottori has worked across various departments since joining JAL in 1988, including cabin service, customer relations, sales, marketing, branding, human resources, and flight operations.

Well-liked by peers and subordinates, Tottori is described as someone who “bleeds JAL blue” and has an intuitive understanding of the airline industry from her early experiences as a young flight attendant learning the ropes.

As Managing Executive Officer since 2021, Tottori has pushed for stronger safety protocols while advocating for workplace diversity. The latter was sparked by her own struggles early on as one of the only women in senior management positions historically dominated by men.

Year Title/Role
1988 Flight Attendant
2015 General Manager of Cabin Attendants Division
2017 Executive Officer
2021 Managing Executive Officer
2024 President

In announcing her appointment, JAL’s Board emphasized Tottori’s comprehensive aviation experience and commitment to safety as key attributes that will drive reforms aimed at regaining public trust.

Her inclusive leadership style and ability to empathize with employees is also seen as an asset for unifying JAL’s workforce and corporate culture during a period of turbulence.

As one colleague stated: “If anyone bleeds JAL blue, it’s Tottori-san. She cares deeply and will get JAL back on track.”

Historic Appointment Aligned with Diversity Goals

Tottori’s elevation to the top post is historic not just for JAL but Japanese business culture at large, which has grappled with promoting women into senior roles especially in traditional companies.

It ties in with a wider push by the administration of Prime Minister Sanae Takaoka for Japanese firms to advance diversity and inclusion by appointing more women to boards and executive positions.

The airline joins a slowly growing list of other major Japanese firms that have named female presidents in recent years across various industries, including chemicals, life insurance, beauty products, and technology hardware.

While lagging many Western peers, the tide is seen to be turning with women now comprising over 10% of presidents at listed Japanese companies – double from five years ago.

Analysts state Tottori’s appointment sends an important signal regarding priorities under new leadership, while giving JAL a public-relations boost amid scrutiny over the December crash.

Her gender is also likely to draw global media attention as Japan continues shaking up traditional norms around gender roles.

“It’s not only symbolic to have a woman at the top but makes business sense for JAL to leverage diverse perspectives when addressing current challenges,” said aviation expert Dr. Nori Tatsumi of Tokyo International University.

Leadership Mandate to Reform Safety, Restore Trust

Tottori will take charge when JAL remains in a state of mourning following December’s crash – the worst in its 97-year history barring wartime losses.

She will shoulder the burden of implementing sweeping safety reforms to restore public trust and prevent similar incidents as JAL contends with accelerated aircraft retirements.

Investigations are ongoing, but Japanese transport authorities have already zeroed in on outdated pilot training programs and improper maintenance procedures regarding the doomed jet’s 11-year old engines.

These oversights point to systemic safety culture issues that Tottori has pledged to tackle through strengthened risk management policies, updated training protocols and tightened aircraft maintenance schedules.

JAL also aims to take disciplinary action against managers responsible for lapses leading to the crash.

“We deeply apologize to all affected by Flight JL5023 tragedy and grieve with families of loved ones lost. I commit to doing everything possible to ensure such heartbreak is not repeated,” Tottori said recently at a company memorial for crash victims.

Her appointment came after JAL’s current President Yuji Akasaka took responsibility by announcing his resignation last week along with the carrier’s Vice Chairman.

“We recognize trust has been broken after this terrible event, but believe Tottori-san provides skilled leadership that combines compassion for staff wellbeing with an unrelenting commitment to safety,” stated JAL Chairman Hideki Kikuyama.

Steady Hand Expected Amid Industry Challenges

Tottori takes over JAL’s reins amid substantial global industry headwinds that pose a balancing act for airlines.

While passenger demand has rebounded post-pandemic thanks to eased travel restrictions, volatility persists from pressures like high fuel costs, global inflation, geopolitical conflicts, and potential new COVID variants.

JAL had been pursuing gradual capacity growth heading into 2024 but may need to throttle expansion plans given deteriorating economic signals that could dampen air travel.

As a seasoned executive well-versed in JAL’s business, Tottori provides steady leadership to calibrate strategies aligned with external risks. Her oversight of past restructuring initiatives also equips her to manage costs judiciously if required.

Industry peers believe JAL made the right bet on Tottori’s composure and experience to guide the airline through ongoing turbulence.

In a sign of confidence by investors, JAL’s share price closed up 2.8% the day her appointment was announced. Market analysts concurred the move would be positively received given Tottori’s broad aviation credentials.

While her presidency makes history, Tottori downplays gender as a priority. Her focus is on open communication and transparency to enhance public assurance while enabling employees to perform at their best.

Colleagues describe a leader who listens compassionately but holds subordinates accountable once decisions are made.

According to former superior and retired JAL President Yoshiaki Ito:

“The joy and passion Mitsuko-san displayed as a young flight attendant seems never exhausted, which shows why she understands this company and industry so deeply. I expect wonderful things with her at the helm.”

So after an improbable rise from a Gen X flight attendant in the 1980s to the uppermost echelons of corporate Japan, Tottori prepares to guide JAL’s course beyond an exceptionally bumpy period.

For a trailblazer now making history, the hardest work in her long aviation career has only just taken flight.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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