On Tuesday this week I had the rare experience of speaking to a group of upper-level managers from Airbus at a resort in Travemünde on Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. Airbus makes commercial airliners used by all of the major airlines around the world. Their primary competitor is Boeing.
I don’t normally speak to a roomful of people who aren’t all skinny, serious athletes, although I later discovered that some of the managers were athletes. The 54 managers who attended are responsible for the final assembly of aircraft in Hamburg, Germany; Toulouse, France; Tianjin, China; and Mobile, Alabama. I got to take a tour of two of the Hamburg assembly lines. It’s quite impressive to see several huge aircraft being put together all in the same hangar. I can only imagine how challenging their work must be. Seeing the enormity of the operation made me quite glad that I don’t have a “real” job.
Their work responsibilities are enormous, and so you might expect that such a symposium would focus only on the technical aspects of production, such as engineering, personnel management and quality control. Yet the first day of the Symposium was devoted to a topic near and dear to my heart – health. The Symposium was designed by Alexander Dahm and his staff. Alexander is the vice president of the Airbus final assembly. He is quite a rare person. He understands the importance of employee health to the health and performance of the company. All of the day 1 topics were designed with healthy leadership in mind.
I spoke on the importance of exercise through sport for health. This is an important topic given the current state of citizen health in all of the countries represented at the event. My fellow US colleague, Nell Stephenson, talked about the role of nutrition in health. Florian Wolf from YourPrevention talked about the role of stress management in an occupational setting.
The managers were encouraged to workout in the mornings prior to breakfast and the first session. Different athletic activities were provided for this from group runs to yoga classes and strength training. All meals and snacks were designed by Nell and prepared by the resort’s chef. They were delicious – and healthy.
The first evening, after a full day focused solely on health, Jens Maier, PhD of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, spoke during dinner on the leadership role of production line managers. The next day back in the classroom he took the topic to the next level.
This was my first presentation to a corporate group, but I found it quite energizing. For the two days I was there individual managers would corner me to ask personal questions about their own health, exercise and diet. Most wanted to talk about common challenges that many athletes face: how to fit exercise into a busy day, trying to find the right type of exercise given a body that isn’t perfect, getting their families onboard especially with dietary changes, and managing body weight. I look forward to hearing the impact of this initial phase and the long-term project for improving Airbus employee’s health and work performance.