Women Worth Watching 2015

Jill Surdek

This Talented VP Makes Customer Service Soar at American Airlines


web American_surdekA valued member of the American Airlines team since 1998, Jill Surdek has served in many strategic roles. In her current position as vice president of customer planning, Jill oversees airport and reservation policies, automation and training, customer relations, service recovery, and lounges, with responsibility for the overall airport experience, including implementing new tools the let our employees and customers access real-time operational information and leading American’s service recovery team in assisting customers experiencing an operational disruption. Jill also oversees our network of over 50 lounges to ensure that we deliver world-class service to our frequent travelers.

Previously, Jill was American’s managing director of brand and customer experience strategy, with a variety of responsibilities, including menu design and operations for onboard food and beverage offerings, and strategy for airport lounges. She led the successful multi-year modernization of the iconic American Airlines brand. The brand re-launch had a significant impact on company advertising, digital channels, airport environments, communications, lounge design, employee uniforms, and aircraft livery. The new brand identity won a prestigious CLIO award in 2013. Jill’s focus on the customer experience, combined with her business acumen, leadership skills, and diverse airline experience, helped achieve these exceptional results.

Jill has also held leadership positions in sales and revenue management, overseeing teams collaborating with Latin American stations to improve revenue and establish relationships with international alliance partners offering joint business programs.

“I believe any leader should be a good listener and communicate effectively,” says Jill. “Being able to articulate your team’s goals in a way that energizes the group and addresses concerns will always get you much closer to achieving them.”

A past member of the International Flight Services Association board and currently active in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program, Jill received her undergraduate degree from Boston College and her MBA from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. She is married, with two children—a twelve-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son.

“…have confidence in your abilities, but be humble enough to learn…”



Education: MBA, University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School; BA, Boston College

First Job: Cashier, Wegmans grocery store

What I’m Reading: “Wonder” by RJ Palacio. I am reading with my son and I love it.

Words I live by: “The days are long, the years are short.” I think it puts your personal and professional life in perspective.



The most important quality a woman leader should have is…

…I believe any leader should be a good listener and communicate effectively. If you can articulate your team’s goals in a way that energizes the group and addresses concerns, you are most of the way in achieving it.

The career advice I’d give my former self:

Don’t worry so much. The things that seemed like a big deal at the time, turned out not to be that critical.

The one thing I’d do differently in my career, knowing what I know now, is…

…nothing. That doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes, but that you must learn and move forward. Wishing you had done things differently can sometimes keep you stuck in the past.

When I really need to focus on a project, I…

…proactively block time on my calendar instead of ‘hoping’ I will find time during the day.

My biggest career leap (and what I learned from it) was…

…when I was promoted into my current job in a new department, I learned that, to be successful, you need to have confidence in your abilities but be humble enough to learn from your team and colleagues .

Being a woman in my profession has been…

…smooth. In my career, I have been fortunate to have many smart and supportive female leaders and peers to learn from.

I’ve learned that failure is…

…inevitable! Learn from it and move on without too much self-criticism.

I maintain a healthy personal life by…

…limiting out of town trips and after work commitments, so I can be home for dinner, homework and bedtime.

I knew my present career was what I wanted to do when…

…I never had a single ‘aha’ moment. But over the last 17 years, I have grown to love this company, the industry, and my colleagues. Now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.