21 December 2020
Hyperactivity is a distinctive sign, not easy to manage as a child, but today is a focused desire for curiosity that leads Zaira Burlo to explore and live her job as well as her passions with creativity and innovation. There is a universe, made of a thousand colours and faces, in this woman – professor of physics, but also passionate about economics and foreign languages. A past in simulation, always a pioneer of new business and process ventures, and twice a winner of Leonardo's Innovation Award, in which she took part with a cross-functional and cross-divisional team. A woman passionate about physics, business strategy, negotiation, engines, travel and cooking. A valued member of Leonardo's team for many years, always full of enthusiasm.
As part of our ongoing series of interviews with some of Leonardo’s outstanding female employees, we speak to Zaira Burlo, Leonardo’s Director of Customer Support, Services & Training. We discuss sustainability, gender diversity, product innovation and the meaning of STEM (the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) for women, with the aim of promoting scientific citizenship too.
Zaira, what are your most distinctive characteristics?
Optimism. I am fortunate to be a sunny person; I would say that my smile is my hallmark. I face life with a positive attitude that always gives me renewed energy.
What is your main flaw?
Hyperactivity. I have always been hyperactive since I was a child. There was no way to stop; I always needed to do something and slept very little. When my parents were exhausted, they sent me to their grandparents, but despite their love and dedication, after sleepless nights in which I sang happily all night instead of sleeping, they too gave up and sent me back to the “sender”! Over the years, I have improved a bit. I try to carve out moments of meditation…but not too many.
Who are your heroes?
Thinking of female scientists, I can only think of Marie Curie. A life of hardship strongly marked by war, that, however, finds comfort in study and science, two Nobel Prizes, and, above all, discoveries that changed the history of physics and medicine, starting with the first mobile radiographic rescue units during the Great War. In general, my heroes are all those who, with their dedication and their discoveries, have tangibly contributed to the continuous evolution in the medical field.
What are your favourite hobbies?
I have always loved engines and, even more, speed: car, go-kart (even better if off-road), quads and motorcycles. I am thrilled to see nature flow and ‘feel it’, discovering new places simply carried around by my bike. I also love to cook creatively, with certain professionalism. As a student, to pay for my studies, I worked as a cook for a few years, and my creativity combined with the ‘contamination’ of all the places I visited and the foods I tasted while travelling, which is another great passion of mine. Cooking relaxes me, I love manual skills and the awakening of the senses that the cooking of some dishes involves. Now I cook for pleasure, I like to delight friends. It is my way of showing them my affection; my way of giving.
What upsets you most?
The lack of integrity and, even more so, the lack of courage to face it. In my opinion, integrity means having the courage to face difficult situations, to have the genuine ability to be consistent, to admit one's mistakes and do it quickly without delay, to never fail in one's principles.
What motto or phrase inspires you?
Life can be tough, but ‘peachy’ as well – that is a rough life, but also ‘juicy like a peach’. Recall the above optimism. I have passed several tests in life, but I have always done it with the curiosity to see what would come next and with the certainty that life takes away but it can also offer incredible gifts that we must know how to grasp. Trust in friendships and a smile have always accompanied me, even in the toughest moments.
Why did you chose STEM studies and why would you recommend them?
Since childhood, I was attracted to science and technology. I loved to understand how any object was built and how it worked, including domestic ones...and I always took them apart to my parents' delight. However, the choice of an academic carrier was not easy. I was clearly attracted to mathematics and physics, for my penchant for understanding phenomena and nature, but I have always loved languages and art – I have won several drawing and painting awards. I passed the strict selections to enter the Interpreter and Translator School in Trieste, with the clear intention of undertaking both paths…but I discovered, with great sadness, that it would be possible to enroll in only one degree course at a time. At that point, however, the choice was clear: physics. The languages I would have cultivated with my future job. I recommend a similar path to everyone. Open your horizons to science but never forget the beauty and the company of a good book, perhaps in language, and of a city of art.
Customer Support, Services & Training is an increasingly important business division for Leonardo. Tell us about the challenge for the near future.
Our mission is to ensure the continuous evolution of Customer Support, Services & Training activities to strengthen Leonardo's positioning as a Services & Training provider through advanced and integrated business models, but above all through our resources and the strong focus on customer satisfaction. This challenge becomes possible if we manage to enhance all the excellences in our company, to maximise the synergies between the Divisions, and to spread the culture of customer service and the need for continuous training.
What past or present innovation project, that is representative of Leonardo, do you feel most proud of?
I have always been lucky enough to be involved in innovative projects, where innovation must be considered in its broadest sense – not only in products but also in processes. Today, the challenge is to accelerate the implementation of advanced digital service solutions, to consolidate our current offer and to become first movers on new and always more integrated business segments like artificial intelligence, blockchain, immersive realities with haptic interfaces or robotic interfaces that are increasingly effective and less and less ‘intrusive’.
Diversity as a business value, gender as an opportunity. Let's tell your story. During your career, what challenges or opportunities have you faced as a woman?
To tell the truth, I don't think I've ever encountered different or special or difficult treatments. I indeed have a strong character and I have also always been a bit of a tomboy, despite being a very sensitive person. I have always had wonderful experiences with my fellow students (in my physics course, there were only three women) and at work. Thinking about it, just hired, in the then Meteor (the last colleague had been selected almost 10 years earlier and we were very few, I would say maximum 10 female employees, out of a population of over 300), a colleague refused to go away with me towards Ghedi airbase where we should have tested some modules of the Tornado simulator. In the end, we left and our trip ended with me taking him to Gardaland on the Blue Tornado!
As a talented Leonardo engineer, how have you balanced your professional life and your and private life?
I have always dedicated a lot to work because I have always had the great fortune of doing a job that I like and that stimulates me. By having opportunities to travel and undertake secondments, Leonardo has offered me great experiences – professionally and personally – to continuously learn, develop and meet incredibly interesting, cultured and different people. I think that each of us can influence the environment in which we work, that each of us has the opportunity to improve it. As for Leonardo, I can only appreciate the working environment, especially in light of what has happened in the past year, and how the company has managed the difficult and unpredictable situation in which the whole world has found itself, demonstrating responsible and careful attention to all its employees.
In your opinion, in which areas (of culture, welfare, economy) is there still room for improvement?
There is always room and a way to improve. ‘Everything is perfectible’, as a dear lawyer friend of mine says. I believe that a little humility, accompanied by the desire to continue learning, are two fundamental ingredients. I believe that there is room to evolve our corporate culture, to be faster to face change, more focused towards the outside than the inside – because there are all the excellences to compete! - more open to accepting and valuing the mistakes of those who work hard, and therefore can make mistakes. The important thing is to learn and not to repeat mistakes.
In conclusion, what message would you like to share from your personal or professional life to young people in particular, as well as to Leonardo's global workforce?
Follow your passions, because excellence usually comes with passion. Be accountable for your actions and decisions. Pursue international experiences, especially when you are younger and therefore more flexible to go away from home, that can help you grow – not only professionally but also personally, always respecting and paying attention to different cultures and points of view.