Women in Leadership – Profile on Debra Bowen-Rees

Happy International Women’s Day!

ACL are proud to support Women in Leadership and growing further diversity in our organisation. This is especially evident in our board where all our Independent Directors’ are female.

This year we’re celebrating the appointment of Debra Bowen-Rees as our latest Independent Director. Debra has an inspiring career as a Woman in Leadership, bringing 36 years of aviation experience in both military and commercial roles.

We asked Debra to share a little bit of her journey so far…

Hello everybody.

I’m Deb Bowen Rees and I’ve just joined the Board of ACL as one of the independent non-executive directors (NEDs).  I’ve joined the Board to provide aviation experience amongst the independent NEDs, having worked in the aviation world for over 36 years.  My fascination with aeroplanes started really early on and I decided, at age 7, that all I wanted to do was join the RAF.  I dragged my Mum along to the Careers Information Office in Bristol – where my family is from – when I was 12. They were very pleased to see me, gave me a few leaflets and suggested that I came back when I’d grown up! Fast forward 10 years, school completed, degree obtained in Geography from University College London and I found myself at Cranwell completing initial officer training, about to embark on a career as an Air Traffic Controller. I originally joined for 6 years, but time just flew by and suddenly 28 years had passed.

During that time, I controlled aeroplanes for about 10 years at Royal Air Force (RAF) bases, primarily in the south and east of England, then moved into a wide variety of roles, including being the Ministry of Defence ‘expert’ in conventional arms control treaties for a couple of years, doing a stint as ‘Operations Director’ at Basrah air station in Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War, running the office of one of our most senior officers and finally ending up back where I started in Air Traffic Control as the Commander of the RAF’s ATM Force – which was the most incredible honour and the culmination of a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable career in the armed forces.

When I retired from the RAF, I was really keen to get into commercial airports and was very fortunate to be offered the role of Operations Director at Cardiff Airport, which was a great introduction to civil operations. Circumstances led to me being appointed as Managing Director just 20 months later, following which I was promoted into the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) role as I gained more experience. As the CEO of one of the smaller regional airports, I also became very involved in UK national aviation policy and industry representation through my membership of the Board of the Airport Operators Association (AOA) and also as Vice Chair of the Regional and Business Airports group (RABA).

After 8 years at Cardiff, I reached another crossroads in my journey and decided that I wanted to move into non-executive work. I joined the Board of Dwr Cymru Welsh Water in early 2020 and then the Board of Milford Haven Port Authority later that year. I was though, really keen to get back into the aviation sector to utilise the experience I’d gained over so many years, so was absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to join ACL – a company I know really well from my time at Cardiff and having worked with them to coordinate some huge special events over the years.

It’s a real pleasure to join ACL’s Board and to work with our Chair, Lesley Cowley and the other NEDs, Valerie Gordon-Walker and Ailsa Beaton to provide the independent oversight of the company – what a great advert for gender diversity and having women on Boards!!

Finally, away from work, I live in West Wales, with my husband Jeremy and our 2 dogs.  We really enjoy making the most of life in beautiful Pembrokeshire and are looking forward to the imminent arrival of our first grandchild.

Deb and her dogs in sunny Pembrokeshire

Written by Debra Bowen-Rees


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