Gunita Vilmane has a charming smile and displays a positive attitude in everything that she does. In this interview she talks about her dream job, work experiences and wishes for the New Year.


What is your career background and how did you end up in HR?
I have been spoiled and feel rewarded from my experience with the good companies and leaders that I have worked with. During my Bachelor’s studies at the Riga Stradiņš University, I had a course in human resources that was led by Gunta Veismane. She was an inspiring lecturer and I quickly understood that this is my area! After graduating, I started to work as an HR generalist at ABB, which is a global leader in power and automation technologies. I didn’t have the relevant work experience when I applied, but as my manager later said, I had a high degree of motivation, a willingness to learn, a positive attitude and sparkling eyes. I have been working in HR for 12 years since then and I can confirm that these qualities are extremely important for hiring the right people. Currently I hold the role of HR business partner at airBaltic and look after 20 departments in the airline.


What exactly is an HR business partner?
The field of human resources has developed a lot over the years. Being very much a transactional function in the past, it now encompasses three important areas of expertise. Administrative expertise is still important. You have to do things in a qualitative, precise and timely manner. Operational expertise involves resourcing, succession planning and building a talent pipeline. It also deals with performance and compensation management, the coordination of training and development, taking care of the employer brand and other duties.
The third aspect is partnering expertise, which takes up most of the time for an HR business partner. This involves working closely with the managers to help them achieve their business objectives, building trustbased relationships with them, helping and supporting them in organisational design situations, coordinating change processes and regularly checking the “health of the organisation”. That entails analysing what employees say and establishing what engages and motivates them.
Recently I read a saying that describes HR very precisely: if HR operations are the engine that keeps the car running smoothly, then HR business partners are the satellite navigation system that helps to guide the vehicle and determine its direction so that it reaches its destination along the best possible route.


You have lived and worked outside of Latvia. What did you do during your stay abroad?
While working at ABB in Latvia, I was offered an international assignment at the company’s headquarters in Switzerland. I was part of a global HR team and worked in talent acquisition. I worked out global recruitment standards, rolled out an employer branding initiative and implemented a global recruitment system and career portal. At the same time, I was a certified assessor in student and graduate assessment centres and took part as an assessor in a manager development program. During the assignment I travelled a lot and had the opportunity to see how talent acquisition works in a country where the average HR person hires one employee per month, while in China they hire an average of 26 per day. I noticed unique cultural differences. The Chinese practice direct diplomacy, while Americans have a pushy style. The Nordic countries are demanding, while people from the Middle East bear a heartwarming attitude. Sometimes, however, they might have a hidden agenda. It’s amazing how people are different and at the same time similar all over the world.
Despite living in such a beautiful country and having a decent career opportunity, I missed my native Latvia and my family. After four years in Switzerland I returned to Riga and got the brilliant chance to join one of Latvia’s top employers – airBaltic and its great HR team. I like the fact that the airline has high business standards, is innovative and open to change, is international and has many gifted leaders. My job here is very interesting and I would say that right now this is my dream job.


Germany has more than 40 local airlines, while the three Baltic countries together have 16. Is it possible to find the required specialists from only the Baltic States?
Recruitment is always a challenging area. Some positions are easy to fill, while others require a  longer search. We try to figure out the most efficient recruitment strategy and select the right channels. airBaltic is tempting as a brand and that helps in the recruitment process. Here I have to say thanks to all airBaltic employees, who are ambassadors of our good name and reputation.
Being the leading airline in the Baltics, we look for specialists from abroad as well. With foreign experts we bring in fresh experiences as well as different perspectives and know-how. This strengthens our team. I also feel proud whenever our foreign colleagues say that they are positively surprised at how smart, professional and knowledgeable our people are. We really do have talented employees and managers and we have an inspiring CEO! With such a strong team, we will be an even more successful airline.


And now for a popular HR question. Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I have to be careful in answering this question, as my colleagues from the HR community might read something between the lines! Of course, I am joking and actually I appreciate your asking. A question like this reveals what people are thinking and what their values are. I see myself continuing to develop in the HR area. I would like to get a deeper knowledge of the aviation industry and its specifics, such as the environment of the pilots and cabin crew as well as the engineering and technician areas. At our department we work shoulder to shoulder and openly share all of our topics and challenges, for in order to be the best HR business partner for your employer you have to deep dive into the business. Unfortunately, this means that you rarely have the time to look into your neighbour’s garden. However, the different departments of the airline always support each other when necessary. I would also like to develop my competence in different areas and industries and not just remain in my comfort zone.


How do you like to spend your free time?
Travelling is one of the most frequent free-time eaters for our family. Having tight working schedules, we enjoy weekend trips. I love the opera and ballet. I also enjoy cooking and often make nice dinners for my family and friends. My husband has a talent at making superb main courses, so in this regard there is no competition! I concentrate more on party decorations, starters and desserts. We often choose travel destinations where we can enjoy some special cuisine. We were excited last August to visit the French Riviera and Provence in France. We also like to choose travel destinations that are linked to an event. Recently we were in Paris for a Kylie Minogue concert, and soon after we visited some close friends in Luxembourg for a gourmet festival, where we met famous Latvian chefs who were actually judges at the event. I really felt proud to be Latvian! We also like to travel for sports such as downhill skiing, golf and swimming. Sunbathing is a particular pleasure!


What New Year’s wishes would you like to convey to our passengers?
I wish everyone a prosperous new year in all regards. Let’s be positive and let’s not be shy in raising our profile. We are a strong and wise country! Last year Riga was a European Capital of Culture, while during the first half of this year Latvia will preside over the presidency of the European Union. Our country will be receiving a lot of attention. We should be proud of this and of ourselves.