Liliana Petrova, MBA '11

Liliana Petrova

People often want to make a transition, but are not willing to compromise their level and compensation. I took a pay cut to leave the financial services sector and never regretted it.

CEO/Founder, The Petrova Experience; Former Director, Customer Experience, JetBlue

NYU Stern Program: Langone Part-Time MBA
Industry: Customer Experience
Company: The Petrova Experience; JetBlue Airlines

In July 2019, Liliana launched The Petrova Experience, a New York-based customer experience consulting firm dedicated to helping businesses recover the $62Bn lost annually to bad customer service experiences.

Liliana shares her ‘problem solving’ approach to transitioning from financial services to marketing and ultimately customer service at JetBlue, and her ‘be bold’ mantra toward innovation. 

Please share a high level overview of the work you do at JetBlue.

I am responsible for customer experience strategy and execution, and love that I get to see both sides of the equation. One year, my team is spearheading the design and technology implementation of a check-in process and a lobby space. The next, we are building proof of concepts with facial recognition. And in our downtime, we are building the long lead customer experience strategy for the next five years. At Stern I had a Strategy specialization, and I’m fortunate to see it in practice at an airline. 

You did a career pivot from financial services to marketing, moving from the banking to airline industry. How did you go about making that transition with your MBA? 
It was not easy, but I was very committed. I remember that by the spring before graduation all my friends had offers. But I kept waiting for the non-consulting, non-investment banking opportunity. When I met with my future leader at JetBlue he said: "I will not be able to make you rich, but I will give you an MBA job. You will be building a company here." And seven years later, they kept their promise. People often want to make a transition, but are not willing to compromise their level and compensation. I took a pay cut to leave the financial services sector and never regretted it.  
What was the transition from marketing to customer experience at JetBlue like? 
The transition from marketing to customer experience was a natural progression. Marketing communicates the brand promise; customer experience delivers on those promises to generate loyalty, customer growth, and ROI. I must also give credit to JetBlue's culture and leadership for the successful career pathing I’ve had there. Moving across divisions is not only accepted in the organization, it is encouraged.
What lessons did you learn along the way that would be helpful for others looking to make a career pivot?
First, pivots are very hard. Give yourself some time to learn a new side of the business and don't rush the transitions. Second, if you solve problems, people will want to have you on their team. This strategy helps both with getting noticed by the leaders in the division you want to join and with getting accepted faster by your peers once you transfer. As you are learning the ropes, keep an eye out for problems that you can later help solve. For example, the transition from finance to marketing was challenging. But eventually I saw that the marketing team didn’t have a way to measure their campaigns so we brought the analytics and critical thinking of finance to the table, and they appreciated that.
You launched a blog where you write about customer experience. Why did you do that?

I wanted to share lessons in the customer experience field and have a place to talk about skills building. After I realized how few resources there are for beginners in this area, I also founded a membership program that offers customer experience news, digital resources and networking opportunities.
You introduced the first facial recognition boarding program at a US airline—a significant innovation. What is your approach to innovation and moving into unfamiliar territory?
My approach: be bold! When it comes to innovation, I am fierce. I always opened my meetings with the government saying that I am the "dreamer" of JetBlue and will push everyone further than they expected. When you do that, those who work hard get inspired. And inspiration plus hard work is a lethal combination.
Don’t wait to be told what to do. As long as you create value and solve problems, no leader will complain. And do it fast. With US Customs and Border Protection we launched the program in four months! The fact that we were on the Popular Science list of the top 100 software inventions in 2017 was just the cherry on top.
What was your most valuable Stern experience and favorite memory?
Oh, there are so many! I absolutely loved my Stern experience! Joining the MBA program was the best thing I did for myself. My most valuable experience was my internship in the Village Alliance. When I was applying for the marketing role at JetBlue, I used the final presentation of the Village Alliance internship in my interview and later found out that it got me the job. It was the ONLY marketing experience I could showcase at that time. So you could say that the internship got me my whole career.
I have too many Stern memories that I absolutely love. One of my best was a trek to South Africa I had organized with two other students. Once we arrived I realized we were in for the best experience in our lives.
How do you stay connected to Stern?
I read the alumni magazine and always buy one of the faculty books that are recommended. I work with Stern's Career Center for Working Professionals (CCWP) for career advice when I am in transition which has helped a lot. If the school ever needs me, I always respond. We have done Operations class visits to JetBlue. I spoke at a panel once. And I love the CEO series and always try to make it. 

What’s your favorite place to get lunch?

Hmm, that is a tough one. The moment I became a Director and started running CX programs my lunch kind of disappeared. :) When I do have time I make my own salad at a place next to the office.

Where did you go for your last vacation?
Berlin. And I loved it.
What do you do in your free time to relax?
I love traveling, long dinners with friends where we close the restaurant, and shows (Broadway, comedy clubs, anything NYC).