Charlie Bravo Aviation is celebrating its 13th anniversary, so I thought I’d take the time to reflect on some leadership traits I’ve seen serve people well in this industry.
Aviation is filled with larger-than-life characters, and I’ve been blessed to meet some of them. One who made an eternal impression on me is the late Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines. I introduced him at an Entrepreneur Organization event in Austin in April 2012. He was pretty spry and flirtatious for an octogenarian, but the thing that struck me most was his infectious enthusiasm and loyalty to his employees. He told a story of refunding a fare out of his own pocket to a passenger he overheard giving a ticket agent a hard time. He didn’t want her business. His philosophy was unique in the industry at the time: he didn’t believe the customer was always right. He believed if you take care of your employees, they take care of your customers.
Shaesta Waiz was an Afghan refugee who came to the United States as a child. Shortly after she obtained her pilot training at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, she decided to fly solo around the world. She sought sponsorship, recruited volunteers, made flight plans, and set up speaking engagements at each of her stops to bring the hope of aviation to the girls of the world. When she landed in the country she and her parents once escaped, she was welcomed as heroine and awarded the first civilian pilot’s license given to a woman in that country. She was 29—and now that she’s married and a mom, Shaesta still evangelizes for girls in flight.
I met Jill Meyers when I sought out Shaesta as a speaker at an event I was coordinating in 2017. While her professional achievement draws accolades the world over, it’s her generosity in mentoring and giving sacrificially that sets Jill apart. As a volunteer, she did months of ground and flight support for Shaesta, has guided many young women and men to grow in their careers and always has time to encourage others. If more people were as generous as Jill, I don’t think anyone would say they left aviation for a lack of mentorship (which is all too common now).
I’m rather embarrassed to admit I spent some time early in my aviation career trying to fit in with the guys. Once I figured out those whom I most wanted to impress respond better to authenticity than conformity, I began letting more of my own personality shine through in all I do. The result is greater profitability, more influence and better job satisfaction for myself and those I lead.
I could not do my job without the cluster of aviation professionals in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma known as aircraft escrow agents. On any given day, they process tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions, conducting due diligence, keeping track of all the disparate paperwork in a sales industry that’s unregulated so they can comply with the regulatory restrictions of the FAA, Customs, the State Department and the banking and insurance requirements around the world. Hats off to their spectacular organization skills.
Walking into my first meeting of the International Aviation Women’s Association (IAWA) Board, I was intimidated. These women were experienced, credentialed, titled and accomplished. As I got to know them over the four years I served on that board, I learned they are also some of the industry’s best champions and encouragers. My confidence grew tremendously by learning from and contributing to the efforts we made to advance, encourage and connect women in aviation.
Kimberly Perkins flies a G650, which is at the top of the wish list for many private pilots. She does so as a captain, and not one of an advanced age. While that is noteworthy, it’s what she does with the fact that she lands in a lot of third-world countries that I admire. Kimberly collects school supplies and visits school children everywhere she goes, with gifts in hand. She’s able to invest in their futures with hope and pencils—and she’s started a movement encouraging other pilots and flight attendants to do the same.
8. Positive Influence
In organizing a virtual event in June 2020, I ended up connected with a group of women so impressive I could hardly choose which one I wanted to speak. All of them were accomplished fighter pilots who learned leadership lessons they were willing to share with the world. As a group of like-minded, collaborative women, they lift each other up and influence others to improve in life and flight. Collectively, they can be found at Athena’s Voice.
Stranded in Kenya when the airline he was working for shut down, Greek Canadian Emmanuel Anassis found a colleague to help him buy the airline’s distressed assets so he could start a humanitarian airline. Twenty-some years later, after hundreds of thousands of relief missions conducted, Manny recounts stories of gunfire to his plane and his person, prospective child soldiers evacuated from South Sudan, and millions of pounds of supplies delivered. It’s dangerous but rewarding work, and those of us who know him are impressed with his casual approach to extreme courage.
Stephanie Chung is smart, beautiful, strong and black. As far as I can tell, she was the first black female president of a significant air charter company in the United States. What I love about Stephanie is that she never takes herself too seriously—from diagnosing the business aviation community as “stale, pale and male” to indicating she would let me know her next “adventure” when COVID travel restrictions caused Jet Suite to shutter. She’s now the Chief Growth Officer at Wheels Up, which sure sounds adventurous to me.
Kenny Dichter has always inspired me as the best marketer in private aviation. From jet cards to private jet club membership, he’s consistently found a way to make some of his wildest ideas work. The creativity in financial instruments and marketing that’s positioned Wheels Up for an IPO is genius. From aligning with Textron Financial for workable terms to having endorsing celebrities invest monetarily in the business, Kenny’s brilliant.
Bessie Coleman believed in herself. She also believed in others. Not only was she the first black woman to obtain her pilot’s license, she “decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties [she] had faced, so [she] decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.” She had a conviction that defied limitations and is an inspiration to men and women alike.
13. Compassion and Humility
I have the honor of serving on the WIAAB with Tammie Jo Shults. I cannot think of a single person I’ve met who thinks of others more than herself, because she genuinely cares for them. After landing a severely damaged 737 in the most harrowing of circumstances, instead of submitting herself to a medical exam, she walked down the aisle of the plane, greeting, reassuring and thanking each passenger. Not just for her exemplary pilot skills, her service to our country in the US Navy, but for her servant’s heart, Tammie Jo is my hero and serves as an example that a woman’s touch is a good thing in aviation.
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