The Practical Manager: Making a Difference

The Practical Manager: Making a Difference

How often have you heard someone remark that they really like the people in our industry? Quite often I hope. Without quality people, we would not be able to provide the level of customer service that business aviation is noted for. The men and women who support and provide safe and effective transportation on the aircraft we operate are the most dedicated professionals I have ever met. They come from different backgrounds and levels of education. There is no set avenue or progression path that is recognized as the “correct” way to find meaningful work in the community. The bonds that are formed by individuals building their experience and looking for opportunities in business aviation are very strong.

One of the most endearing aspects of my career has been the friendships I have been able to make with many of my fellow business aviation associates. The closest relationships are with those who chose to volunteer their time to give advice and much needed council to others. Personally, there have been numerous occasions when I really needed to hear someone’s opinion about a pivotal judgment. Often, especially in recent years, I have been a sounding board for a fair number of professional friends. Hopefully, we all have relationships that have mentored us as we have grown professionally.

As an aviation manger, you perhaps have found yourself at a crossroads on numerous occasions during your career. The fact that you have chosen to develop your management skills and seek greater responsibility puts you on a path that will often require critical decisions to be made. Those decisions may be based on factors or circumstances that you may not have faced before. The opinions of a close confidant can prove invaluable, especially if that individual has a background similar to that which you aspire.

The first person who made a difference in my professional business aviation life was Barry Robinson. Barry was a retired Naval Reserve Captain who worked for Stevens Beechcraft in Knoxville, Tennessee. I had just resigned my Naval Commission and was searching for a job in the business aviation community. I didn’t know what business aviation was. The oil embargo of 73 had just hit and the majors were not interested in new hires. The world of civilian aviation was very new to me. I found it hard to believe that no one was interested in a 29 year old former Navy pilot with 1,600 hours and a single engine commercial license. I now appreciate all those puzzled looks on the faces of the chief pilots who I attempted to convince that I was worth taking a chance on, but back then I was becoming quite disillusioned. Barry took one look at my pitiful carcass and said that he needed an aircraft salesman who was a pilot, not a pilot who couldn’t sell aircraft. I guess he felt sorry for me, or perhaps saw something that I wasn’t intentionally manifesting. Regardless, Barry gave me a break, my first of several breaks to come in this industry.

Within a year, that opportunity allowed me to meet and interview with the Chief Pilot of W.R. Grace, in New York. A co-pilots position was opening up and I jumped at the chance to fly a Falcon 20 for a major corporation.

Today, there are many of our aviation brethren out there looking for a break, often the one that might make a profound difference in their lives. There are many others, like myself, that were given opportunities that proved to be significant milestones in their careers. What constitutes a break or opportunity is defined by the person receiving the assistance, but nevertheless, having been in that position, I have always felt compelled to return the favor.

I recently spoke to Barry who has been retired for the past 13 years. Now in his early 70’s, he reflected, “The real pleasure for me during my 30 years of selling aircraft for Cessna and then Beechcraft wasn’t in the number of aircraft I sold, but quite frankly the pride that I took in helping young people like yourself gain a foothold in the business aviation industry.” Barry went on to note, “That’s where the return comes from, investing ones life in the development of others while doing a first rate job as a team.”

Mentoring someone is really a lot of fun and quite rewarding. It does take a dedication and a commitment of time as well as energy, but the results can be tremendous. Five years ago, I interviewed a fledgling pilot who was scratching on the career window pane, looking for an opportunity to work for a larger corporate flight department. We had one more position open at the time and there had been a number of deserving candidates who had interviewed for the job. I saw something in this young man that warranted hiring him, giving him the break of his career.

Making a difference doesn’t have to always culminate in a job offer. Making yourself available to listen to a less experienced person can be just as important. The other day a buddy of mine called to tell me that a close friend of his son’s had just been furloughed from Delta. He asked me to talk to the young pilot if I could find the time. I took the time, because of the close friend that made the request, as well as the opportunity to perhaps make a difference. The Delta pilot, still on probation, and I went out to lunch. We had a great talk. He really didn’t understand our industry, but was considering a change of direction in his career path.

We talked about business aviation as well as the airline industry. The main focus of our conversation was centered on what he should do, given the fact that he didn’t see himself being recalled for at least four years. I steered our discussion to an area that he had not considered. What if he were recalled and somehow ten years in the future, lost his medical? What then? How prepared was he to support his family with his intellect and initiative and not his hands and his seniority number? We discussed the possibility of graduate school now that he found himself with time on his hands. If not that, then something else that picked his interest outside of aviation that could perhaps turn into an income producing possibility in the future. I received a really nice letter from him just last week. He thanked me for taking the time to make a difference in his life and his career. It is a great feeling, especially if you can help when it isn’t expected or if there is nothing to be gained personally.

I’ll always be grateful to Barry for that first break. It certainly changed the direction of my life and subsequently my career. I have, as I’m sure you have, that “big time” business aviation is difficult to get into; that you need to know someone to get a break. Frankly, it has been so long for me since that initial ”break”, that I had lost touch with that insular aspect of our community. It is often difficult for others who have worked on the periphery for several years to gain a meaningful break. They need and quite frankly deserve the chance to show us what they’ve got. The first step for some deserving candidate could be your opportunity to make a difference.