Disclaimer: I’m not a spokesperson for American Airlines.
What is your occupation and academic background and how did you come to work in this field?
I work for American Airlines as a Supervisor of Supply Services in the aircraft maintenance and engineering department. Prior to that, I spent most of my professional career as a General Store Manager for the office supply retail store, Office Depot. The transition to the aviation industry was a challenging, but rewarding one. Working for a major airline does come with some perks and benefits that you won’t find in other lines of work. Most notably, you have the possibility to travel the world at a discounted rate.
Other benefits and advantages include: better than average work-life balance, unionized contracts, protection for majority of the workforce, and growth opportunities. The biggest selling point to me is the longevity of the employee’s career. It’s not unusual to find people throughout the company that have been around for 25 to 30 years.
To be fair some disadvantages exist as well. For example this business is very dependent on the mood and current feel of the economy, much more so than the average business. This could lead to lots of uncertainty. I think the recent mergers of some major airlines will help soften the impact in the future.
Another disadvantage, which is personal to me, is the lack of diversity (especially African-American), at the executive level of major airlines. In their defense, the current leadership of American Airlines has at least acknowledged it. They made public statements saying this will change. I’m looking forward to it. Also, I feel a responsibility to add there are many hard-working and competent frontline and mid-level managers in the minority bracket represented at American Airlines.
It was not easy to transition to my current employer. I gained a lot of experience, and frankly was a subject matter expert in a lot of key functions of my old industry. The unknown was nerve-racking, but leaning on my past experiences gave me confidence. I also gained strength during the transition by leaning on someone in my network that already worked for the company. Having someone that can answer questions and offer advice was a big help.
It’s not a pre-requisite to have a college degree to work in this industry, especially the entry level positions. For advancements and promotions to impactful management positions, one will need a college degree, and/or job specific work experience. Great jobs such as flight attendants, pilots, and mechanics do not require a college degree, per se. But specialized training, and other government-required certifications must be obtained. I do believe that having completed a Bachelor’s Degree in MIS did give some competitive advantages.
What is the biggest challenge of your work?
In the people management profession, the biggest personal rewards come from the people you work with. In my career I’ve met some amazing people. People I’ve learned from, people I admire, people that motivate me, and people that have helped change my life for the better. To me, it comes as no surprise that dealing with people will sometime be the cause of the biggest pain. The biggest challenge of my current work is leading a group of people, all with different background and life experiences, to a common goal. Every day brings something new, I actually enjoy it. Delivering good results also keep me wanting to do more of it.
Identify one or two of your proudest achievements?
This requires a short story to fully describe and to be understood why I believe this is my proudest achievement. I was 17 years old and in high school, and I had a hard time finding a job going into the summer of my senior year. I just wanted a summer job so I can buy the things I thought I needed then. Everywhere I went I was rejected…a bad feeling, especially for a fragile, young guy.
After some time, I eventually landed a summer job cutting grass and doing landscaping work. A summer job working in the dead heat of summer in Miami, Florida isn’t anyone’s ideal job. I worked with a group of guys, all way older than me and had family to support on the income they were receiving from this work. In the beginning I thought I’ll get just enough cash and call this quits by mid-summer. I thought this type of work is madness, and wondered why anyone would voluntarily choose to do it.
Fast forward to the end of the summer, I was still working there, I didn’t quit. I was enjoying the work like it was some type of sports game. I can remember feeling somewhat sad because I’d have to stop working in a few days. I think it’s in that moment I had my proud professional achievement: the achievement of belief and confidence in myself. I say this because I realize a couple of things about myself: that summer I was working for pride and independence. That was more motivating to me than any sum of money could ever have been. I enjoyed just getting things done; the challenge that came with it made fun in a weird sort of way. I also learned trust myself to do things that I’m even uncomfortable with.
What leaders, thinkers or doers do you admire most?
This one is easy, President Barack Obama. This is not to say I agree with his political views all the time because I actually strongly disagree with a few of the policies he has enacted. I admire him because it appears that he respects people, even his opponents. I admire him because he has faced, arguably, the most internal and external challenges of any US President in history and he has overcome most. I admire him because he shows strength without feeling the need to go around flexing, showing everyone he’s strong by talking though, like many other politicians suggest.
Another person I admire is my mother – Carmelise. My mother has very little formal education but has led a happier life, and has had more success than some of the most educated people I know. Ever since I can remember, she always has been someone of strength and independence. She works tirelessly for the life she wants. Of course with bias, I not only admire her, I love her.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Professionally, I suspect I’ll be working within my industry. I suspect I will continue to lead people, however in a bigger and more impactful way. To be specific, I can see myself leading a countrywide or regional operations for my employer.
What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have impact?
Give yourself a good start because time isn’t going to wait on you. Take risks (not reckless), and enjoy the challenges. Especially for the black youth, because we have some problems in our communities that can really be a major obstacle, I believe resisting the urge to accept the negative stereotypes is very important. Challenge your thinking and respectfully say no to things that don’t contribute to your dreams. Your choices of profession are not limited to sports, music, and entertainment. Seek personal development, education, most notably financial education.
Did you have a mentor or do you mentor someone else? How has that experience changed you?
I’m both a mentor and have someone as a mentor. Having someone to lean on that has taken a path you’re looking to take is so important in order to reduce some of the risk and challenges you may face. I look at the opportunity to mentor to someone as a way of paying back a debt I owe to society, because someone was once there for me. It’s only right to return the favor.
Believe it or not I find that people are generally helpful and most of the time all you have to do is ask. And if one person chooses not to help you along your path, it’s ok, too, because they have the right to do just that.