• Women 2.0 HowTo Conference San Francisco, September 30 - October 1, 2014

Being a Woman CEO Gets You in the Door

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The CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation on how she got started in the private aviation business, juggling her family life and using female stereotypes to her advantage.

By René Banglesdorf (Cofounder & CEO, Charlie Bravo Aviation)

Maybe I’m a romantic at heart, but it seems to me that women take much bigger risks in love than we do with our careers. We’re willing to put our heart on the line for a dream man, but when it comes to job advancement, many times we shy away from challenge, take the easy road or fail to remain competitive. I know I’m guilty.

When I started Charlie Bravo Aviation with my husband in 2008, I thought I would support him from behind the scenes. He had been in the private aviation industry much longer than I had and we both assumed that he would be the company’s head honcho. But, the more I got involved with our business and the private aviation sector as a whole, the more we both realized I brought some unique skills to this male-dominated industry that would help accelerate our company. That plunged me into a journey in company leadership—along with the risks and challenges that have shaped me into a successful CEO today.

With only four percent of female executives in the private aviation industry in both Europe and the U.S., my minority status as a woman CEO in this sector is one of the biggest challenges —and one of the biggest competitive differentiators I have. Our clientele primarily consists of middle-aged executive men, so being a tall redhead certainly makes me stand out. I find I need to be better informed, sharper and more tenacious than my competitors to gain credibility. If I stay focused on combining these qualities with the reputation I have gained as an intelligent woman in the industry, I am very effective.

Up Close and Personal

Taking this effectiveness into my personal life was yet another challenge. When we started Charlie Bravo Aviation, our daughter was 13 and son was 16. Juggling varsity sports schedules, college selections and high school “drama” with a growing company, international travel and a new business role was definitely hectic. Today, with both of them well on their way to their own successful careers, I like to think I taught them that a balance between family and career is both healthy and possible.

For those still navigating these waters, I suggest having some separation but not completely excluding kids from your work. Our daughter helped us find some of this balance. She kept a timer app on her iPhone during dinner and clicked it on every time we talked about work. Like our son, she has also been involved voluntarily in the business. They’ve both worked in the office, as model/photographer in our marketing calendar, and at the helicopter landing pads at the Formula One race where we offered VIP shuttle services. Because of this exposure, our son is considering an aviation career.

Coming from my maternal side, my biggest challenge as a CEO has been learning when to stop nurturing employees and just to fire them. I’ve learned some hard lessons along the way about giving ineffective employees another chance at the cost of the team as a whole. Sometimes coming to terms with the fact that an employee simply isn’t the right fit for the company is difficult. It’s even harder to terminate someone’s employment while looking at the family photos on their desks. Though, going back to women’s risk-taking in business, it is better not to let the heart get involved.

The Usual Questions

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I am asked two questions frequently. The first is why there aren’t more women in the aviation or aerospace field. I don’t have any scientific evidence, but my theory is that little girls don’t usually hold the same level of fascination with ‘things that go’ as boys do. Boys seem more likely to dream about flying and working on airplanes … then go out make those dreams a reality. There are a number of initiatives out there to attract more women to aviation, but it is slow-going.

The other – and more prominent question – is whether or not I have my pilot’s license. I am proud to say that I am finally working on that! With the kids at home, I always wanted to spend time with them; now that we’re empty nesters, it is time to spread my wings and fly – both literally and figuratively.

Have you experienced advantages despite being in the minority in the workplace?

Rene's HeadshotRené is co-founder and CEO of Charlie Bravo Aviation, an Austin, TX-based company that buys, sells and leases corporate aircraft worldwide. She applies a background in business journalism and marketing from several industries to the company she started with two private aviation veterans in 2008.