FBO View: Investing in Your Customers

Used with Permission
Godlewski, M. (2018, May/June). Investing in Your Customers. Aviation for Women, 20-21

Many people think that to have a career in aviation you need only to have skills in math and science.

Jessi Rowden WAI 73822, and general manager of Cutter Aviation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says, “That’s not true.” In her line of work, the so-called soft skills – the ability to read people and anticipate the customer’s needs – are priorities. “You are solving problems all day long,” Jessi explains. “You are taking care of people and helping people get things done.”

Jessi, age 37, has been with Cutter Aviation for 13 years. The company is one of the oldest family-owned fixed base operators (FBOs) in the United States with locations in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. FBOs are places pilot parks their airplanes when they travel. Staff there handle everything from refueling aircraft, arranging catering, and reserving hotel rooms and rental cars.

“I started at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX) location as a customer service representative. Within three months, I was customer service supervisor,” Jessi says. “After six months with the company, I was asked to assume the role of facility manager for Cutter Aviation Phoenix Deer Valley Airport (DVT). I did that for approximately a year and was then asked to open and operate the new Colorado Springs facility in July 2006. In 2014, the manager of Cutter Aviation Albuquerque was retiring after 42 years of service and I was asked to step in and take charge of the facility here as the general manager. At this time, I am the only general manager with all four FBO facilities under my belt.”

Jessi Rowden

Jessi describes Iberia, Missouri, where she grew up, as “a small town where people tend to stay their whole lives.” It was in Iberia in an antique store where Jessi started her customer service career. “I was 13 years old at the time. I was hired to work with someone then in a few months found myself running it.”

Jessi attended Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Missouri, pursuing a degree in secondary education social sciences. “At the time, I thought I was going to be a teacher because really that was all I was exposed to growing up,” she explains. Oddly enough, it was working in the food service industry – waiting tables and managing a bar – that gave her a taste of customer service with a band of regulars.

“People have likes and dislikes, and they really like it when you remember what they like and don’t like. To this day I can tell you what certain people like to drink,” she says. Jessi also realized she enjoyed working with children, but didn’t care for the school system. In 2002, she started looking for work outside of academia.

“I had a family member who worked part time at Jackson Hole Aviation in Wyoming. He told me they were hiring. He took me for my first flight in a Cessna 172,” she explains. After that experience, Jessi applied for a customer service position, and was interviewed and hired that day. She spent two years in Jackson Hole, then in 2004 moved to Phoenix, Arizona, and was hired at Cutter Aviation.

“While I don’t have a specific aviation background, I utilize my psychology and education classes daily as well as my customer service background that I learned from the jobs I had when putting myself through school,” she says.

“It’s about building relationships,” Jessi explains. “We remember what beverages customers like. If they like Diet Coke we have one waiting for them on the counter when they walk in. We remember what kind of car they like if they want a rental, we remember the names of their kids, grandkids, and dogs.”

There is no such thing as a typical day. “Every day it is different aircraft, different clients, different challenges,” she says. “You can find me negotiating lease terms and fuel agreements, working the front desk or out on the line fueling and towing with my line technicians, working a charter and throwing bags out of the belly of a 737, paying bills and going to the bank, at the fuel farm troubleshooting electrical or pump issues, or changing out the alternator on a tug. It’s all in a day’s work, and fortunately for me, I love it!”

There is a component of ongoing education as well. “To do this job, you need to keep learning,” Jessi says, “because the aviation industry keeps evolving both in terms of rules and regulations as well as technology.”

She makes a point not to ask any of her employees to do a task that she herself cannot do, so when a new piece of technology arrives on site she makes sure she learns how to use it. Over the years, Jessi has seen more women enter FBO management, but there is still room to grow. She has the support of Cutter Aviation as the company is an active WAI corporate member.

“Though it is getting significantly better in the las several years, breaking into this sector of aviation as a female has been challenging. Aviation as a whole has been a very male dominated industry, and my niche is no exception, Jessi says. “I’ve had to work longer, harder, and smarter in order to gain respect from many-simply because I’m a young female. However, I am very fortunate that I have an amazing support structure from my superiors and colleagues in Cutter. They have never been anything less than supportive and have given me opportunities in my career that I will forever be grateful for.”

“I love the people,” she continues. “I have the challenge of knowing my staff as individuals and tailoring my management of them to fit their individual needs and expectations. My customers are amazing people as well. Having the opportunity to form numerous relationships and friendships is something that is very important to me. Knowing that I’m important to them is also rewarding.”

One of the best parts of the job is mentoring her employees, learning about their dreams, and helping them get there. Many of them are working at the FBO as they pursue becoming a professional pilot. It’s a special thrill when the FBO employees-turned-pilots come back to visit. “They might be the captain of a Gulfstream jet now but when they come to visit they still call me boss!” She laughs.

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