From A Journalist Who Turned To Selling Airplanes, A Lesson On How To Adapt Your Career

What Rene Banglesdorf's Charlie Bravo Aviation teaches us about leveraging our education.

I stepped off a commuter plane from St. Louis into a drizzling New York evening.

Tomorrow is my daughter’s first day of kindergarten, which has me thinking about education. To what extent does your schooling matter when the jobs of tomorrow have not yet been conceived?

Rene Banglesdorf exemplifies why education matters today in a completely different way than it has before.

Rene studied and then practiced journalism. She learned how to recognize stories, develop sources, gather intelligence, confirm what was true, and package the facts into a compelling story. So when she and her husband decided to launch a new business selling airplanes, she thought she was reaching far beyond her comfort zone.

Today she is the CEO and founder of Austin, Texas-based Charlie Bravo Aviation. A woman in a male-dominated industry (only 4% of women in the U.S. and Europe hold a high-level positions in the aviation industry), she has built her company into a leader: one of 30 to 40 companies like hers that generate 90% of industry sales, doing business in over 30 countries, and now opening an office in China.

I talked with her for an hour about her fascinating journey (you can hear the full interview by clicking on "Interviews" here), and as we walked through the milestones—from knowing nothing about the business, to jumping in, to learning to swim ("Our goal was simply to succeed; this was the worst time to start, gas prices rising, the economy slipping . . . "), to racing ahead of the competition—what struck me is how remarkably similar Rene’s journalism process is to the core process of selling an airplane.

As with journalism, first you catch an idea: A buyer who has been using airline charters or planes from fractional-ownership clubs realizes he may be using the airplane frequently enough to warrant buying his own.

Rene scopes out the "story," understanding the client’s needs (how far do they fly, what routes, are they okay stopping off to refuel on the way, and more).

Then Rene turns to her sources. She has experts in different types of planes working for her who have trusted relationships. They can call on their sources and get the true facts about the history and health of airplanes. According to Rene, the aircraft industry is "not regulated like real estate where you have to be licensed . . . there is no repository for any aircraft that are for sale." Buyers need to educate themselves. Like a journalist, she and her team are able to confirm the facts.

She then assembles the facts together into a compelling story for her client, in much the same way a journalist does for readers. And Rene can do this all under a tight deadline, in as little as four days.

Maybe the key to leveraging your education is to look beyond the content of what you learned and look at the core process you have adopted. I studied mechanical engineering, and while I never use the thermodynamic and fluid dynamic principles I once knew, the core problem-solving process of defining a goal, mapping out boundary conditions, and playing with the equation to find solutions is core to every strategy exercise we perform for our clients.

Maybe it matters less whether my daughter eventually falls in love with math or English or dance or music, but that she learns to think and act in a way that allows her to make a difference, in whatever as yet uncreated career is waiting for her.

If you look at what you really loved in your childhood and strip away the content of that training, what process or mind-set did your schooling ingrain in you?

What would it look like to apply this to your current career or business (for instance, how would your inner rugby-player approach handle finance or your inner artist approach leadership)?

How might that differentiate you from others?

[Image: Flickr user Rolfe Kolbe]

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2 Comments

  • Anthony Reardon

    Another good story Kaihan,

    I'm in St. Louis right now, and cannot believe what I am seeing in the news regarding the local education scene for kids. I moved around from school to school growing up. Nobody believes the number I throw out, but I honestly believe that turned out to be the biggest take-away I got out of the whole thing. At the same time, I wanted my daughter to go to just one set of schools in the same area. Why? Well for all the advantages I have gained in adaptability, I also came to realize the importance of relating to people who orient from stable backgrounds and relationships. Sure, starting over from scratch every time is loaded with amazing principles, but if you want to build on something over time that lasts, nothing is better for that than a solid foundation.

    There is an interesting dynamic between the forces changing the traditional school systems and also all the efforts at innovation. In many cases, I have thought, a lot of the new ideas are the same old ideas masquerading as reform. Departures from systems that were proven to work are often premature dispositions to creative approaches. In other cases, I recognize embedded models and ingrained assumptions that need to be adapted go on without being properly addressed. I see a lot of pros and cons in the various learning environments and try to coach my daughter to make the most out of it without passing on too much of my pessimism.

    In any case, getting through the friction of whatever kinds of systems is always a learning experience in itself and can yield terrific principles to apply in related career situations. I have been exceptionally successful in my career across a variety of industries, but not one company has been able to hold on to me for more than five years. Every time I take on a new challenge, I get better at tackling new challenges. In that sense, what is happening in the knowledge based economy with the increasing rate and complexity of change suits me just fine. I would like to think the education system can support that methodically, but in my opinion it has thus far been more of an incidental by product of failures on many levels. In that kind of circumstance, it's constructive to develop an opportunistic mindset to learn from whatever experiences you go through, and to try to find ways to apply that for your benefit in whatever comes next.

    Best, Anthony