You may not have known that there are black-owned airlines, but guess again. Sherrexcia ‘Rexy’ Rolle is the Vice President of Operations and General Counsel for Western Air, a Bahamas-based black-owned aviation business. Although the company was founded by her parents Rex and Shandrice Rolle, Rexy has led the charge in expanding her family’s privately-owned business which has been in existence for approximately two decades. With a net worth of $90+ million, Western Airlines has been steadily increasing its routes across the Caribbean, including direct flights to Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica and soon Florida. In this interview, Rexy describes how Western Air came to be and shares advice on how to make it in the aviation industry as a person of color.
Let’s get into the history of Western Air. What prompted your family to delve into the business of aviation?
Rexy: My parents were very young and just started out their lives when they had me. My mom was 17 and my Dad was 18, just beginning his career as a pilot. We are from a small town called Mastic Point, Andros in the Bahamas. My father started his career in the aviation industry as a private pilot by trade, however, owning his own airlines and developing it in the Bahamas was a lifelong dream of his. My parents worked tirelessly and persevered in developing this business by saving their money and doing their research with various aircraft brokers. My parents were eventually fortunate enough through faith, their persistence and dedication in their business plan to [receive offers] from two aviation investors from the U.S. From that moment moving forward, Western Air Limited was a dream that is now a reality.
Developing an airline is a lucrative but very competitive industry. What were the market gaps that your family wanted to bridge when developing Western Air Ltd.?
Rexy: With any business, it is all about knowing your industry and what particular problem you are solving for the consumer. In the Bahamas, there are over 700 islands and many Bahamians usually take small charter ferries as transportation to the other islands. Even though we have a very efficient government airline in the Bahamas, there were certain islands that were not being targeted for our consumers to have a convenient way to travel. This is where our airline comes in and once we recognized those gaps in the market, we were able to convince our investors why our airline is needed.
I understand in the business of aviation there are little to no minorities who are either owners or have senior level positions. What are some of the challenges that you and your family face in this industry and how do you all overcome those challenges in maintaining the brand and taking Western Air Ltd. to the next level?
Rexy: Every day we have our challenges, just like any other company. Being the largest privately-owned airline company in the Bahamas, as a family, we have an understanding that we must maintain our focus on our mission. We understand we have to work 10 times harder and we don’t shy away from the challenge. Moreover, as the Vice President of Operations and General Counsel, the number one thing I stressed for our company is consistency.
In the beginning, we had our issues in time management and delays. However, in this industry where timing is very crucial, we began to focus on the reasons why these things were happening and “sweating the small stuff” in ensuring that our customers arrive at their destinations in a safe and timely fashion. Once my team and I began fine-tuning arrival and departure times, our performance began to improve. Our ticket sales increased also. From that first initial step, we are continuing a hands-on approach on our customer service by making sure people get there safely, on time and most importantly with their luggage intact. Presently, as we are speaking, I am sitting in my office looking at schedules and flights that are departing and arriving. Just like the old saying goes, “Timing is everything.”