By Shelley Seale
In an industry that is wildly male dominated, the aircraft brokerage company of Charlie Bravo Aviation is the first certified woman-owned business in its field. And it is thriving.
Located in Georgetown, Texas, Charlie Bravo is operated by husband and wife team Rene and Curt (AB '94) Banglesdorf, who met at Ohio University in their sophomore year of college, getting married between their junior and senior years. After Curt's graduation — Rene left a few credits shy of a degree — they both ended up working for aviation publications. Then Curt decided to go into aircraft sales, moving to Austin in 2002 for a job in that field. Rene was hired to handle marketing for the same company; but by 2008, the couple decided to strike out on their own.
"We are equal partners," Rene says. "I manage the company, including accounting and human resources; and Curt is president, handling sales. In 2009, we became certified as a woman-owned business. This gives our clients that participate in supplier diversity programs a distinct advantage in meeting their goals. That's when I moved into the role of CEO rather than general manager — and I have really grown into that role."
As Rene points out, the only other industry that has so few women in it is construction. "In North America, 96 percent of the positions of director or above in aviation are held by men. Overall, for all job titles, it's only 20 percent female, and most of those are flight attendants."
She doesn't have a ready explanation for this discrepancy, except to theorize that young boys seem to be more excited about things that move and fly; as well as the possibility that in school, girls are less encouraged to pursue studies in the engineering, math and science fields.
She herself was a shy child growing up in Alabama, who was fascinated with science and math. "I like seeing pieces fit together. There are clear-cut answers, which is my attraction to it." And while she has encountered some sexism and resistance in her role, Rene is adamant that there are not necessarily any barriers to entry or promotion for women in the aviation field.
"Sure, I've gotten my share of 'What's a pretty thing like you doing in this business?'" she explains. "But I've also had many people tell me that they like seeing a woman head up a company in this field, and they would like to see more women enter the industry. Because it is uncommon, I have been given opportunities and have drawn attention to our company that I wouldn't have been able to as a man." She uses being unusual to her advantage.
Curt says, "Starting our own business was terrifying, expensive and time consuming, but very liberating and ultimately worth the risk." Acting as a broker and dealer of business jets and turboprops, the company has the unique and fun website of wepushtin.com, with old-fashioned pinup style photos of girls with World War II bomber aircraft. They sell aircraft ranging from $1 million to $35 million. In 2011, they introduced Charlie Bravo Charter and landed a contract as Circuit of the America's official aviation partner for the inaugural Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.
"Most people think of celebrities when they think of private jets," Rene says. "But the reality is, most of our clients are business people. When you factor in wasted travel time and business productivity, private air travel becomes much more attractive and cost effective."
Her college experience at Ohio University definitely set her up with some skills she has found useful as a business owner. "By being a resident assistant, being active in a sorority, working for the Post school newspaper. ... I really learned how to manage my time well, and blend responsibilities and social activities in a way that was beneficial." And of course, she and Curt met at university, which has influenced both their personal and business lives as partners greatly.
"We knew we would be compatible working together," Rene says. "But working and living together day in and day out, we realized we would need to establish some boundaries." One of those is having offices at the opposite end of the hall; another is that Curt is required to go golfing every weekend. "We are both so passionate and driven, we need time away from each other to decompress."
Curt says, "The most challenging and rewarding thing about owning Charlie Bravo Aviation is running it with my wife."
The couple also believes in giving back so that others can benefit from their success, investing time with education and relief groups. "One of the most gratifying things about being a business owner is the ability to give back to the people around us," Rene says.
She provides mentorship through Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy, which promotes a love of aviation and learning in an equal number of boys and girls, especially from disadvantaged schools. "Phoenix Arising teaches a love of STEM learning through aviation. Kids learn physics, without realizing that they are learning physics. There's a shortage of pilots worldwide, and training young men and women to love to fly is something that's really important to the future of aviation. My passion is in sustaining this industry, really."
Rene is also heavily involved with SkyHope Network, a nonprofit that connects generous aircraft owners who want to donate the use of their aircraft for natural disaster relief efforts with groups and supplies best transported by private aviation.
"In cases like the earthquakes in Haiti, the use of private planes saved countless lives," Rene says. "Recently, I had the opportunity to apply the skills and connections I've gathered in being a charter broker to finding an aircraft to take some relief workers to Moore, Okla., to assess the needs of tornado victims there."
She adds that witnessing the response, and the volunteers in action, was awe-inspiring. "It was a reminder of what makes America such a great country — the generosity and concern of its citizens for one another. It's phenomenal to be part of an industry that's so compassionate and generous."