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On the Job with Yvette Aehle

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the Job with..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Yvette Aehle, airport director at Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.

Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A. First of all, I would figure out who I wanted to work for. I would go online to find out as much information as I could about the business, and then call someone in that company who performs the job that I want. I would gather as much information as I could from that person, making him or her my informal mentor and touching base from time to time. Networking is so important in today's work environment; all college students need to learn that important skill. That way, you may get an early heads-up on future job opportunities and appear more knowledgeable than the other interview candidates. A mentor can also give you a "real world" perspective versus what you learned in college.

Q. What was your first job?

A. I picked blueberries at a plantation when I was 14! That was the hardest money I ever made.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. My first job was when I was 14, so the first paycheck I ever received I spent on Calvin Klein jeans.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Employee motivation is a constant challenge and different people are motivated by different things. I try to acknowledge when someone has done a good job, even if I cannot reward them with money. Just taking an employee aside and telling them that they did a great job on a recent project can make all the difference.

Q. What led you to your current position?

A. Since I was a child, I've always been interested in airplanes. My father was a technical illustrator for the military, so we spent a lot of time around airports. He and I would sit at the end of the runway and watch airplanes take off and land. I was always fascinated by flight. I became a flight attendant for American Airlines in my early 20s and when I became tired of living out of a suitcase, I decided to learn about airport management. I found out about colleges who taught airport management and made that my career choice. After I'd been in the business for about eight years, I realized that I may be able to run my own airport. I liked the idea that I could help shape the direction of an airport and participate in economic development for a community.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. Carl "Lee" Remmel, who now is the deputy director in Yakima, Wash. He recently was the airport director at the Peachtree/DeKalb Airport and helped manage the Aspen, Colo., before that. In his 23-year military career, he flew Marine One. He is also an Accredited Airport Executive, which I hope to attain in the next few years. I never tire of listening to his stories and greatly admire him as a person. He also has the same sense of humor that I do, which can be a bit dark and macabre at times.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. I have learned how to stretch my $1.3 million budget as much as I possibly can. We always have to learn to do more with less.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology - examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. - what would you most like to see go away?

A. Without a doubt, e-mail. Though I love the ability to get business done anytime/anywhere with my Blackberry, I wish we all could talk more face to face like we used to do. Now everything is done via email and I regularly get more than 100 emails a day. If I'm on vacation, I'm always checking my Blackberry just to keep the emails to a minimum when I get back. We are all too "plugged in" and that contributes to stress and never being able to totally be away from work.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. My Blackberry. I can still get work done on the road or if there is an emergency at the office while I'm in a meeting, I still have the ability to respond and solve problems. As you can see, my favorite gadget can at times be my nemesis.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. Last weekend, I read "Escaping North Korea" by Mike Kim. He wrote a book about Christian organizations helping North Korean refugees escape the Kim Jong Il regime. My guilty pleasure is People magazine.

Q. I'm up and going by?

A. If I'm going to the gym, I get up between 4 and 5. If I'm skipping the gym, I get up at 6. I'm not one of those people who jumps up, gets dressed and runs out the door. I like to watch Fox & Friends, Today in Georgia, eat some breakfast and slowly get ready for the day.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. I love racing cars. Until a year ago, I belonged to a Lexus car club in Atlanta and used to run my IS350 on a mile drag strip. I tend to have a heavy foot, so it is the best way to speed without getting a ticket. My dad was a real car nut, so I inherited my love of speed from him.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. I would have probably put my emphasis on getting my Airport Executive Accreditation rather than a master's degree. My master's degree was very expensive and does not command as much respect in the airport management industry as being accredited does.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. I love being around airplanes and the people who are around airplanes. People involved in aviation are a pretty fun bunch to associate with. We're cut from a different cloth.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The constantly changing regulatory environment that we airport managers have to deal with. The FAA and TSA regulations are enough to boggle your mind.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Aviation Law was the most interesting. Our instructor was an aviation attorney and he used to make up these ridiculous cases and asked us to apply the law to solve the problems. It was fun.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. I would love to be a florist delivery person. Everyone is so happy to see you.

Q. Finish this thought; "on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...?

A. Living on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. The ability to make a decision is extremely important. You do the most you can with the data you have available at that time. It may not always be the right decision, but it is better than not making any decision at all.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. I think it will happen in the next two to three years. We're not out of the woods just yet.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. I am a child of the 1980s, so you would find a lot of new wave and Madonna. Green Day is my favorite band, so that gets played all the time. Katy Perry's "California Girls" is my favorite song right now; it's the perfect summer tune.

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. I hope the biggest change we will see is that we are so inundated with new economic development that we will have problems keeping up with growth. That's a difficult one for me to answer. I do think that the jobs of the future will require more education and technical expertise, so I hope that our various educational options in Albany will continue to grow and innovate with business.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken?

A. While I have been on seven cruises that were all fantastic, the best vacation was a four-day trip to Freeport, Bahamas. I flew first class, stayed at a wonderful resort, and did nothing for four days. I lay by the infinity pool without a care in the world, drank umbrella drinks, took naps on my balcony and had some fantastic seafood. It was the most relaxed I have ever been. Plus, I could not receive emails while I was there. I was also introduced to craps at the casino and managed to roll the dice for 45 minutes and won over $500.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. Without a doubt, airport security. Every time the threat changes, so do the regulations and the way we deal with them. Airports, airlines, and TSA have to all work together for a common goal and that requires constant communication and re-assessing our processes and policies.