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Q&A with Cheri Koppenal, XOJET Director of Charter Operations

March 16, 2012  |  XOJET

In honor of the 2012 Women in Aviation Conference, the XOJET Blog is running a series of profiles of some of the great women who work at XOJET. Today, we’re excited to bring you an interview with Cheri Koppenal, XOJET’s Director of Charter Operations.

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XOJET Blog: Cheri, tell us a little bit about you and your role at XOJET.

Cheri: I’m the Director of Charter Operations at XOJET, and I’ve been with the company for almost two years. I manage the private jet charter sales team at XOJET. We work to advise our charter clients on the best possible solution for private flying needs and to provide them with a consistent flying experience.

XOJET Blog: Tell us more. Do you help people even when they’re not flying XOJET?

Cheri: We have several options to meet our customers’ needs—some are with us, some are with operators from our preferred partner network, whom we vet carefully. However, above and beyond that, we see our job as recommending the best option for each trip, even if it’s not with us. We want to be that trusted advisor, the person our clients consider their go-to aviation consultant, even when they fly on our preferred partner network. We work hard to build relationships with our clients so that we can give them the best service and the best options for every trip.

XOJET Blog: How did you get here? What did you do before XOJET?

Cheri: I’ve been in private aviation since 2000, mostly working in flight standards, maintenance control, sales and client services. I actually fell into it by accident, but as anybody will tell you, once you’re in, it’s hard to leave. I was living in Southern California, working in media, when my boyfriend at the time was sent to New York for the whole Y2K thing that never happened. So I relocated to New Jersey to be close to him, and I took a full-time job building a flight department for Monster.com’s private fleet. Since I knew nobody there, I joined the softball league for the FBO where Monster.com was based. I met somebody who said that if I passed the FAR oral exam, he would hire me. So I bought a FAR book, passed the oral exam, and got a job in flight standards. To be honest, I don’t think he ever thought I’d pass that exam.

Right before the economy took its toll on our industry in 2009, I was working for TAG Aviation in Aircraft Sales and Completions. TAG consolidated its operations and gave me the choice to collect unemployment or get a job in a different industry—so believe it or not, I chose a position working for the Bureau of Prisons as a case manager at a re-entry facility for incarcerated men and women. Now that was an eye-opening experience. It really gives you a unique perspective on life.

XOJET Blog: What do you like the most about working for XOJET?

Cheri: There are so many reasons I love working here. If I had to choose one, it would be the sales team that I support. They are the most amazing group of human beings that I have had the privilege to work with; they are hard working and inspiring. I learn so much from them. These are very special people who are constantly meeting and exceeding their goals. They make this job so enjoyable and satisfying. Each one of the 10 people on my team has his own personality and way of contributing.

Then again, we have so many dedicated employees here it’s impossible for me to make that statement and not recognize every department at XOJET for their passion and contribution.

I only had four people when I got here, so hiring has been a big focus at the company. Whenever somebody is interested in working at XOJET, we bring them in for a whole day. They meet with peers and senior people. Everybody is involved in the hiring process because they all care enough to appreciate each new member for what that person has to offer.

XOJET Blog: What impresses you the most about XOJET?

Cheri: What impresses me the most is the intelligence and innovation of the executive management team. They are behind all the creative, calculated decisions that make our model work. XOJET doesn’t run like your typical aviation company; it runs more like a well-funded venture-capital-powered company. We innovate within FAA regulations, of course, but we’re constantly pushing for the acceptance of newer and more efficient technology.

The aviation business shares margins with so many people. It’s not like any other business. So the only way to show our investors a positive return on their investment is to not be like any other business in our industry. We have to be creative and constantly working outside of the box. We keep the business nimble so that we can fit our business model to the economy and still reward our investors.

XOJET Blog: What is your typical day like?

Cheri: I wake up early to meet the needs of my East Coast XOJET representatives, and I usually get to close out the evening working with my Los Angeles XOJET reps. Other than that, I really don’t have a typical day. Most of the time, I work with other people in the company to knock down any obstacles that might be in the way of my team providing consistently top-notch service.

It’s difficult to list everything I do in a day. It’s so vast and varied, which is one of the things I like most. Some days I’m bringing new employees onboard, other times I’m dealing with customer-driven exceptions to our normal services or contracts. My job, like virtually every job at XOJET, includes a lot of inter-departmental communications. So building internal relationships and managing that aspect takes time. Of course I also have to manage my team and do all the back-end stuff that every manager has to do.

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The most rewarding part of my job is supporting my team’s personal and professional goals. It just doesn’t get old. I really respect and enjoy the people I work with. Interestingly, one of the things I’ve learned over the years is that sometimes not giving somebody assistance when they have an issue is the best thing for them. They learn to figure it out on their own, and then they never need assistance on that issue again.

XOJET Blog: What is your biggest challenge?

Cheri: Losing weight! These last 10 pounds are killing me!

XOJET Blog: What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

Cheri: I study Brazilian Jujitsu. It’s really fun. I also like to take advantage of living in Northern California with all of its beach and mountain access. In my spare time, I volunteer for an organization that serves a community of children with countless social and economic challenges. R.O.C.K., or Real Options for City Kids, provides school-based and after-school learning enrichment programs for disadvantaged children.

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