When a Black woman is on a mission, there is no stopping her.
And because Sherrexcia “Rexy” Rolle has stepped to the forefront, it’s time for the aviation industry to take notice. Once just a White man’s game, Rexy, who is currently VP of Operations at one of the largest (and expanding) Black-owned and operated airlines in the world, is proving that this notion is no longer. But of course, it took some grit, guts and a lot of hard work along the way for Rolle to get there.
Based out of San Andros Airport in Andros Island, Bahamas, Western Air Limited is owned by Rolle’s parents and her father, Rex Rolle, is President and CEO of the company. Rexy handles the day-to-day operations of the company, which is still adding new destinations and plans on increasing its fleet as demand for airlifts grows.
With a Black woman at the helm, and currently valued at over $90 million, Western Air’s growth shows no sign of slowing down. Get to know more about the woman who is responsible for the continued success of Western Air.
As a girl, did you envision that you would one day be overseeing one of the most successful Black-owned airline companies in the world?
I grew up in the aviation business with my parents. My parents founded Western Air in 2001. I was very much involved at a very young age. My dad is a pilot by trade and my mom majored in international business. The idea was sparked back when we were living in Fort Lauderdale and when we made a trip back to the Bahamas, where we are originally from, the small island town called Mastic Point, and we basically just noticed there were a lot of delays and a lot of flight interruptions. The route where we live was not really being catered properly. My mom just said to my dad, “Based on your background, and with me doing international business in school, we really should try to start an airline.” The idea was just to do one aircraft, and go back and forth from San Andros to Nassau, but once we started discussing it with the aircraft broker, and he introduced us to aviation financiers, they were able to explain that there was a need there. They volunteered to give three aircrafts. Fast forward to after I went to college, and got my Masters and JD, I really started to cater my interests to see how I could really serve the company that they have already established. I started to focus on aviation and business law and my experiences and work experiences were catered around that because I knew I had to effect what it is we were doing. So that’s how I got to that point.
I was working in Southern California working on aircraft acquisitions and aircraft leases and a lot of different transactions around that realm. When I got back to the Bahamas, it was all about implementing new procedures to get us back on track. So it was kind of like a fresh energy to get an understanding of where we are lacking and how do we get back to being on time. Things I immediately started working on, I grew more and more passion towards. So now, this is the acquisition and expansion phase.
Where do you hope to take your career from here?
I want to be multi-dimensional. I’ve always balanced the things that I’m interested in and I want to be successful in all of them. Obviously, Western Air is my priority as we go through this transition and we go through this expansion time and I want to see how we evolve as a player in the international market. That’s a new space for us. I want to be able to spearhead that in a way that carries us into a smooth transition, but we don’t lose that familiarity with our current customer base. I also have music interests that I'm also pursuing. It’s just about finding a way to balance it all.
What are the challenges of being a Black woman in the aviation industry?
I’ve absolutely [been met with apprehension]. That’s something that I first experienced interning at an aviation and business law firm. The majority of the individuals in that department and firm did not look like me. And when we did go to the conferences, there was nobody that really looked like me. So I immediately understood that there was some sort of curiosity about me being there. It wasn’t until you start speaking to people that they understand, “she’s not just somebody’s assistant, she’s actually involved in the industry.” I definitely do find that there are some preconceived notions to what an airline executive should be. I think for a long time they’ve always looked a certain way. I have had challenges even here in the Bahamas, where people are predominantly black, where it wasn’t so much a race thing, as it was a gender and age thing. It’s more so because I’m running a family-owned and operated company, you’ll have people who would have known me as a child thinking, “What is this girl doing? So what if she’s a lawyer, or she’s experienced in XYZ, I knew her when she was 5-years-old.” So it’s combatting that, and understanding that your work must speak for itself.
What do you hope that young girls can take from you, seeing you in this position?
I hope the lesson that they take from me is that you have to take advantage of any and all opportunities that may be presented to you. When I was younger I didn’t fully understand everything that my parents were sacrificing to do in terms of what their bigger vision was. I had to make a decision as to whether I was going to embrace their dreams, and build upon it or just feel comfortable and live my life, and not be aggressive in doing anything else. It’s important to know that whether you have limited opportunities or an abundance of opportunities, there’s always going to be an abundance of open doors, and it’s up to you whether you slam it shut, or burst it wide open.
What are your hopes in terms of expansion for the business in 2018 and beyond?
We currently operate within the major airports within the Bahamas and we do charter flights to Haiti very often. In terms of our expansion plan, with our acquisition of three new jets, we will be going to Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and the US is on tap. We currently offer on demand charters throughout the Caribbean, Central and South America. Our main bread and butter is our scheduled flights, within the Bahamas, from Freeport to Nassau, and Nassau to Bimini. We will eventually be going to Florida, and we hope to set our sights on Georgia as well.