When an African-American 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 Ope-rations at one of the largest (and expanding) African-American-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 an African-American woman at the he-lm, 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 African-American-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 spa-rked 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 inter-ruptions. The route where we live was not really being cate-red 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 discu-ssing it with the aircraft bro-ker, and he introduced us to aviation financiers, they were able to explain that there was a need there. They volunteered to give three aircraft. Fast forward to after I went to college, and got my Masters and JD, I really started to cater to my interests to see how I could really serve the company that they have already established.
I started to focus on avia-tion and business law and my experiences and work experiences were cate-red around that because I knew I had to ef-fect what it is we were doing.
So that’s how I got to that point. I was working in Southern California working on aircraft acqui-sitions and aircraft leases and a lot of different transactions around that rea-lm. When I got back to the Bahamas, it was all about imple-menting new procedures to get us back on track. So it was kind of like 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 for. So now, this is the acqui-sition and expans-ion 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 expa-nsion time and I want to see how we evo-lve 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 trans-ition, but we don’t lose that familiarity with our current customer base. I also have music interests that I’m also purs-uing. It’s just about finding a way to balance it all.
What are the challenges of being an African-American woman in the avia-tion industry?
I’ve absolutely [been met with apprehe-nsion]. That’s something that I first experienced interning at an avia-tion 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 confer-ences, 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 as-sistant, she’s actually involved in the industry.”
I definitely do find that there are some prec-onceived notions of 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 predo-minantly African-American, 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.