In the male dominated aviation industry, Rae Ann McKeating, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Aviation Capital Group (commonly referred to as ACG), a full service commercial aircraft leasing company, is a true pioneer, an example and a mentor.
What interested you about the aviation industry and how did you get started?
The ideas of travel and meeting new people and the “purported” glamour (now I know better!) all appealed to me. After one year of college I set aside that educational goal and I became a flight attendant at age 20. Those were the day’s when flight attendants wore white gloves and perfect little suits and had to live by airline rules, lots of rules, about everything including false eyelashes, hairstyles and makeup! It was a great job, no stress and when you finished your flight, there was no work to take home – you could leave it all behind.
What made you interested in law and law school, which seems the antithesis of “no stress”?
While I was a flight attendant with Continental Airlines, I worked my way thru college (University of Texas graduate). When Continental filed for bankruptcy (the first time), I left the airline and Texas and moved to Salt Lake City and got a job as an office manager. I found I wasn’t cut out for that job after all the adventure I had but I could not figure out what to do instead. A friend of mine was applying to law school and I thought, why not, I can do that too, so I applied, and was accepted at the University of Utah, the only law school I applied to.
How did you get back into the aviation industry?
I went to work for a law firm in Century City, California doing bankruptcy litigation of all things. One of the partners at the firm was a member of the Hawaii bar association. Now Hawaii was my favorite layover stop as a flight attendant so I again thought, why not and I took and passed the Hawaii bar. That led to my moving to Hawaii, where I worked at one of the best local law firms. Their practice was to assign new associates to work with specific clients on all their legal matters, to develop a long term relationship, rather than to a practice group, and one of their clients was Hawaiian Airlines. That seemed like a natural fit and I found that having actually worked as a flight attendant gave me a certain credibility with the people I worked with there.
What’s the best part of your job and being in the aviation industry?
Every day is different and no two deals are the same, even though they all have something to do with airplanes. I like that challenge. But the really fun part is attending a new aircraft delivery at the manufacturer. It’s like a wedding – everyone is happy and celebrating: the manufacturer has sold a plane and is getting paid and the lessee is thrilled with the new plane custom designed to its own specifications, and we’re the matchmaker, having brought the parties together. We don’t christen the airplane with champagne like a ship, but at one manufacturer, there is plenty of champagne to go around and celebrate! There is a lot of pride and honor involved too. The pilots are specially picked for the delivery, and as they take off from the delivery center, they will usually tip the plane’s wings as a salute to the watching crowd, saying both goodbye to the old and welcome to the new. There is nothing like watching that brand new plane we’ve just purchased power down the runway and lift into the sky – it just gets into your blood.
You must have traveled a lot as part of your various jobs in the aviation industry. What is on your “bucket list” of places to see or things to do?
Yes, I have traveled a lot and while I love places like Hawaii, Switzerland and Holland, at this point, I just like to stay put and unplug, much to my husband’s chagrin since he would like to travel more. My husband and I visited Idaho one year and we fell in love with the area of McCall, 100 miles north of Boise – it was almost a spiritual experience being in that part of the country. McCall has been referred to as an alpine village with its 5,000 foot elevation, sitting on the shores of Lake Payette, bordering Ponderosa State Park, with a small airport that houses a smoke jumpers base and is visited by both single engine aircraft and Learjets. We bought a 2nd home there and we love to hike, play golf, fish, ski and just be out in the fresh air. The industry moves so much faster now, its 24/7 and its global, so you have to make sure you take the time to “unleash” yourself from the job.
Of your many accomplishments, what are you proudest of?
I hope that I have been a good mentor and helped people develop, learn and grow along the way. But what I am truly passionate about is hospice care. I moved back from Hawaii to the West Coast when my parents became ill. We had a brief experience with hospice care during my father’s last days and turned to it again only weeks later while my mother suffered with terminal cancer. Hospice care extended our time together and made the quality of life during that remaining time so much better. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am. I became such an advocate of hospice care that I wanted to educate other people about it, and so I did. I wrote a book about my experience, Caring for My Mom with Love Laughter and Tears: A Journey Through Caregiving at the End of Life. I am very proud of that and I hope it has helped other people. [author’s note: the book is still available on Amazon].
If you weren’t a lawyer or in the aviation industry, or if you had to do it all over again, what would you do instead?
I think I’d be a psychologist or a psychiatrist because I like to listen and help people. I am not adversarial by nature (although I am when I have to be!).
How much of your career path do you think is due to luck and how much to hard work?
I remember a term James Clavell used in one of his books, Tai Pan I think: “joss” which I understood to mean a combination of circumstances, maybe a little bit of luck, a little bit of fate, a little bit of God and a little bit of hard work. Perhaps sometimes you make your own luck and sometimes you are plain lucky. So I would say a combination of both – and more.
NB: SGR client ACG is a full service aviation leasing company with over 260 owned and managed commercial jet aircraft leased to approximately 90 airlines in 40 countries. Rae heads a Legal Department with over a dozen attorneys.