Nov 20

With advice to ‘keep your saw sharpened,’ alumnus reflects on 40 years in aviation

After four decades in aviation, UNC Greensboro Bryan School alumnus Jack Arehart ’77 (Economics) has decided to retire. He recently sat down for a 7 Questions With A Spartan session to share what he’s learned with current students.

Arehart served most recently as the President of Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) Services with Delta Air Lines, managing all third-party maintenance work for the airline’s technical operations division. 

While Atlanta was home for some time, his journey started in Eden, North Carolina. After a high school guidance counselor and English teacher convinced him to begin his college career at UNCG, Arehart fit right into what he described as the jock dorm.

“I ended up playing soccer and tennis at UNCG and had never played either of those sports before,” he said. “I wound up All-Conference in tennis, and in soccer, we started making the program what it is now.”

To make money on the side, Arehart became certified as a basketball referee, refereeing hundreds of games in Greensboro, even receiving a stipend from the school to put a referee program together for intramural sports. Arehart recalls one memorable faculty game in particular.

“I put a technical on a professor in the accounting department and realized I needed to switch majors,” he joked.

After earning a BS in Economics, Arehart went on to study human resource management with a sports administration concentration in graduate school. He was recruited to play softball for the Western Airlines company travel team and remembers being told he could fly for free. From there, he wound his way into the world of aviation, particularly the business side of maintenance and engineering. 

When Delta acquired Western Airlines, Arehart worked on the supply side for 25 plus years, touching the sales and business development aspects of the industry. He was even part of a team that created environmental noise hush kits for aircraft.

“We put technology in those engines that made them 20 to 25 percent quieter in the same noise range as any brand-new shipped airplane, and that gave airplanes another life,” he said.

Arehart’s answers to this round of 7 Questions with a Spartan can be found below:

What did you love most about your job? 

“For an industry that is truly global and so large, if you know 200 names in an industry you know everyone. People move around, business cards change, but it’s a fabulous segment on the technical side. Everyone helps everyone. We’re in it for the same thing, safety being the main one. The biggest thing I’ve been able to do is to develop the relationships and develop trust from all of those customers from the company I was with.”

What’s exciting about the future of your industry/position? 

“Last year, for reasons including weather or crew availability, Delta canceled fewer than 50 flights for the year. We did that through technology. Coming into the pandemic we were flying 900 airplanes a day. Now the fleet is roughly 750 aircraft both active and parked, and we have to fly them for some people. It’s an essential service. So, you don’t get to cancel. Because someone wants to fly today.

I don’t think Zoom and virtual meetings are going to be the answer. You’re going to strap an airplane to an executive’s rear and say, ‘Go get it done.’ That might be generational, I may be old school, but I’ll make a bet on human interaction and world travel coming back.”

What do you personally find most challenging as a professional? 

“I think I am reflecting to tell you that you don’t get to be as successful as I’ve become, at least I assume there’s no other way to do it, but I elected to cover the world and be in a global business. And in the end, that life and work balance, it’s an indicator. You’ve got to make that decision early. I think it’s almost philosophical and needs to be asked in school. There’s no wrong answer.

One of my biggest fears was getting rapidly promoted without having an engineering background, engineering degree, or airframe and powerplant license. Now actually, I did get a private pilot license for a time to show I could learn how to fly.

But I had a vice president boss very early in my career tell me: ‘Just make sure what you do makes as much sense back to the front as it does front to back.’ Because you’re going to make sound decisions, business-based. Look at it backward, not doing something for monetary reasons — how does that look if something happens to the airplane? I use that to guide me and give me confidence all the way through.”

What is something you did (or wish you had done) in college to prepare for this position? 

“The skill I wish I had, really good people in the field I’m with right now are exceptional at modeling. And even when we get co-ops, these are high-end interns at Delta, many in our Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul Department, that’s a commitment of three semesters in the department.

Candidly what I got at UNCG was the confidence to learn, to perform, and do, and that was a mix of academic and athletic pursuits.”

What additional training, certifications, professional organization memberships, etc. have helped you professionally? 

“More specific to the industry I was in, the ISTAT. I went through some training there and got licensed to appraise aircraft.

But you’ve got to always keep learning and, you know, in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” it says to keep your saw sharpened, to never stop learning. I absolutely agree with that.”

What should students interested in entering your field know? 

“We hire a ton of people in the finance department that come out and the trick is to get tied in as an undergraduate and then pretty much you do graduate school on your own and you get hired back.

There is plenty of marketing in the Bryan School. I hired a very young marketer, she’s a manager now, well under 30. Her dad was a vice president in the aviation support company network, so she was familiar with the industry and knew the buzzwords. With a little bit of a network, a wet behind the ear intern can become a new hire, and she’s been fabulous.

I think you’ve got to remain confident. For the folks graduating right now, it’s almost all unfair. I’ve got my second youngest who has her master’s and she’s having a heck of a time finding a job that is the equivalent of someone with that many education dollars invested. Keep your network strong, keep building your network out, even one at a time.”

What resources – books, blogs, websites, podcasts, etc. – would you recommend for someone interested in your field or in a position like yours?

“I am a disciple of Jack Welch. I read ‘Winning’ fairly recently.

Mandatory books officers had to read weren’t just there to maintain airplanes but commitments to customer service: ‘Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t,’ ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ ‘The One Minute Manager,” Six Sigma, all of that stuff was in play at Delta.”