Elite Avi­a­tion Soars High

mailife - - Contents - By JOHN MITCHELL Pho­tos SUP­PLIED

In 2012, Alaena Theresa Hill (nee Wil­liams) had a first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the need for a he­li­copter when she was trapped in hor­ren­dous floods that dev­as­tated the area she lived in Ravi­ravi, Ba. She called a he­li­copter op­er­a­tor for a char­ter, only to be told the price had in­creased 350% due to the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. From that point on the idea to start her own he­li­copter busi­ness be­gan and some six years later, Elite Avi­a­tion was born with Hill as its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. “With two years of ex­ten­sive mar­ket re­search and the as­sis­tance of a key team of best of breed ex­perts we set out to bring trans­for­ma­tion and in­no­va­tion in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. “We wanted to bring change, par­tic­u­larly in the ar­eas of price, ca­pa­bil­i­ties, the range of air­craft and the way in which he­li­copter trans­fer op­er­a­tions are un­der­taken. It’s taken six long years to be an overnight suc­cess.” To close gaps in the busi­ness, Hill and her team looked at the tourism mar­ket and how op­er­a­tors had his­tor­i­cally de­liv­ered small par­ties to and from var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions in Fiji us­ing light he­li­copters. The team had to iden­tify ar­eas in which it felt it could do things dif­fer­ently. “By plac­ing our fo­cus on po­ten­tial end cus­tomers at the cen­tre of our busi­ness uni­verse, we then worked out­wards to en­sure the key ar­eas were ad­dressed,” Hill said. “That al­lowed the best se­lec­tion of air­craft the Bell 212 and 412 air­crafts, world known for their safety and abil­ity to carry a large num­ber of pas­sen­gers.” Hill said that as a start up, Elite Avi­a­tion has a small, ef­fec­tive team of spe­cial­ists in Fiji and some off­shore con­sul­tants who work to de­liver her vi­sion. Be­cause the com­pany was the first in Fiji to use the type of air­craft they have, it had to use off­shore ex­perts also to give lo­cal spe­cial­ists the nec­es­sary skills. There are eight air­craft in Elite Avi­a­tion’s fleet: two have ar­rived and a sur­prise is on its way shortly. Each air­craft has a back-to-back pi­lot and en­gi­neer and a lo­cal trainee with ca­pa­bil­i­ties in trans­fer­ring up to 13 pas­sen­gers at a time, mercy flights, search and res­cue and in­dus­trial uses. To have a woman as the CEO of any com­pany is still rare. To have one in a male dom­i­nated field is even rarer. It is an achieve­ment that is not with­out its chal­lenges.

“While ini­tially it has been a tougher path­way than ex­pected and I have cer­tainly met some par­ties who were dif­fi­cult, and yes I had to jump through some more hoops than the av­er­age bear, but frankly I don’t have time for oth­ers’ in­se­cu­ri­ties,” Hill said. “There are al­ready some very strong women in Fiji and even in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try there are some amaz­ing women achiev­ing great things.” Hill was born and raised a “susu madrai” (an ur­ban per­son) of Suva. She at­tended Saint Anne’s Pri­mary School and Saint Joseph’s Sec­ondary School. She also did a year at the Fiji Na­tional Univer­sity’s cater­ing school as a culi­nary chef. “That I didn’t com­plete as I went for at­tach­ment and the worka­holic in me took over and I’ve never looked back since.” “A ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple in the in­dus­try I have met have been sup­port­ive of what my com­pany is seek­ing to achieve and I’m not sure whether be­ing a fe­male or male would change that sup­port. “But as a woman I have al­ways been one to be­lieve any­thing can be ac­com­plished if you put in the work.” As CEO, Hill says she likes to look at peo­ple’s strengths and make sure they per­form well above what their roles dic­tate. “My style is trans­for­ma­tional, I cer­tainly try to mo­ti­vate my team by lead­ing from the front and I do try and in­spire my staff to work for a higher goal than sim­ply good enough. “We are called Elite for a rea­son and I work closely with my team to guide in­no­va­tion and en­hance­ment to achieve what some would call lofty goals.” Hill says she’s far from dic­ta­to­rial in her man­age­ment style though, and firmly be­lieves ev­ery CEO has his /her own style. “I for sure don’t have a prob­lem be­ing on the ground and help­ing out ev­ery now and then, which gives my team and I a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of each other. I think my team would con­sider me firm but fair. “I ex­pect no less than ex­cel­lence as we are in an in­dus­try where safety is key, but that’s pretty easy when you start with world class peo­ple.” While Hill has achieved great things in life – she got mar­ried just re­cently – and in her pro­fes­sion, she said she never for­gets what brought her to the top – her par­ents and her up­bring­ing. “Cir­cum­stances and sit­u­a­tions build char­ac­ter, most of which I owe to my par­ents. No mat­ter the hard­ship they didn’t let it de­fine them. To some ex­tent I’ve got the same men­tal­ity. “It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about get­ting up ev­ery time and try­ing again and stay­ing hun­gry for want­ing bet­ter for my­self and my fam­ily. “Due to her work com­mit­ments, Hill ad­mits she is guilty of not hav­ing much of a so­cial life. “Adult­ing sucks LOL…I can’t deny it’s not easy try­ing to find a happy bal­ance be­tween fam­ily and work be­cause its time that you’re in con­stant bat­tle with. “I’m of the view I can buy time with work, whether it be post­pon­ing a meet­ing or wait­ing a bit longer to re­ply to an email or text. I can’t do the same for fam­ily so pri­ori­tis­ing and plan­ning are key es­sen­tials to a happy bal­ance.” To un­wind from her hec­tic sched­ule, the high achiever likes to oc­ca­sion­ally calm her nerves with good wine. “A good glass of pinot noir helps. Quiet time, good food and some good rest is enough of a recharge I need to be men­tal­ity, phys­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally locked in to be pro­duc­tive.” Her ad­vice to iTaukeis and women (who are per­ceived as of­ten lag­ging be­hind in com­merce) who plan to set up their own busi­nesses, is to think ‘smart in­vest­ment’. “Also plan­ning and be­liev­ing in your­self, stay­ing hun­gry and not let­ting your sit­u­a­tion or cir­cum­stance de­fine who you are and what you’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing. Work hard and sur­prise your­self and achieve your goal or bet­ter it.” Hill has high hopes of tak­ing Elite Avi­a­tion to greater heights in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture. “With a fleet of eight he­li­copters and the first he­li­port be­ing set up to in­ter­na­tional stan­dards at Den­erau, we are mov­ing quickly,” she said. “We have a huge num­ber of ma­jor op­er­a­tors ap­proach­ing us daily and we are work­ing closely with some ma­jor names. When an­nounced down the track I am sure peo­ple won’t be sur­prised.” Elite Avi­a­tion is cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about the com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to the com­pany “We cer­tainly see some ar­eas of growth, how­ever the in­dus­try needs to gain back clients’ trust and that re­quires us to keep our fo­cus on cost ef­fi­ciency and above all, safety,” Hill said. “Our ob­jec­tive for Elite Avi­a­tion in 2018 is to drive toward prof­itabil­ity for the com­pany with­out com­pro­mis­ing our cus­tomers’ ex­pe­ri­ence or that of the end user. “Asked about her se­cret to suc­cess, Hill said: “It is truly hard work, solid plan­ning and hunger for bet­ter, but fail­ure was my great­est mo­ti­va­tion.”

(L-R) Matthew Hill,Cap­tain John Slater of CAAF,Alaena Hill and Hunter Hill on the day the com­pany re­ceived its Air Op­er­a­tor’s Cer­tifi­cate.

Sky is the limit…Elite Avi­a­tion CEO Alaena Hill.

The boss in the cock­pit.

Hill in­side one of Elite Avi­a­tion’s he­li­copters.

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