As the first African American—and first woman—to serve as president of a private aviation company, Stephanie Chung is breaking all kinds of barriers and leveraging her new status to motivate the next generation of leaders. A charismatic and driven executive, Chung wasn’t deterred by the fact that women account for just 5 percent of management in private aviation. She was destined to build a career in this industry: Chung grew up around planes as an Air Force brat, worked her way up the ranks in commercial airlines (starting as a baggage handler) and worked for Flexjet, Bombardier and Skyjet before joining JetSuite. Besides running the Dallas-based business, she recently started Neuroscience Selling, a consultancy for helping sales teams, and published Profit Like a Girl: A Woman’s Guide to Kicking Butt in Sales and Leadership, where she shares her strategies for staying efficient and focused in a high-stakes business.
What’s the one thing you do every day to stay sane?
I try not to sweat the small stuff. It doesn’t mean I never sweat the small stuff. It just means I compartmentalize and stay very much in the moment. There are a lot of demands on me every day, but when I’m in a meeting, it is rare you see me look at my phone. I’m present, I’m there, I’m focused on whatever I have to focus in on. I believe the best present you can give is your presence, and I apply this to all areas of my life.
Your biggest pet peeve at work?
Kicking the can down the road. Something that should take two minutes should take two minutes, not two weeks.
What do you look for in an employee?
I look for drive and grit. Human beings are complex and so are companies. There are always going to be obstacles in the way, so what I look for is people who have the grit to muscle through the complexities. We all go through several layers of emotions every single day, and I want people who can manage those emotions and still get the job done at the level of excellence I expect.
How long should a meeting last?
I’m a big fan of 15-minute stand-up meetings. Every meeting needs to have a clear objective, and people need to come prepared and stay focused.
Email, phone or text?
If at all possible, face-to-face is my preference. I’m all about human connection. When that’s not possible, texts are probably my preferred method.
One adjustment everyone can make in their lives to be more successful?
Don’t be a jack-of-all-trades but master of none. Know where your strengths are and where your weaknesses are. Don’t put all of your focus on trying to improve your weaknesses because, at best, you will become average.
The best advice you were given?
Always remember that all major decisions about your career will be made when you’re not in the room. What that means is you have to make sure your work is excellent and that your personal brand has the kind of signature on it that you want.
What would you tell your younger self?
I was that kid who always knew what she wanted to do. I’ve never been one to beat myself up. I shake things off and move on. But I would tell my younger self to trust that you will learn from your failures, and that all things work out for good, so take every disappointment and frustration as a lesson.
Your favorite app?
Shazam! Music is a huge part of my life. Whether I need to get pumped up to close a deal or I want to mellow out and reset at the end of the day, music can really change the atmosphere.
One thing you want to improve in your work life?
As the first African American to lead a private aviation company, I’ve been given a platform to make a positive impact, not just in the business but in society. I’d like to be able to open up more time in my work life for philanthropic work and to make a greater impact, especially for women.