Jet Quest president and CEO navigates male-dominated aviation industry
Robin checked her radios and flight controls, mentally reviewed the air-safety checklist her instructor had drilled into her head over the last few months, and prepared for lift-off. At 16 years old, she had everything to gain and everything to prove. This would be her first solo take off; it had to go perfectly.
“You’ve got this,” she told herself, checking her control surfaces a final time. Butterflies excitedly flittered about in her stomach, seemingly wanting to take flight as much as she did. This was the moment she’d been waiting for; she could practically taste the freedom of the open skies.
And then she was in the air, climbing higher than any of nature’s winged creatures and loving every minute of it. She observed that life took on a different perspective from up high. Though she’d copiloted many flights during her instruction, the world now seemed a little smaller, at once calmer and more exhilarating.
More than 30 years later, Robin Eissler—now president and CEO of Jet Quest, Inc.—can still call up memories of her first solo flight with vivid recollection: how even that first flight came as second nature.
“Learning the basics of aerodynamic principles wasn’t too challenging,” she recalls matter-of-factly. “For me, the harder thing was learning to be taken seriously as a woman in an industry that was dominated by men.”
Spreading her wings
From a young age, Robin knew she wanted to sell airplanes, like her father, Don Richards. Don had sold aircraft since the 1970s; and as she grew up, Robin worked as his apprentice, accompanying him at work, shadowing him during transactions, and helping out with marketing and paperwork. She watched in eager fascination as clients flew in from Australia, South Africa, Europe, and all over the United States to purchase aircraft. It was exciting. Glamorous.
“Dad always had clients coming in from all over the world. I loved the speed and pace of an aircraft transaction,” she says. “It happens pretty fast and is pretty exciting—I think that’s what attracted me to the industry when I was young—that, and being around airplanes.”
Robin received her private pilot’s license just after her 17th birthday and then went to Florida Atlantic University to earn her bachelor’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship. Upon graduating, she held several aviation jobs, including working in ground services for airplanes in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In 1999, Robin and her father merged their collective business and aircraft sales expertise to cofound Jet Quest Inc., a company that brokers private aircraft. “In the beginning, my father put in the capital, and I put in the sweat equity,” Robin explains. Together the father-daughter duo built a thriving business that has brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft transactions, with a client list includes billionaires, celebrities, and many small business owners.
Six years later, they moved Jet Quest from Florida to Georgetown, Texas, an aviation-friendly city affectionately known as “the used aircraft sales capital of the world.” They’d grown tired of the bustle of airports and the ever-looming destruction of Hurricane Alley.
In 2014, Robin bought her father’s part of the company and rose from vice president of Jet Quest to president and CEO. Her father, who still works for the company, transitioned to the role of president emeritus. “Over the last three years, we’ve grown revenue by about 300%,” says Robin. “It’s one of my greatest successes.”
But the journey hasn’t all been smooth-sailing for Robin. “I’ve faced some obstacles along the way,” she says. “In the aircraft sales business, there are very, very few women. We happen to have just a few—maybe a half dozen or so—that sell aircraft and even fewer that own the company that sell the airplanes.”
According to Robin, people tend to be more watchful and critical of women in this field than they are of men, so many women find that there’s little to no room for error. Women who want to break into the industry have to be better than the competition, she says. “If you want to succeed as a woman in aircraft sales, you have to be sharp. You have to know your stuff, work a little harder than everybody else, and you have to be able to hang with the guys.”
Under her wing
“In a field of hundreds of aircraft brokers, fewer than two dozen are women and even fewer own the firms,” says Robin. In contrast, Jet Quest’s sales team consists of eight members, three of whom are female. Over the years, Robin has mentored and become a champion of many of her employees, male and female.
Two years ago, Robin took on Skylar Norris—a 2012 graduate of GHS and 2016 graduate of Texas State—as an intern. At the time, Skylar was a fulltime college student at Texas State; she didn’t have any sales experience and didn’t even know what type of aircraft Jet Quest sold. “Robin took me under her wing and put full effort into training me,” says Skylar, a Georgetown resident. “I sat next to her desk and read every email and text message, listened in on every phone call, and took note of every little move she made. And that’s how I learned.”
Soon, Skylar knew transaction and email etiquette, as well as selling points on every aircraft Jet Quest sells. Today, she’s selling several aircraft a year and is one of the youngest women in the industry selling airplanes.
“That’s a really proud accomplishment for me and for her,” says Robin, who has garnered many notable accomplishments, including being recognized by the Austin Business Journal in 2016 as one of central Texas’s top 50 CEOs. “We have several young people on our team, and I’m able to mentor a lot of people—men and women—on our business and teach them how to sell planes,” Robin says.
“Seeing Robin navigate as CEO of a company in a male-dominated industry, and seeing how she balanced time with her kids, made me realize that I could have it all,” says Skylar, a mom herself. “She’s an influential force in the industry, and I’m privileged to work with her.”
Forward-thinking by nature, Robin now has her sights set on her next goal: growing Jet Quest to become one of the largest used aircraft brokers in the world. “We’re on our way to doing that,” she says. And who could doubt her? With a name like Robin, she was born to soar.