Graham part of a line of female leaders at TAC Air in Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,122 views 

Allison Graham, general manager of the TAC Air fixed-base operation (FBO) at the Fort Smith Regional Airport.

With the promotion of Allison Graham to general manager of its fixed-base operation (FBO) in Fort Smith, Texarkana, Texas-based TAC Air is continuing a decades-long tradition of women leading one of the company’s general aviation service centers.

Graham replaces Christina Lang, who served as the general manager at the Fort Smith FBO for two years before becoming the general manager at Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield, Mo. A 31-year veteran of TAC Air, Graham progressively served as ramp hostess, customer service representative, aircraft maintenance administrator and most recently as a customer service manager, a position she has held for the last 22 years.

“Graham worked her way up, successfully mastering several roles within the FBO, gaining knowledge, industry and internal company experience, always showing enthusiasm and eagerness to learn, making her an ideal leader to take the reins after Lang,” said Joe Gibney, TAC Air chief operating officer.

But female leadership at the Fort Smith FBO began decades ago when Carol McNally served as the general manager of Road Runner Aviation. TAC Air began in 1986 as a local business. Starting out of Texarkana, and originally called Road Runner Aviation, the single-location FBO was rebranded TAC Air in 1991. The Texarkana company now has more than 400 employees at 14 U.S. FBO locations, including those at Fort Smith and Little Rock.

Carol McNally, former manager of the TAC Air fixed-base operation (FBO) at the Fort Smith Regional Airport.

While she stayed on as general manager once the FBO became TAC Air, McNally eventually took a corporate role with the company, said Tad Perryman, vice president of marketing for TAC Air. Perryman said there is a change in the aviation industry with more females in leadership roles in FBOs and organizations and as pilots.

“Fort Smith has a long history of strong female leadership, which is unique in the aviation industry,” Perryman said.

McNally began her aviation career in the early 1970s, she said, noting that the industry has changed a lot over the years.

“Aviation is a challenging business, but it is a very fun business. It was not easy in the early years. People didn’t take you as seriously as they do today, but I was able to win their respect through hard work and persistence,” McNally said of her early years as a general manager. “They learned to respect my ability, and I was able to help set the stage for people to come in behind me, not only  in Fort Smith but throughout the country.”

Graham began her career with TAC Air in 1990, after graduation.

“I knew I wanted to move up in the company, so I learned all the positions,” she said. “I am ready to step in and continue the legacy of leadership Fort Smith has had for so long from Carol McNally to Christina Lang.”

Graham and McNally said the key to succeeding as a female in the business is knowing how to do all the jobs at the FBO from outside to inside.

“I learned from watching Carol. She will do anything that a man can do. She is not going to ask anyone who works here to do anything that she won’t do herself, from carrying bags for people that weigh more than she does to cleaning the bathroom. Just watching her do everything was and is pretty amazing,” Graham said.

McNally said the general manager has to work hard and pay attention to the details, which she said is right on par with a woman’s strengths.

“You have to put forth a lot of effort, and I think we just have that built in. It takes paying attention to multiple things at one time, and I think the way women grow up they are used to taking care of a lot of different things at one time. That plays a part in being able to manage,” she said. “I have noticed over the years that women tend to be a little more detail oriented, and in this business details are ultra important. That does play a part in women’s success.”

Graham said while she knows things have changed for women in the industry, she hasn’t felt the challenge as much as McNally did in the early years.

“I’ve been here so long I don’t see what Carol saw as the resistance of being a woman in a leadership role. Since I have been here so long, I don’t have to prove myself with the base customers and those who come in all the time, because they know me and they know. It’s the transient customers who might react differently. But I know what I’m doing. I project that I know what I’m doing, and I just don’t get the pushback that Carol got,” she said.

Graham said she hopes to continuing the tradition of female leadership in Fort Smith.

“I look forward to continuing our team’s ‘service with no ceiling’ approach to business and welcoming new customers to the (Fort Smith) airport. New and exciting opportunities are unfolding at the airport in the near future, and I am thrilled to be a part of and lead the team through them,” she said.

She knows TAC Air in Fort Smith is often the first look at the city that visitors and those hoping to move to and expand business in Fort Smith see, and she also wants to help teach and encourage women starting in the aviation industry.

“I have a daughter who is 18 years old, and I want her to know that she can do anything. I want other women to know they can do it,” Graham said. “It took me 30 years, but I did it. And I love it.”