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Former Black Aces fighter pilot Sarah Rhoads (USNA ’99) now leads Amazon Air

Posted on 04/04/2018

 Amazon Air Director Sarah Rhoads is uniquely qualified to lead the internet retailer's growing cargo jet operations. 

Rhoads was inspired to fly when she attended her first air show in Montana at the age of 7.

"I wanted to feel what it was like to go fast and fly upside down," she said.

Rhoads went on to become the first woman aviator in the Navy's elite Black Aces strike fighter squadron, flying F/A-18 Super Hornets from the USS Nimitz - her callsign was "Diamond" - and later training other pilots.

Rhoads started her civilian career as an operations manager in a massive Amazon fulfillment center in Lexington, Kentucky.

"It was a great opportunity to learn the heart of operations and learn the business," she said.

She climbed the ranks to regional director of fulfillment operations in London before joining Amazon Air. As director of Amazon's air cargo business since August, Rhoads oversees 134 people who are split mostly between Seattle and the $1.5 billion cargo hub being built in Cincinnati. (Amazon Air does not include the Prime Air drone program.)

Her teams consist of network planners for flight scheduling, routing and around-the-clock monitoring. Others manage the relationship with the carriers, and one team works on the cargo hub project.

The 2,700-employee hub sits on about 1,100 acres at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport and will have space for more than 100 cargo jets. Amazon already has 32 Boeing 767 freighters leased from Air Transport Services Group and Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings.

The Seattle retail giant expects to add eight more jets before 2019, but Rhoads declined to comment on future plans to expand the fleet.

Amazon Air is hiring, with job openings for a vendor manager, finance manager, senior financial analyst and senior business analyst.

Rhoads applies her military experience to managing. Some of the keys to her success have been taking calculated risks and learning from mistakes. Color-coding her calendar helps prioritize her busy schedule.

"I lead by example and never ask my team to do something that I wouldn't do myself," she said. "Something that was very important in the military was taking care of one's people and I do that at Amazon specifically through the growth and development of the team, insisting on highest standards, striving for excellence and being able to dig into the details but yet being able to take a step back and understand the bigger picture."

Sarah Rhoads


.       Title: Director, Amazon Air

.       Hometown: Butte, Montana

.       Residence: Shoreline

.       Education: Bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy; master's in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College

.       Reading: "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek, about digging into the details and getting to the root cause of things. Rhoads shared the book with each of her direct reports.

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LOAD-DATE: April 3, 2018 



BYLINE: Casey Coombs 

LENGTH: 504  words 

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