AAR's first president of Africa aims to boost growth, help people
Wood Dale-based aerospace and defense contractor AAR Corp. named Cheryle Robinson Jackson the first president of AAR Africa.
Prior to the promotion, she served as vice president at AAR, a company that provides aircraft maintenance and supply chain services to the aviation industry worldwide.
She got a jump on her new territory two years ago when she began traveling Africa to help solidify AAR's foothold there and help build relationships with Kenya Airways and others. She aims to help arrange to build a more centrally located aircraft maintenance hub, so African airlines don't have to go to Europe for repairs.
After all, six of the 13 fastest growing economics in the world are in Africa and she aims to help AAR get a slice of that.
"It's the last economic frontier for the world economies in terms of growth," said Jackson, 51. "The potential outweighs any of the challenges there."
The challenges are plenty, including the need for better, more efficient air travel, a more streamlined supply chain, local maintenance and repairs, among others. Beyond those challenges, she aims to help people. She's done that during her career, even before coming to AAR in 2010.
Jackson, who was born in Chicago and lived for a time in Memphis, Tennessee, returned to the area to earn a bachelor of arts degree in art theory and liberal arts from Northwestern University.
"Earning a degree like that made perfect sense to me," she said. "It gave me a solid liberal arts background that focused on how to think creatively and critically. You can bring that to any arena."
After college, she began as an art director for the local PBS station in Memphis and then transferred to NPR in Washington, D.C. She started transitioning again, this time into marketing. She later returned to Chicago to work for Amtrak's government affairs department as well as a stint with former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Her taste of politics then led her to become a candidate for President Obama's once-vacant U.S. Senate seat.
But things began to change further after she became president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League. That's when she met AAR CEO David Storch, who encouraged her to come to AAR.
"What he said made me hit the pause button," she said. "He said 'If you really want to help your community, you need to get experience beyond the South Side of Chicago. You need an opportunity to learn about the world.' And that resonated with me."
When she accepted the AAR job, she realized it would be something more than just an executive position. It was extending a hand to leaders worldwide.
Her first trip was to Nairobi, a one-day only business trip. Yet her friends kept encoring her to see the National Zoo.
"Well, I was thinking it was like Brookfield Zoo or Lincoln Park Zoo," Jackson said. "So I jumped in the car thinking we could just drive through it on the way to the airport. We drove through it, but it was all open range, miles of it. So much for the expectations of a girl from the South Side trying to squeeze something in," she laughed.
She has since traveled to various countries, including China, Africa and elsewhere and has met a variety of world leaders and top executives for some of the largest aviation companies.
Her trips became more frequent, including some she made as part of a delegation on behalf of President Obama's Doing Business in Africa program.
While Storch was appointed to Obama's program, Jackson filled in for her boss and traveled even more.
Throughout her journeys, she has learned that leaders all over the world are seeking the same things in employees.
"They are asking how to get more people who are skilled," she said. "It many ways, we are all more alike than we are different."
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