Thomas Hollinger, a 1996 Aerospace Studies graduate, has over 16 years of experience in the aviation industry, primarily in aviation insurance. In 2006, Thomas joined Phoenix Aviation Managers to lead the Pleasure & Business unit. After a few years in this role, Thomas was asked to run the Atlanta regional office and most recently, was promoted to the home office to oversee other operational areas within the company as a Senior Vice President. A commercial multi-engine pilot with an instrument rating, Thomas enjoys flying the company’s Cessna 182 when he gets the chance. Thomas was a panelist on the Alumni Industry Panel this past November and actively recruits Embry-Riddle candidates for entry-level underwriting opportunities within his company.
Not many students know that there are some great opportunities in aviation insurance. Can you share a little about the field?
The field of aviation insurance offers a variety of career opportunities. These career paths provide great fulfillment for those with a passion for aviation by encompassing close ties to the aviation community while serving in the broader financial sector. The most common opportunities available for entry into this field are in claims, underwriting or as an insurance broker. Yet, there are many more roles required in the overall insurance operations such as IT, accounting, safety/loss control services, regulatory compliance and more. Beyond these functional roles, there are many specialties within aviation insurance, each providing a different direction to take in a career path. These specialties include General Aviation (corporate aircraft, personal aircraft, FBOs, flight schools, charter operators, agricultural, etc.), airlines, manufacturer’s products, workers compensation, satellite/space and reinsurance.
How did you work your way up to the Senior Vice President level?
By developing a genuine interest in learning all facets of the aviation insurance business and applying the knowledge I gained to each subsequent position. This allowed me to progress in my career and take on expanded responsibilities. While absorbing the many elements of the aviation business, I focused on mastering my direct area of responsibility, taking charge of producing the best possible outcome in that role. As I progressed in each role, I would measure the results and adjust the strategies and projections in consideration of the various forces at play. I have taken the same business approach to managing my own career. As I faced situations along the way, be it an unforeseen organizational change or new potential opportunities, I would perform a thorough analysis and make my decisions based on what gave me the best possible chance to succeed, both professionally and personally.
What do you look for in prospective Underwriting Trainee candidates?
An ideal candidate for an Underwriting Trainee position in general aviation underwriting will have a Bachelor of Science in an aviation-related degree with an element of business administration. At Phoenix Aviation Managers, having a pilot’s license is preferred but not required unless the candidate wants access to fly the company’s Cessna 182. A candidate with an aviation background is almost essential and much preferred to having a pure business or insurance background with no exposure to aviation. While aviation can quickly become contagious, the best formula for becoming an aviation underwriter is by already having experience in and around the aviation environment. Also, I like to see candidates that express an interest to be involved in aviation insurance for the long haul, with a vision to progress their career in this field. When I perceive that the candidate is just looking for a temporary diversion while pursuing a professional flying career, then the investment in training and development for the insurance role could prove to be futile. I look for sincerity in candidates that see the great benefits of having the opportunity to progress in a business career that also allows them to keep their roots firmly planted in aviation by serving an important role in that industry.
What is the best advice that you ever received related to your job search or career?
To sum it up in a small phrase, “Go for it!” That’s what I have lived by and I suggest to anyone else seeking an opportunity. If you see something that you want and you believe in it, you have to go after it and in many cases ask for it. Opportunities do not seek you out (except for a fortunate few), and when you do find something that suits you, you have to aggressively pursue it. Embrace that we all become sales people in our career searches, and the product that we sell is ourselves. When faced with competition for a desirable job, you have to make the extra effort to market yourself as “the candidate” for the position. In these days where so much recruiting and job posting is done by the internet and email, don’t just be one of many Word docs sitting on someone’s computer or on a server somewhere. Follow up on what else is required of you for consideration and reemphasize your interest and qualifications. Do it by email or, even better, by phone if you can. Getting a phone number may require some resourcefulness, but that can be recognized as a positive too. Keep in mind that there is always a point of going too far, and there may be some cases where it just wasn’t meant to be. It’s important to move on. You should recognize when it’s time to focus your energies and resources on the next “Go for it” opportunity.