The structural racial and gender disparities in business ownership—is continuous and long-standing. Nationally, people of color represent about 40% of the population, but only 20% of the nation’s 5.6 million business owners with employees.
In observation of Black History Month, it seemed fitting to shine a light on a local business succeeding and thriving that just happens to be owned by someone of color. One such business is Gideon Toal Management Services (GTMS) owned by Dr. Alvin Brown who serves as President and CEO. and honor their resilience and ingenuity. In this interview with Dr. Brown, we want to spotlight resilience and ingenuity and discuss how his humble beginnings gave him the capacity to have a national presence in the aviation and airport lounge space.
What were you like as a preteen?
As a pre-teen I was pretty normal. my favorite sports were football and baseball. I belonged to the church youth choir. Football in my neighborhood wasn’t like the normal football that you find in a football field. We played football in the street. The positions I played basically was receiver in football and centerfield in baseball which we played in a concrete baseball field.
Who most inspired you in life?
There is no doubt in my mind that my mother was my biggest inspiration, and she had a profound impact on the person I am today. For example, growing up I watched her brave the New York snow storms three days a week at 5 am in the morning to travel two hours by train and bus from Brooklyn to Bronx Community College where she was pursuing a nursing degree while holding down a full-time night shift at Wyckoff Hospital. Similarly, while pursuing my aviation degree at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, I worked for Sears and Air Florida. Some of the more significant lessons I learned from my mother, were dedication to what you want to do in life and to always keep your word. She would always say to me, “you must do what you say you’re going to do”.
When did you discover your career passion for the aviation industry?
I discovered my passion for the aviation industry I would say between the sixth and eighth grade. during the six grade I remember an experience with my guidance counselor when I told her that I wanted to be an airline pilot, she suggested that was a little bit too much for me and that I should probably look to go to a vocational school where I would probably be more successful.
If you didn’t know your age, how old would you think you would be?
If I don’t know my age right now, I would be 35 years old. Today I feel like I’m on the same or similar journey that I was on when I was 35 years old. I think the difference today is I have a lot more experience and I’m a lot more seasoned not making the same mistakes I made when I was 35 years old.
Would you rather lose all your memories or never be able to make new ones?
This is such an introspective and difficult question to wrap your arms around because memories are integral to where you are today and who you are. They are a part of me however, I’m always in perpetual motion. I’m always looking for what’s ahead so if I had to really answer the question thoughtfully, I would have to say that I would rather lose all my memories because making new ones continues to keep me moving forward.
What do you think about before you fall asleep? when you wake up?
Before I go to sleep, I actually think about a couple of things first did I do anything meaningful today second was it impactful. When I wake up, I think about making sure that any organizational decisions I make during the day will have a positive impact on stakeholders around me. Second, execution of organizational strategy would be the next thing that I’m thinking about when I get up in the morning, third what am I or my organization going to do to contribute to the future of aviation. My thoughts center on where we are today, where we want to go and how we’re going to get there.
How can a single moment have the power to change everything?
I believe a single moment has the power to change everything because there are no coincidences. I believe we live our lives in a continuum of timing and destiny where we try to achieve our best potential. As much as a single moment is an abstract construct I recognize that it doesn’t come very often and the challenge is, do we have the wherewithal and discernment to recognize that the moment in front of me could change everything.
Which is worse failing or never trying? Are you more afraid of failure or success and why?
I believe that never trying is worse than actually failing. Not trying doesn’t give you the opportunity to see what you’re really made of – the fortitude to get back on the horse after you’ve been thrown off. The truth is you’re going to be thrown off at some point. It just goes with learning how to do something. Before I mastered riding a bike I fell. What you do after you fall is what’s really important.
That brings us to part two of the question – fear of failure or success. I don’t see the two concepts as binary. In the words of a Rudyard Kipling, I see triumph and disaster as “imposters” and treat them the same. I believe the hardest thing to do is to embrace failure. That is understanding how to manage failure and to leverage it to your benefit. In order to do that, I think the antithesis of failure is courage. The characteristic that separates winners from losers is the ability to embrace failure, and the courage to manage it, leverage it, and grow from it.
Do human accomplishments have long-term meaning?
In my opinion, there’s no doubt that human accomplishments have long-term meaning. This month we are celebrating Black History Month, and I think the most prolific moment and clearest evidence of human accomplishments can be found in the Birmingham campaign. A single letter from the Birmingham jail brought us increased attention towards racial, reciprocation in the southern United States and of course desegregation in Birmingham, and as a result, the long-term effect or impact brought us the civil rights act of 1964.
Do you like who you are right now?
Yes, I think I like who I am right now. I am driven to achieve what I hoped to be my greatest potential and to realize what the best version of myself is.
What are the three life lessons you’ve learned the hard way?
There are three life lessons that I’ve learned the hard way since I’ve been an adult. The first one is everything is a test. The second is nothing is what it appears to be, and last, nothing is absolute, always find common ground.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of running GTMS?
The most challenging aspect of running GTMS is accessing business credit. Without equal access to business capital minority owned businesses continue to have difficulty growing and undoubtably that impacts a firm’s success in the aviation or any industry.
Describe how one navigates climbing a glass cliff.
The term glass cliff is derived from the term glass ceiling, which pretty much refers to an unspoken limit on how high many minority companies or individuals can rise in an organization and industry.
This phenomenon makes it a daunting task for minority companies to be sustainable in their respective industries when a company is deep in organizational crisis, especially when they don’t really have the infrastructure or extra support to navigate the glass cliff. Frankly, during a time of crisis, minority companies are trying to basically survive. Although challenging, there are some rules for dealing with a potential Glass Cliff scenario.
First, recognize that you’re on the glass cliff; second research and learn as much as you can about the industry that you’re in; third, you have to be the subject matter expert in the room as it relates to your industry, trends, competitors, and other stakeholders. Finally, at the end of the day navigating the glass cliff is about performance and relationships. It is incredibly important that you tap into your Network of relationships and perform at the highest level within your particular business or industry.
What are you most proud of regarding the company?
I’m most proud of the organizational culture that we’ve been able to build and nurture over the last six years. The culture of our company is similar to having a unique personality just like people have unique personalities, the GTMS culture is unique. The main characteristics of our culture, and in what drives the organization, is a heart for hospitality, innovation, attention to detail, and an emphasis on people and teamwork.
If you could plan your final words, what would they be?
I’ve completed my journey and have no more miles to go before I sleep.
GTMS operates airport lounges at 11 locations in 7 domestic U.S. airports including Dallas Fort Worth International, Orlando International, Las Vegas International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and has earned over eight prestigious aviation awards for exceptional customer service since 2014.