Top Gun days
Rhoads remains close-lipped about Amazon’s tactical and strategic thinking, but she is by no means taciturn when it comes to her team.
“I would say that I have a very open communication with my team; I welcome and expect feedback – and, frankly, pushback from my team,” she explained. “If there’s a better way of doing something, I want to hear it.”
A spokesperson for Amazon described Rhoads’ style as “confident yet humble servant leadership,” which focuses on “removing barriers, enabling her team to solve complex problems with innovative solutions.”
“I try to lead by example, as well,” Rhoads said. “I try to encourage people to make mistakes while ensuring we don’t fail. I think that’s one of the best ways to learn is by learning from mistakes.”
Dietrich has high praise for the professionalism of the Amazon Air team, despite the short time it has been operating. “They have extraordinary command of the subject matter,” he said. “They are very focused on customer service. We are honored that Sarah and the Amazon team have chosen Atlas Air as a partner.”
Rhoads’ precise way of taking on new challenges was, no doubt, forged during her service in the U.S. Navy. Following the dream of that little girl at a Montana air show, she joined the U.S. Naval Academy and earned a bachelor of science degree with merit in mechanical engineering, and later earned a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
She served on active duty in the Navy from 1999 to 2011, and as an active Reservist from 2011 to 2014, achieving the rank of Commander, and flying the carrier-based F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, she flew 37 combat missions from the U.S.S. Nimitz in the Arabian Gulf, providing air support, armed reconnaissance and escort.
Later, Rhoads served as an instructor pilot with Strike Fighter Squadron 122 from 2005 to 2007. Among many other duties, she instructed more than 100 Naval aviators in the operation and tactical employment of the Super Hornet.
“Sarah was one of three pilots selected Navy-wide to represent the United States at the 2006 Farnborough International Airshow,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “She’s our real-life ‘Top Gun.’”
Being a successful woman in a traditionally, almost exclusively, male profession, Rhoads said she is often asked if she suffered extra hardships on her rise through the ranks. “Really, I never made a big deal about it,” she explained. “Because I didn’t, other people didn’t either. The great thing about aviation is it doesn’t matter what your gender is or your religion or your race. It’s how you do the job. That’s what counts.”