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A conversation with Rhonda Fullerton

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, at 12 a.m.

As Cessna Aircraft’s director of promotions, Rhonda Fullerton and her team work on customer functions, trade shows, product tours and other events around the globe.

They’re especially busy this time of year preparing for the world’s biggest general aviation show, the National Business Aviation Association’s conference and exhibition, which opens Tuesday in Las Vegas.

At the same time, Fullerton is heading Cessna’s signature community event – the Citation Special Olympics Airlift for the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey.

At NBAA, Fullerton will work to recruit Citation owners and operators to donate their planes, pilots and fuel to help transport more than 1,000 athletes and coaches around the country to the competition to be held in the Greater Princeton/Mercer County area.

It’s quite an effort.

Fullerton grew up in Wichita and earned an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in business administration from Wichita State University.

After college, she moved to California for a year to work for a small, private-label cosmetics company doing trade shows and events.

When she returned in 1989, she joined Cessna in its accounts payable department. Then, Fullerton spent time in Cessna’s payroll and international finance departments before moving to the company’s events and promotions team. In 2001, she was named manager of corporate and community affairs. She assumed her current role in 2011.

Rhonda and her husband, Matt, have an 11-year-old son, Ryan.

Fullerton likes to spend time with her family, read or take quick trips to Kansas City. The family is passionate about WSU basketball.

Your job sounds fun. What do you do exactly?

My team and I work on all of the events worldwide that Cessna puts together for our customers, trade shows like NBAA. It can include customer events. It can include mock-up tours when we send some of the mock-ups out on the road. We have different customer engagement events that we do. For example, (it has a partnership) with the PGA.

What do you like best about your job?

We get to do events in different locations. Each one is unique because even the ones we repeat, like NBAA, each year is different. It gives us a chance to think of new and creative ways to interface with the customers and try to showcase the product. I really enjoy it.

NBAA is a huge effort. How do you get it all together?

There’s a core team of individuals that come together, and we’ll talk about what we want to accomplish at this year’s NBAA. We work with the sales team and the senior leadership team to make sure we accomplish that goal.

What should attendees expect this year at NBAA?

I’m sure that there will be some airplanes out on static display that individuals may like to see that they may not have been able to view before. In the (convention) hall, we’re going to have a different setup that we’ve never done before.

Interesting. How so?

Well, that would be giving it away.

This is Cessna’s seventh Special Olympics Airlift. How many planes will you need?

The goal is to get at least 175 Citations to help transport about 1,000 athletes and their coaches to the games. … While we’re doing that, we’re also working with the state directors to find out how many athletes and coaches they need to transport. They give us their top choices of where they’d like to depart from, then we start matching them up (planes and passengers). (The airplanes) will arrive at the departure point, drop them off in New Jersey and then turn around and pick them up in New Jersey and take them back to their departure point.

Why the Airlift?

It’s a great way to combine our passion for what we do every day, which is aviation, with Cessna’s strong history of being a good corporate citizen. … Nobody else in the industry does anything quite like this.

At the games, you work with the FAA, local police, fire, the list goes on. What do you like best about the Airlift?

For me, it all comes to fruition when we open the door of those Citations and the first athlete steps out of the plane. The look on their face is the definition of what pure joy must look like. The look is so incredible that it makes all the hours of planning and trying to make all the parts and pieces come together worth it. To repeat that 175 times, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

You work on so many events. What’s your best advice for someone planning a big event?

Always have a backup plan. Plan for the contingencies, and you also have to be flexible. Inevitably, something isn’t going to go as you have planned. If you’re flexible enough, and you have the contingencies in place, you can make anything work.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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