Is there a subject or topic that you love talking about regularly? Is there something that you’re passionate about that you’re always sharing with others?
It seems that most people love talking about the things that interest them. But have you ever thought about the possibility of turning this passion for imparting your knowledge into a money-making business?
During this week’s episode of Do The Damn Thing, Laura Foy sits down with an entrepreneur who turned her love of aviation into a profitable business. She now inspires thousands of people with her public speaking events.
Tammera Holmes went from growing up in a poor, crime-ridden community to becoming the CEO of the AeroStar Avion Institute… opens in a new window to AeroStar Avion Institute website…. She teaches large audiences about one of the things that she’s most passionate about – aviation. Tammera uses these speaking engagements to inspire people on different stages all around the world.
But how was Tammera able to make such a drastic change in her life and get recognized as a motivational speaker? And what challenges did she face along her journey to success?
Be sure to watch our video now to find out how she did the damn thing!
Read the script:
Laura: Hello, everybody. Welcome to another episode of Do The Damn Thing. My name is Laura. Today I’m very excited to be joined by Tammera L. Holmes. Tammera is the founder and CEO of AeroStar Avion Institute… opens in a new window to AeroStar Avion Institute website…, which we’ll get to in a moment. First, I just wanted to thank you for joining us. We’re very excited to have you here.
Tammera: Thank you for the invitation.
Laura: Before we get started, I wanted to talk a little bit about you as a person. In doing some due diligence in my research, as part of this position, I dug a little into your background. And you’ve done a lot! You’ve accomplished a lot for your community and lots of other communities. So, can you give everyone a quick bio about yourself? Who is Tammera?
Tammera: Well, I’m a mother, a wife, and a serial entrepreneur. I am also an educator, an aviation enthusiast, a student pilot, and an ordained minister.
I’m a national advocate for STEM education and afterschool learning. I recently received a federal appointment to the National Task Force for youth access to aviation jobs from the Secretary of Transportation.
I do everything from the small stuff and emotional stuff to the big stuff like policy and thought leadership. But, at the heart of it all is building people up and building a community.
Laura: That’s amazing. So have you married people?
Tammera: Yes. I officiated the marriage ceremony for my little sister and my brother-in-law. I also sometimes have to perform funeral services. I gave the eulogy for my own father, so sometimes it’s really tough.
I believe, though, that my ministry has always been fulfilling my purpose. That’s probably one of the most important things for anybody to know. The word ministry really just means to serve others, to meet a need, and to minister.
We all are ministers in our own way, administrating our gifts to the world.
Laura: I love that perspective. I’m going to call myself a minister – the minister of marketing.
Let’s talk a little bit about how you got started. So what was your educational history? Have you followed a streamlined path? Did you know aviation was always your passion? How did you get from little Tammera to where you are today?
Tammera: Well, she’s still in there. That’s part of what I encourage most adults to tap into. I did a Ted Talk called Get Kids High… opens in a new window to Get Kids High Ted Talk video on YouTube…. And if you ever get a chance to check that out, it really shares in detail my journey and how I got to where I am today.
As a younger person who grew up in an underserved community, I saw my community become gentrified from being a mixed, middle-class community to literally become the hood. And so when you talk about Doing The Damn Thing, that’s what I literally had to do every day.
I had to do the damn thing to get up, get dressed, and get out of the house. I had to do the damn thing at school as well.
I really had to make sure that what I was putting out into the world was something that I wanted for my future so that I wouldn’t be stuck where I was.
By the time I graduated high school, half of the young men I had gone to elementary school with were dead or in jail. By the time I graduated college, I had buried another 40 or 50 friends. Some friends are still getting out of prison today and have been in prison since high school.
I was a very intelligent kid. I was also mischievous. What I recognize now as an older adult is that there are a lot of kids who are labeled as bad kids just because they’re too smart for school. But you need to put your mind to the ideology of these young people. They’re trying to survive. A lot of them have jobs already. They’re bringing home money to their parents to help share the financial burden of the house.
I got my first job at the age of twelve. I was giving my paycheck to my mom. So balancing school and life was really hard. I had to choose whether or not school was going to be the pathway for me. I could have become an extraordinary street salesman.
It came to a point where I got into a huge fight, which turned into a brawl. When the police came, and everybody ran, I was like, “I’m not running! This person tried to attack me after school.” And because I didn’t run, I was put in the back of the police car.
I literally heard a voice say to me, “it doesn’t matter how smart you are now, does it?” I was a straight-A student in the backseat of a police car and couldn’t keep myself out of trouble.
I had one of those parents that wouldn’t let me sleep in on Saturdays and told me, “Get up and do something with your life.” She always surprised us by saying, “Get up, get dressed, and get in the car.”
On one of those Saturdays, we drove to downtown Chicago, right outside of Adler Planetarium. And I’m thinking, “Oh my God! I’m going to be at the museum all day with my little brothers and sisters. This could be the worst day ever!”
And we get out at this nondescript building on the lakefront. It was an airport. And I said, “Are you kidding me? There’s an airport in the middle of downtown Chicago?” I got out, went into the airport, and there were a bunch of black guys giving kids airplane rides for free.
So, I’m thinking, “What in the world is this?” It was the Chicago Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. The pilot took me up, and he asked me if I want to fly the plane. I said, “Absolutely!” And I’m thinking this guy doesn’t know how crazy I am. I flew the plane, and we turned the aircraft around while flying over Lake Michigan on the most beautiful day.
I knew then that aviation had saved my life.
I could’ve gone on an entirely different pathway because, in communities like mine, school is not set up for success. A lot of people even argued that there was a school-to-prison pipeline in my community. Young people regularly get police records and get expelled from school. Discipline is at a much higher rate than our non-minority counterparts, and that puts them in the system.
It was a really hard time for me. I had to completely change the decisions that I was making with regard to trends and my attitude. But the biggest thing for me was that aviation gave me something to put my energy into. I’ve always been highly motivated, but some would’ve called me a rebel as a child and very unruly.
I always questioned authority. So when I saw Top Gun, I saw my future in Tom Cruise. It lit a fire in me to go into aviation. Aviation met every need for me as little Tammera. And, you know, it still does to this day. The smell of jet fuel, being at air shows, and hearing engines rev is everything.
Laura: Did you encounter a lot of shock when you decided to pursue aviation?
Tammera: I’m still met with a lot of shock. I still find myself as the only one in a lot of spaces, whether I’m the only person of color or the only woman. As an African-American female executive in aviation, I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen someone else that looked like me that was at the table for decision-making at the highest level.
Early on, I wasn’t really surprised by the shock and awe. What I was surprised by was the unwelcome environment that followed the shock and awe.
And so it wasn’t like, “You look different. You come from a different background. Let’s welcome you in.”
Laura: You didn’t get that?
Tammera: No, it was like, “You don’t belong here.” So that was an uphill battle for me even in high school because the diversity in most high schools, especially in underserved communities, is in the honors classes. That’s where you’re going to see the Asian kids, the Latino kids, the African kids, and the white kids all together. You don’t see that in the ADHD classes. You don’t see it in the remedial classes. But in the honors classes at my school – that’s where we were the united nations.
I literally felt that I had the experience of being in a diverse environment and being welcome. Of course, that kind of set me up for failure when I got to college.
One of the most important failures that academia has made in the classroom at the collegiate level is not keeping young women and students of color engaged throughout their college journey. I know a lot of people that dropped out of college or changed their major, specifically in STEM fields, because of the lack of representation and advocacy within the department heads.
It takes a different type of personality to be able to endure, and I credit a lot of that to growing up with a survivor mentality. I grew up in the streets – dodging bullets, dodging drugs, and dodging pedophiles – which is a real thing in a lot of communities. When you have been trained to survive, you don’t think about all of this childhood trauma and these triggers until you get counseling at the age of 30 or 40.
Laura: It all comes out then.
Tammera: It all comes out after experiencing failed marriages and troubled child relationships with your children, and different situations that present themselves with elderly parents. You’re like, “Oh my God! I have to work this stuff out.”
But I learned how to survive. Those skills were what got me through many tough times as a loner in the industry and having to fend for myself and find resources for myself.
Laura: So, you’ve found your passion, and you’re up there flying the plane over Lake Michigan. How do you then convert that into something that makes money?
Tammera: I think one of the biggest things that hit me is that I knew what I wanted my life to look like as an adult. And to a lot of young people, this doesn’t hit them the same way. Many are like, “I want to be rich. I want to have a fancy car or big house.” For me, though, it was more like, “I want time, financial freedom, and I want a family.”
I knew that I didn’t want to be an airline pilot almost immediately. As soon as I found out that it was like being a bus driver in the sky, I knew it wasn’t for me. I don’t like to sit still for five minutes. I probably would have been diagnosed with ADHD if that was a thing when I was a kid.
You get lured into the pilot pathway because it’s sexy – the aviator shades, the leather jackets, and flying a plane. But I fell in love with airports, and I fell in love with the business of aviation. I’ve always been a little bit bossy. So, I also fell in love with the “bossivity” of it all – if that’s a word – of being able to control how the industry moves and how it works.
And I found that out as an aviation consultant. It was my first job out of college at a premier world-renown aviation consultant firm. I was the only black person working at that firm for seven years, by the way. It opened my eyes up to the fact that aviation was a global industry and that the money to be made in aviation was not in the cockpit at all. It was in the boardroom.
When people started to pay me for the thoughts in my head as a consultant was when I first realized that you could put a price tag on how much your thoughts are worth. This is a big thing in entrepreneurship and consulting, where people undervalue or underwrite the value of their product.
And then you see somebody launch a product and say, “Oh, they’re a consultant for $500 an hour? What? I only charge $50 an hour. That’s not right.” But they have done the work to be able to add that value.
Know your value, and know your worth, and then put a price tag on that. Don’t get stuck in the status quo of climbing that corporate ladder.
However, I hit a glass ceiling at the age of 28. I already had the second-largest office – a corner office with a view. The only person with an office bigger than mine was the vice president who headed up the branch. There had never been a woman or a person of color in the C-suite in 50 years at that firm.
So I had to make a choice. Am I going to stay at this company or go look for another job? I was doing all of the minority and woman-owned business reporting for the firm. And I realized that we had goals that we needed to meet on $10 million contracts that weren’t being met. And so I went to my boss and the president of the company, and I said, “You’re looking for minority businesses, and you’re looking for women-owned businesses to be able to meet the goals of this government contract. I’m a woman and a minority. If I start a business, would you support me?”
Their answer was yes. And my very first contract at 28 years old was for $97,000.
Laura: Very nice. Congratulations for breaking and shattering that glass ceiling. Now you’ve also managed to convert all of this wisdom and experience into a successful speaking career. You’ve been on NBC, and you’re an international speaker. So, talk to me about how you transitioned from being alone in your office into becoming a public speaker.
Tammera: Well, the funny thing is I’ve always been a public speaker. I just wasn’t monetizing it. I have pictures of me at the microphone at my eighth-grade graduation. At my high school graduation, I was the keynote speaker. I didn’t try to speak at college. But once I was in college, I was already taking speaking engagements at high schools and elementary schools to talk to kids about careers in aviation and to share my story of success.
But what happened was that I was getting requests to come and speak. And after I got off the stage, there would be a line of people wanting to talk to me. As young as I could remember, there would be people waiting to talk to me and shake my hand after I got off the stage. I had never been in any type of formal speaking training until I did TED Talks. I had never been coached as a speaker.
All I knew is that on my report card, there was that side that I never got money for. I got money for getting good grades, but the other side said, “Tammera talks too much and tends to distract others.” Now I get money for that side of my report card.
I tend to distract others, and I still talk too much. But what I’m sharing is the impetus behind transformative inspiration – not just women’s empowerment, which I really don’t believe in or do. I believe in transferring my energy, my inspiration, and my testimony to others so that if they don’t have enough faith on their own, they can grab hold of what they’ve heard me say and just use my faith and my energy. If it happened for her, then it’s a mathematical possibility for it to happen for me.
About three years ago, after I did a TED Talk in 2017, one of my dear friends – she’s known everywhere all over the world in the biggest political circles – just looked at me and said, “Whatever your speaking fee is, add a zero.”
I couldn’t believe it, but she told me, “If I told you how much they pay speakers to come in, your mouth would drop.” That’s when I added a zero, and I haven’t gone back since. Just this year alone, I did Eric Thomas, who was one of the biggest international motivational speakers, just behind Les Brown. He’s the lead motivational speaker for the NFL. I did Disney this year. I did Common Ground Foundation. And I spoke for the Federal Aviation Administration.
The stages have gotten bigger, but fortunately, I’ve stayed the same.
Laura: Let’s hope you can add another zero.
Tammera: Maybe in 2022, after the pandemic. My price definitely should go up, but I have been taking a lot of virtual speaking engagements and still invoicing for those too. So don’t bypass the opportunity to do virtual speaking engagements. It’s still your voice and your message, and people are willing to pay for that investment.
Laura: We’ve got a question here from Melissa. She says, “How do you market yourself while running a successful business all at the same time?”
Tammera: That’s an excellent question. There were some things that happened early on in my career and in my life that I chose not to associate with my brand, like being an ordained minister and the church stuff. But I don’t market myself as an ordained minister. I market myself as a motivational speaker. I do hair. I do nails. I paint and draw. I’m a Jack of all trades. I’m even a repair person – I’ve done construction on my own house.
Your brand has to be intentional.
You can monetize a brand once you have a staple. And for me, I have become the aviation lady. So everything else that I do, even my motivational speaking, it’s all aviation-themed.
I did a whole speech for an academy that was all about the golden eagle. Nobody had ever heard of this bird before. It’s an incredible bird. I gave an entire speech on the golden eagle, and the name of the speech was Soar and Golden. I did that speech for 3,000 people who didn’t care about aviation, but they now know how aviation influenced my life. And that influence is an inspiration for them.
My business is separate from my speaking engagements. But my speaking has always lined up with my brand, which is based on aviation. It’s just like what I’m doing right now. What am I wearing? I’m wearing a t-shirt that promotes my brand. If you see me, you see airplanes. If you hear me talking, you hear me talking about airplanes. Even if that’s not the topic – it’s my brand.
Whatever you’re promoting, it doesn’t always have to be about your company. It can be about your idea.
The number one word that people use when talking about me – when speaking of the work that I do – it’s inspiration. “You are an inspiration. Your work is an inspiration. You inspired me.”
And so Tammera Inspires became my speaking brand. But even when I speak and when I show up, everybody knows that I’m the aviation lady, and aviation will be weaved in there.
Laura: That’s a really interesting point. We actually have a lot of public speakers, mentors, coaches in our audience. And it’s interesting how you say you can take your topic or your specialty, which may not be super relevant to the audience that you’re speaking to, and figure out a way to weave it in.
So you can really talk to anyone. And even if you’re not an expert in that genre, right?
Tammera: Yeah. I talk to kids. I do counseling. I talk to business leaders in all forms of business. I’m a serial entrepreneur. I started three companies, and I just became a partner in a fourth international company.
Those companies are not my brand. When you look at people like Oprah and Elon Musk – his brand isn’t aviation or space – his brand is innovation. Everything that he does exudes innovation. It doesn’t exude SpaceX. It doesn’t exude Tesla. All those different brands that lead to him as a person are a part of his innovation.
You can’t just say that you want something to be your brand and promote it. The brand is something that you already are. You stamp it with your seal of approval and that’s your brand.
Laura: I was having a conversation with someone the other day, and we were talking about how Starbucks isn’t about coffee anymore. Starbucks is about community, and Nike is about leadership. It’s exactly like what you’re saying. The brand becomes bigger and about something else, not necessarily the product.
Laura: And this is where a lot of influencers have made their mark. Influencers are now being contacted by all different types of brands and personalities to promote their product because of what they exude as a person.
A really good friend of mine became the brand ambassador for Ford because her brand is adventure. She’s one of the top adventurers in the world right now. She has her own TV show on the travel channel. But her brand is adventure. She’s a licensed pilot, a licensed scuba diver, and she does all of this amazing stuff. Her name is Kelly Edwards; if you want to look her up. She’s amazing, and her brand is adventure.
When you want people to pay for your brand and buy your products, you have to establish yourself as the authority on that particular idea.
And a lot of people think they have to buy or create this project or this thing that’s going to blow up. But that’s not the case. You can just create an idea.
Laura: That’s right. One of the things we talk about a lot is authenticity. You have to find your Why, and be authentic, and be your real self.
What you did was you took authentic Tammera and what you love – aviation – and made a brand based on who you are.
Tammera: And that comes from the artistic side of me and from the technical side of me. I can’t cut any of that off. If you have to turn on and turn off your personality when the light comes on, then you’re not walking in your authentic self. For example, I recorded a video recently. They wanted me to record this video to ask donors for support. They watched it and said it has to be redone. “That’s not you,” they said. They wanted me to read off a teleprompter. You either want me to talk, or you want me to use a script, but I can’t do both.
And now they understand why I’ve avoided scripts for years. They don’t work for me. If you want me to talk about something, just give me five bullet points. But if you write a script, then you’ll have to throw it in the trash after spending two hours doing that beautiful video.
Laura: I can’t believe it, but we are actually out of time. This was the fastest half-hour I’ve ever had. The name of the show, once again, is Do The Damn Thing. So, for people out there who are stuck, what would you say to them?
Tammera: Do The Damn Thing! Life is going to throw all types of circumstances at you. I just buried my second mom this past Saturday. It’s Thursday today. But the day I found out she passed away, it was 5:00 AM, and I had a meeting with Common’s Foundation for young girls that I was going to inspire at 10:00 AM. I showed up anyway, and I didn’t tell them until the end of that conference. I would be a fraud if I canceled after telling everyone to get up and be great and go through everything you have to go through. They couldn’t believe it.
And I said, “I can’t get in front of you and tell you to do something if I’m not willing to do it myself.” So to everybody that’s listening, do it anyway. Start writing. If you don’t want to write, just dictate to Siri. Talk to your phone. Start the idea and write down a business plan.
Even if it’s 10 things that you can do in 2021 to start your own business. Go to the bank and ask for a loan. If they tell you no, then that’s just practice for next time.
There’s always going to be reasons not to do it. And the cemetery is full of people who were full of ideas and full of the greatest things that could have happened but didn’t. AeroStar was an idea that floated through my mind until I stopped it and entertained it for a little while. And here we are today.
Laura: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate your time. Thank you for all that you do. If anyone wants to find more about Tammera, there’s going to be lots of information down below. Or you can go to avioninstitute.org… opens in a new window to AeroStar Avion Institue website….
I want to thank you so much, and I wish you all the best. Let me know when you add another zero. Thank you, bye.
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