By 2019, Alejandro “Alex” Cestero had already spent over twenty years as a lawyer. He had cultivated an expertise in corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, international business contracts, and other specialty areas during his time in private practice as well as in-house roles at major oil and gas service and manufacturing corporations.
But Cestero was intrigued by the chance to try a business-side role and become CEO of AccuFleet International, a Houston-based national provider of specialty maintenance and ground handling services for the commercial aviation industry and airports.
Despite his lack of background in the aviation industry, Cestero’s learning curve was smoother than one might imagine. He was able to transfer much of his existing toolbox—including his corporate transformation, M&A, and industrial services experience—to his new position. On the other hand, he’s now the company’s ultimate decision-maker, and has had to evolve into that role.
That’s why Cestero relies on input from his teams. “I was very comfortable with various general corporate areas, like finance, HR, strategy, systems, and general management, but initially had to depend heavily on operational folks to get me up to speed on the finite areas of their domain, industry standards, and daily operational issues,” he says. “It’s important to recognize the limits of your own knowledge, and let others help fill your gaps.”
Under his leadership, AccuFleet’s revenues jumped by 20 percent the first year and were trending at a 40 percent YOY increase in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
That 40 percent goal may seem ambitious, but as Cestero explains, it was actually quite realistic based on new contracts and the pipeline of opportunities that had been developed. AccuFleet contracts primarily with individual airlines operating at airports. This industry structure enables continued growth within that geography, meaning that the company does not solely rely on seeking out additional markets, though that is also part of the growth strategy.
“We have worked with some customers for decades,” the CEO says, “and we’re a premium, high-quality brand to them. But as the service provider side of the industry has consolidated in recent years, we constantly need to compete with larger and larger players, as well as the challenges and opportunities offered by their scale and scope.”
This changing service space has triggered some transformative activities at AccuFleet, including an intensive examination of every element of the business, which resulted in a new set of financial, customer, operational, and business goals called Vision 2021. “We’ve begun marching toward those goals and have also morphed into a more data- and analysis-driven company,” Cestero offers.
Meeting or anticipating the needs of AccuFleet customers has been a key driver of the business’s growth. And maintaining a high level of flexibility—in thought as well as in action—is essential to that.
“During the COVID-19 and aviation downturn, our managers have helped out in additional functions as necessary, and all of our crews have been extensively cross-trained, so they can adapt to changing conditions at each carrier,” Cestero says of the company’s response to the pandemic.
AccuFleet also assembled an expert team to develop spraying and fogging treatments and procedures. These treatments and procedures were necessary for assisting airline customers in combating COVID-19, but also brought peace of mind to travelers. That team then established supply chains for the necessary equipment and chemical preparations and trained employees to use them safely. “We were at the forefront of these efforts,” Cestero points out.
Cestero’s own legal background has been useful during the pandemic, allowing him to keep the company up-to-date on new regulations for employee safety, cabin cleaning, passenger safety, and more. The aviation services industry typically has a high turnover rate, but Cestero’s leadership has helped instill a level of confidence in employees and customers alike—and kept the company’s workforce stable throughout the pandemic.
“It’s important to recognize the limits of your own knowledge, and let others help fill your gaps.”
Cestero is also determined to ensure that his employees feel confident in their own ability to grow and advance within the company. “We want our employees to understand that there is plenty of room to grow. People are often unaware of career paths they might take, until we show them,” he notes. “And then we provide scholarship opportunities, additional training, and opportunities to improve their soft skills.”
According to Cestero, AccuFleet even takes the time to tailor its educational programs to match the needs of the specific airline where an employee is working. Improved employee retention helps maintain profitability, the CEO explains, but it also pays off in greater safety and consistency among the company’s crews.
Despite all of his achievements at AccuFleet, Cestero is determined to remain open to learning opportunities—and recommends that all business leaders, particularly in these times, do the same.
“Be curious and learn to manage across multiple disciplines—being able to solve problems in a constructive way is a huge asset,” he advises. “Expect to manage a lot of different egos and personalities, along with conflicting agendas. And while you should be conversant with the needs of your business, you don’t need to be an expert in everything. Be collaborative, keep an open mind, and analyze data and diverging viewpoints as long as is necessary.”
Haynes and Boone, LLP joins in this special recognition of Alex Cestero by Hispanic Executive Magazine. Alex has demonstrated a unique ability to lead under challenging circumstances, combining the skills learned as a private lawyer and then general counsel for several international companies as he charts the course as the top executive for AccuFleet International. Congratulations, Alex!