In March 2009, Angelica Rodriguez came to a small, 28-airplane airline as a senior financial analyst. That airline, like Rodriguez, has done quite well in the intervening years.
Spirit Airlines is now a $4 billion business nearing two hundred planes, ninety-one destinations, and its own spot on the New York Stock Exchange. Rodriguez, nearing her fourteenth year, has been promoted four times to her current role as director of revenue accounting and the 2023 leader of Spirit’s Latinx Council Group.
It’s easy to see Rodriguez’s endurance and success with Spirit as just another American dream, one that even includes casual weekend flights with her pilot husband to far-off and exotic locales. Rodriguez is charming, gregarious, and incredibly thankful for where she is in her life.
But it wasn’t always so easy or perfect, and the director’s story and dedication to positively influence the future of Latino leadership is something to be recognized and celebrated.
Rodriguez grew up in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, a small city thirty-four minutes to the west of the capital of San Juan. With two siblings, including a twin sister, Rodriguez grew up with a tight family budget and two working parents. And no matter how late Rodriguez, or her family returned home from San Juan, her mother was always prepared to cook a full family dinner.
“My parents were my inspiration,” Rodriguez says, “and my mother was my role model, she drove us everywhere we needed to be while working full time. I wanted to be like her, and staying home just wasn’t an option for me.”
In her later years of high school, Rodriguez showed interest in pursuing a degree in business administration with the goal of opening a bed and breakfast in Puerto Rico. But after being accepted into an internship in Florida, Rodriguez had her eyes opened to a new culture in the mainland. It was a wonderful experience but along the way encountered many challenges.
“I still have a fear of public speaking because I used to be ridiculed for my accent”, the director says. “After the internship, I went back to Puerto Rico to finish college knowing that many more opportunities awaited in the States, I knew I needed to try again.” After finishing her college degree in accounting and becoming a certified public accountant (CPA), Rodriguez accepted an offer with the federal government in Florida.
It’s important to note that Rodriguez was making every single move entirely on her own. She counted every penny and leaned on her credit card more than the CPA was comfortable with, but she found her way.
As Spirit has grown, so have Rodriguez’s roles and responsibilities. After co-leading the Spirit Latinx Council for the past two years, she is taking on the leadership role for 2023.
“I’m really looking forward to  because the council has matured,” the director says. “Our first year was more about listening. But now we’re able to take action on the issues that matter to our team members like participating in community and charitable events and engaging in networking and career development.”
In 2021, Rodriguez was invited to travel to Puerto Rico with Spirit’s CEO Ted Christie to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the airline flying to San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. It was an incredible moment for Rodriguez to be back in the place where she grew up.
At a get-together with Spirit team members in San Juan, the director had the opportunity to hear the stories of young employees weathering Hurricane Maria. Rodriguez may not have been there at the time but understands the hardships as she couldn’t communicate with her own mother for five days.
“As I heard these stories it reminded me of my own childhood, when I had to study by a candle or flashlight after hurricanes shut down power for weeks, I sort of broke down. When it was my turn to talk, and I just couldn’t,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez was so instilled with pride from these stories and what they, like her, had overcome to get to where they are today that she was left speechless. Both the CEO and everyone she was speaking to understood. It’s a moment the director will never forget.
“Elavon and U.S. Bank have a strong relationship with Spirit Airlines. We have a better appreciation for Angelica Rodriguez’s story, but we are not at all surprised by her success,” says James Kirkeide, vice president for global airline acquiring at Elavon/U.S. Bank. “Like Spirit, we put a premium on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We will continue to be champions for Angelica and others who seek rewarding careers in high places.”
Rodriguez admits she would love to see these eager team members grow professionally without leaving their island, but she understands the call of opportunity, one she herself answered.
Rodriguez story can be summarized in a quote from Roman philosopher Seneca: “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” She was able to seize the opportunities presented to her thanks to her academic preparation and dedication to her career.