Episode Title: Air Atlanta: Julius Hollis
In this, the first episode of Give‘em The Business, host Troy D. Evans interviews Julius Hollis co-founder of Air Atlanta, the United States’ only Black commercial airline, founded in 1981. To start, Hollis describes his upbringing in Atlanta, which he describes as a Black-economic mecca. He had the privilege of going to Morehouse College, along with many other economic and political leaders in the Atlanta area who took him under their wings, supporting and teaching him. Growing up, Hollis was surrounded by many siblings and family members who were incredible influences in his life, especially his mother and grandmother. He describes these two as the backbone of their family. His mother taught him to be prepared and confident all while having a sense of humility. Growing up, his aunt owned a restaurant that many prominent Black community leaders would patronize, Hollis says these influences helped to set the table of his life and the beginnings of his business journey.
Hollis had already started a successful career path, as the Assistant Vice-President of the EXIM bank, when his brother, Michael, approached him about starting a commercial airline. Michael presented the idea to Julius shortly after president Jimmy Carter deregulated the airline industry. In the next several hours, the two discussed plans to raise the money and strategized on how to leverage their political and economic connections that would make this idea a reality. This moment was a watershed moment for the two brothers that would change their lives forever. Hollis explains that the mechanisms that allowed this dream to become a reality would not have been possible without Jimmy Carter being the president of the United States. When Jimmy Carter was elected president, there were more Black agents in the U.S. federal government than any other time in the country’s history. Hollis believes that this movement started with Black leaders in Atlanta, like Maynard Jackson.
The first step for the Hollis brothers was raising the money to start their airline. They used the lessons of perseverance and preparation gained from their mother and grandmother to fuel them. Hollis says that an entrepreneur needs to be knowledgeable about what they’re doing and prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. The two began leveraging their family and business connections from law firms and investment banks on Wall Street. Hollis attributes this success to both his upbringing and the connections and networks they were able to build growing up. Through strategic partnerships and relationships, they were able to raise 100 million dollars to launch Air Atlanta.
After the money came in, the major challenges became the operations of the airline. From a regulatory standpoint, running an airline was an incredibly big undertaking. For them, safety and operations were paramount. This caused the brothers to make the decision that from top to bottom, everything they did for their passengers would be above and beyond the standard. Only a few years later, against the recommendations of the brothers, the Board of Directors passed on the opportunity to purchase Eastern Airlines. Unfortunately, this decision caused a riff between them and the Board. Shortly after, in 1987, the airline filed for bankruptcy and closed.
Even though Air Atlanta was not able able to become what they had wanted Hollis has continued to to have a very successful career. He spent the next several years partnering with several major businesses like J.P. Morgan, Georgia Pacific and many other community organizations. In the past decade, Hollis has focused on entrepreneurial partnerships and endeavors, but he also has the opportunity to write the book In the Arena: The High Flying Life of Michael Hollis to honor his brother who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2012. Today, Hollis continues working in many advisory and managing partnerships, still leveraging the skills, lessons and experience that he gathered throughout the years of business with his brother.
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