Celebrating Black History Month: An Interview with Richard Major 

Richard Major

What is your current title and how long have you been at Atlas?

Manager, Finance Systems Support. I have been with Atlas a total of nine years.

What are your primary responsibilities in your role at Atlas and what is your favorite part of the job?

My role and responsibilities include the support of key financial systems such as JD Edwards, Blackline, iPayables, Kyriba, and a host of other finance modules Corporate Accounting and other areas of the business rely on for management of Atlas’ financial data.

My director Joanna Mata and my colleagues have formed a symbiosis that enables each of us to grow, learn and support each other. This structure allows me to provide the key support Corporate Accounting (in both the U.S. and overseas) requires to run the business successfully.

How did you find your way into aviation? What prompted you to consider aviation as a career? 

Information technology and aviation are clearly business partners with one goal in mind: keep the planes in the air and ensure every aircraft returns home with all souls accounted for and safe.  Technology is a strategic partner in the airline industry. Aviation, to thrive and grow, must adapt and employ the best technological advancements available.

My career in technology lead me to aviation in 2007 while living in Los Angeles, California, I secured an opportunity with one of the many vendors Atlas Air works with for aircraft parts and maintenance. This is when the door opened, and I recognized aerospace is a large sector with unlimited potential. It has been an incredible journey thus far.

What does Black History Month mean to you?  Why is it important?

Black history is American history and as a person of color, it offers the long overdue acknowledgement of the many contributions African (Black) Americans have provided not only for the people of the United States of America but for the world!

History shows that we as a people were enslaved, treated cruelly at levels of depravity that were and would be considered war crimes. Yet my ancestors endured, thrived, adapted to their new world, and built upon it a foundation that today continues to show this country and the world we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and we will be the pillars of those who come after.

Black history is not a month, it is centuries of achievement against adversity. I do not recognize a month; I recognize a legacy over 400 hundred years. I see it every day, hear it everywhere, feel it with every beat of my heart, taste it in every meal my partner Helena prepares with her Caribbean flair and style, embrace it deep in my soul and remember it all for my family and all the people I value and love.

Does anyone or anything come to mind when you think of the contributions made by the Black community throughout American history?

There probably isn’t a single person that I feel offered more than others, even when great leaders have emerged like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr or Malcom X and were sacrificed to become martyrs. None were greater than the sum of the people who stood at their side, endured their pain and had to bear their loss. These are the heroes, the silent partners, who were the witness of, and the ones left alone to hold on to a memory of cruel loss.  

My heroes are every son, daughter, wife, mother and father who lost someone in a war for equality, a right no one should have to ask for or demand in this country.

Mamie Till, if I must put a name to it, is legendary in my mind, I have no other words to express how deeply the loss of her son Emmett Till, long before I was born and able to understand it, impacted me. Yet, she showed the people of the United States and the world how cruelty and pain must be met with dignity and that the fight for justice must continue, even if that day would never be seen.

Who do you consider to be the strong Black leaders of today who are currently making history and how have they impacted you?

I have my eyes on Wes Moore, the Governor of Maryland; he may very well be the next president of the United States in a few years. He has the “it” factor; he is an incredible orator and is thoughtful and brilliant with unlimited potential.

What is your advice to young Black professionals considering aviation as a career? 

Absolutely do it! Find your niche in this sector, be it ground, crew or a hybrid function, and grab the opportunity and run with it.

What does having a diverse workforce mean to you?

I work in one of the most diverse groups of Atlas Air – Information Technology. Led by Senior Vice President Richard Ross and Vice President Mike Pascullo, this team has demonstrated that leadership must lead the way and embrace diversity.  

When I joined Atlas Air in 2011, I was concerned that diversity in the workplace may not be strongly reflected, but I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong even then.  Diversity however, in its best form is not only multicultural at the staff level it must also be demonstrated at the senior levels of the company.

I believe Atlas is starting to make good progress in this area, especially with the introduction of the DEI Employee Council. That showed me that the Company was making a real commitment to fostering a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace – in essence, putting meaningful action behind its words. I am so happy and proud to have participated in this effort.

In summary, diversity for me in the workforce means I can share my thoughts, embrace and welcome the views of others and always find common ground, as a team, to move forward and incorporate all opinions. Michelle Chabot, a colleague I truly admire, once said, “Diversity is not one voice, but rather a choir singing in harmony.”

What would your colleagues be most surprised to learn about you? 

Most are surprised that I am super friendly. I often hear that I am perceived as unapproachable and then when a colleague gets to know me, the confession follows that I initially appeared to be a bit cold and distant, and once they get to know me, they quickly realize, I am exactly the opposite. I get a kick out of that every time. Joanna Mata has shared that she initially thought I was polite but “not her cup of tea.” But soon she embraced me and we have been inseparable for many years.