John and Sharon Pacelt, Flying High

Edition: July 2012 - Vol 20 Number 07
Article#: 4030
Author: Laura Thill

There are people persons, and then there are PEOPLE persons. There’s no question where Sharon Pacelt and John Pacelt stand. Former employees in the airline industry, the couple is clear on one thing: To be successful working for an airline, you have to really LIKE people.

The couple met in Chicago where they both grew up and pursued careers with airlines, explains Sharon. After working seasonally at an airport in Gunnison, Colo., where she “fell in love with the west and skiing,” her career as a ticket agent took off at Chicago O’Hare Airport. John spent college summers working as a skycap, and then returned full time after graduation. “I kept coming back for the excitement and earning potential,” he says. A mutual interest in exploring new places led them to leave the Midwest when they were in their 20s and work their way through several cities, including South Lake Tahoe, Nashville, Dallas and Reno.

There’s nothing slow about airport work, note the Pacelts. “Our day-to-day responsibilities [varied depending] on the size of the airport,” says Sharon. “The smaller the airport, the more positions [there were] to cover.” So, for instance, at O’Hare (where she and John met), she would meet and dispatch international arrivals and departures. At Lake Tahoe – a much smaller airport – she was responsible for ticketing, baggage, security, weather observation, operations and gates. After 13 years as an agent – including a stint as an instructor for new-hire agents – she moved into a management position.

John’s work was equally fast-paced over the years. Depending on the airport, he provided curbside check-in and passenger assistance, as well as managed crew, wrote schedules and worked with airline personnel and management around contracts.

People and places

For many years, the airline industry was a perfect fit for the Pacelts. “Airline employees are a wonderful, special breed of people,” says Sharon. “We made forever-friends all over and traveled to many fascinating places. No two days [of work] were ever the same, and helping passengers when they needed it most was very rewarding to me.”

“It was rewarding to provide a pleasant initial experience to travelers,” says John. “Briefly meeting celebrities and musicians was always a perk of this job. Working in Nashville allowed me to meet many musicians, and I especially enjoyed meeting my father’s idol, Johnny Cash, who was a genuinely nice and caring man. We were able to get a signed autograph which my dad still cherishes.”

“John has always talked about writing a book about his many skycap adventures!” says Sharon, adding that he encountered “too many famous people to document. Almost all of the musicians in Nashville were so nice and very generous – especially Dolly Parton. John really enjoyed meeting her!”

Overall, all passengers – famous and unknown – were a joy to service as far as the Pacelts are concerned. “Unless they were running late or their bags were overweight,” John points out. “Then [we] were the bad guys.” Mandatory 12-hour shifts and reporting to work at 4:30 a.m. were a bit of a downer as well. But, as long as they were alert and “quick on their toes,” their days ran smoothly, notes Sharon. That said, airline employees “really have to LIKE people,” she says. “There are so many passengers.” Even a slow day at Dallas Ft. Worth Airport sees around 40,000 fliers, she explains.

Time for a change

As much as they loved working for airlines, the industry changed drastically after 9-11, leaving the Pacelts to second guess their careers. As one might expect, the work environment became sad and tense. Retirement was a long way off, and Sharon and John questioned how long they could continue there. “We weren’t sure which field we were heading into, but we realized we wanted to [continue] working with people,” says Sharon. And, it was time to move on from their current home in Reno, she adds.

“We explored Bend, Ore., and loved it, but there were really no jobs that excited us,” she continues. Then, at a memorial service for a close friend whom they lost to breast cancer 5 years ago, the couple reunited with another friend, who mentioned an opening in Bend with Henry Schein. “We were all over it,” she says. “Henry Schein was able to hire both of us, which excited us greatly! After researching Henry Schein and medical sales, we knew it was going to be the perfect fit.

“Having relocated several times before, we had learned to embrace the changes a move brings,” she says. “It [has been] exciting to make new friends, explore new places and reflect on how much we have grown and accomplished during our time there.” That said, they anticipated some challenges in their new career. For one, they would be working more closely than they were accustomed to doing. “Knowing each other’s weaknesses and strengths really helped,” she notes. And after 21 years of marriage, they “no longer sweat the small stuff. Arguments don’t last long anymore. Life is too short, so we find something to be thankful for every day.” Today, although the Pacelts maintain their own accounts, they keep informed about each other’s customers. “We visit out-of-town accounts together and when we appear alone, the first question our customers ask is, ‘Where’s your other half?’”

In the beginning, their biggest challenge was acquiring the vast amount of product knowledge that comes with learning a new territory. “We put our brains back in college mode and really crammed to understand the business and learn about the products,” says Sharon. They also quickly discovered the value of great customer service. “Henry Schein offers so much more than just supplies,” she says. “And, developing trusting relationships and following through on what you promise has always been a golden rule for us. We are very honest and fair and have a great work ethic, which our customers have come to know and really appreciate.

“We are experiencing growth year over year and love when we get a call from a potential customer because a client has referred us,” she continues. “It proves that we are keeping our customers satisfied and that we really see the value in this. It’s important to remember to thank customers for their business [and ask ourselves], ‘What steps have you taken?’ [We must] always know what’s happening with our accounts and meet as much of the staff as we can. Turnover is big in the medical industry and we often see past customers in new accounts.”

It’s not that customers are always right, Sharon points out. But, she has learned that “we all win when the transaction ends to everyone’s satisfaction. It’s not how well you handle yourself, but how well you handle yourself when something doesn’t go as planned.”

It’s true the Pacelts miss the free travel perks and last-minute excursions to Paris or other exciting cities. “[I miss] being able to fly to a different city for a favorite concert or back home to Chicago for an Italian beef sandwich,” says Sharon, who admits that after nearly 20 years in the airline industry, “it was very difficult to walk away.” Still, one would be hard-pressed to say their post-airline lifestyle is much slower-paced. “As have many others, we have lost several close friends and my mother to cancer, so we volunteer our time in our community with fundraising events to fight this disease,” she says.

In addition, the couple thrives on visiting “as many national parks and monuments as we can,” she says. “We are close to 100 now. We especially love the great outdoors and camp, fish, bike, hike, boat and ski as often as we can. So although we can no longer jump on a plane, we are just as happy traveling this beautiful state and exploring everything from the Oregon coast to the High Desert.

“And the best part of it is, we get to call on our customers while doing so,” she continues. Indeed, they value their new careers as medical products sales reps. “We love our new careers [and being part of] the Team Schein network,” she says. “There is plenty of support that we can always rely on. We are very happy to work for such a progressive company.”