“Cicely Tyson said to always dream big. That has greatly helped me in my career to keep thinking forward. Don’t think about where you are, but where you can go. The sky is the limit.”
From Temporary Secretary to being the first African American female Senior Empowered Official (EO) Manager, Cassandra Jones’ 23-year long career at Vertex Aerospace has taught her the value of mentors, the importance of family, and that it’s never too late for new opportunities.
Cassandra began her career at Vertex in 1998 and was excited to join a defense company providing aftermarket aerospace services for the military.
“When I started at Vertex, my husband Alcartha had just retired from the Navy and we had recently moved back to Mississippi from his last duty station in San Diego, California,” said Cassandra. “I felt comfortable at Vertex working alongside prior service members and it made me proud to work for a company that supports our troops.”
She initially worked at Vertex as a temporary secretary, then served as a Security Administrator, and later as Deputy of the Industrial and Personnel Security department. After leaving security, she transitioned into the Export/Import department as a Traffic Compliance Manager. In 2008, she was certified as an EO, which gave her the authority to approve or disapprove import and export license applications, and finally moved into her current position as the Senior EO Manager.
“When I was promoted to Senior EO Manager, I was ecstatic because it was something I was really interested in. But some people thought maybe I bit off more than I could chew,” said Cassandra.
“They said ‘just give her time and she’ll fail.’ But that doubt is what fuels me to succeed. Always strive for what you want and don’t let anything stop you from getting there.”
Through each step of her career, Cassandra has looked for guidance and mentorship from her colleagues and family members to continue advancing her skills. She attributes her work ethic to her upbringing and her mother’s influence.
“My mother inspired me to be a better person and to do my best at whatever I put my mind to,” said Cassandra. “After losing my mother, I have been fortunate to have coworkers who encouraged me to challenge myself and to be confident in my abilities.” Cassandra’s position is appointed by the company president and she describes her responsibilities as ‘doing a little bit of everything’ regarding import and export compliance. Her team is responsible for ensuring all International Traffic in Arms Regulations are followed and that proper licenses are obtained from the U.S. State Department.
Cassandra’s confidence in her approach to global trade compliance has paid off. With potential trade fines reaching amounts in the millions, under her leadership Vertex has never been fined. Her department’s trade compliance processes have also been used as a model by former Vertex owners and their subsidiaries, further substantiating the import/export team’s success under her leadership.
Working for a company with over 100 operating sites and more than 3,000 employees, her 4-person team stays busy. However, as one of 14 siblings who grew up in a three-bedroom, shotgun house in Beulah, Miss., Cassandra is familiar with developing innovative solutions to accomplish her mission.
Cassandra is very much family-oriented, and similar to her senior management role at Vertex, she has become the ringleader that brings her whole family together. Her family members now expect her to organize all of the family reunions and monthly gatherings. With this responsibility, she is acutely aware that her children and family members look up to her.
“When I transferred into the Export and Import department, I began working on a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and later earned a Master’s in Business Administration,” said Cassandra.
“I have four children and a large extended family. I wanted to show them that it doesn’t matter how far along you are in life, you can do anything you put your mind to.”
Working in male-dominated fields, such as the defense industry, can have its challenges for females. Cassandra has hit some stumbling blocks along the way but said there have been none she hasn’t been able to overcome.
“I have been fortunate to have managers who looked at my skills and experience and not at what or who I was,” said Cassandra. “I have never felt like I have been passed over for a position or promotion at Vertex due to being a female or African American. This industry hasn’t stopped me from doing anything.”
Cassandra says even if you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, there are always possibilities.
“Cicely Tyson said to always dream big,” said Cassandra. “That has greatly helped me in my career to keep thinking forward. Don’t think about where you are, but where you can go. The sky is the limit.”