Mari Lluhi is no stranger to adversity. Her family emigrated from Cuba to Miami, via Spain, when she was a child. She and her partner-to-be married in 1990, and four years later, they moved their growing family to Greensboro, South Carolina, to escape escalating crime in Miami. Together they co-founded Genesis Aviation in 1994. In the early years, they took out loans, kept the books themselves, and worked hard to grow the business. Lluhi comes from a family of entrepreneurs, and for her, a business is a business — there is no fear of failure. If it doesn’t work out, you start again.
Genesis has been a part of the most aggressive and remarkable growth the aviation industry has ever seen. They have also experienced significant challenges over the past 26 years. The first substantial setback Genesis faced was 9/11. One of the company’s two major accounts went bankrupt. Lluhi saw that the industry was in trouble, and this sparked her entrepreneurial spirit. She gathered her 30 employees and asked each of them for a list of actions the company could take. Genesis diversified its customers to include cargo companies and cleaning brokers. Lluhi’s partner purchased some TWA inventory, which she says helped save the business.
In 2018, Lluhi’s partner passed away after being sick for several years. He had been the face of Genesis and was big, bold, and loud, according to Lluhi. She regards herself as an introvert and felt she had to step out and prove herself, despite having been the business’s backbone. Faced with supporting her ill partner and her team, and holding it together, she felt she had to show everyone that Genesis was stable and growing. Despite the hardships in that first year of Lluhi leading the team alone, the company experienced 40 percent growth.
Genesis provides solutions, services, and programs to help customers reduce their vendor base and control costs. They have less than 1 percent warranty claims, but quality is not the only reason their customers are loyal. Genesis values and nurtures partnerships and goes beyond the traditional services of a component repair and overhaul company. It is this devotion, Lluhi believes, that has fostered resilience.
After enduring and surviving the aftermath of 9/11, Lluhi saw that COVID could be a big problem. In mid-February, she again gathered her employees and told them to “prepare for Armageddon,” in anticipation that the industry would again be imbalanced for a while. Aerospace industry experts project a minimum of a three year COVID recovery period, as opposed to nine months after 9/11.
The shop achieved social distancing by adjusting work hours to create shifts. There are 28 technicians, and “If one of them (can’t) come in, it’s a loss to us because of what they produce and … everybody’s important,” says Lluhi. She collaborated with her bank to take a loan and with the SBA to use the Paycheck Protection Program. The sales department studied every account and reached out to clients to see how they could collaborate to meet their evolving needs. Genesis recently partnered with a company in Tennessee to develop FAA-approved PMA parts. Repairs are the biggest part of their business, and they were one of the last recipients of an unlimited certificate on accessories. Before COVID, they had three DER repairs, and now they have ten. Genesis’ exclusive exchange unit service for over 20 different regional and commercial aircraft keeps customers flying and helps them avoid costly service interruptions.
Lluhi attributes her Cuban heritage, being a woman, and being attuned to the industry globally to her successes over the past 26 years. Cubans are community-oriented, and Lluhi believes that this mindset has helped her enable diverse team members to thrive. As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Lluhi says that she had to self-validate and persevere despite sometimes feeling unseen or undervalued for many years. According to Lluhi, Genesis has the best team they’ve had, with some who are structural and technical, and others who are creative. To see her team collaborate and move toward the same goals makes her feel proud — that she is doing her job. For Lluhi, breaking even is a success during the pandemic. “Making a little money is success. I’m not expecting to have huge profits this year,” she said. “The point is to keep my people employed and make us better when this is all over. And I think we’re doing that. So it’s a success in my view,” Lluhi concluded.