Alex Malebranche is the Founder and CEO of PlaneAhead that is changing the world. Not just because of what his company does, but the way they’re going to do it. It’s about opening doors that have been closed, lighting people and places that have been dark for too long. Join them in making a positive change!
Alex’s passion for travel started when he studied abroad in Australia. As soon as he stepped out of the plane, he knew he was meant to see the world. Though he didn’t know it then, the reason for seeing it was to teach him. As Alex started to visit countries around the world, he started to learn things about people he’s known for years, solely by stepping foot in the country of their ancestors. His awareness, his empathy, his respect, and his curiosity for who people are, grow every time he sees a different part of the world. So let him help you see the world too.
PlaneAhead’s mission is to get you back to what matters most: enjoying experiences with loved ones in places around the world. Unlike third-party vendors, PlaneAhead monitors the real-time value and cost of flights for their members, not projected/assumption-based cost-market value of flights with little-to-no consideration into how COVID-related issues play a role in the pricing of flights. PlaneAhead offers a seamless experience to their members to book flights for travel with ease.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Alex Malebranche: Before getting my degree in Accounting, I was an Intelligence Analyst in the US Army. I have been able to use those unique skills, in conjunction with my traditional education, to work in a varied amount of industries. I started my career at Amazon and AWS, globally, and most recently built the Delivery organization for Plume, a smart Wi-Fi company, now valued at over $2B, as the first employee hired in that org. Now, I am a passionate and dedicated husband and GIRL DAD in addition to a Founder.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Alex Malebranche: I actually always wanted to be an entrepreneur because I like to be creative and I’m a problem solver. The idea of building something from scratch and continuously improving it is fun for me. Also, I didn’t grow up with a lot financially, so the opportunity to do something I enjoy and have limitless financial opportunities to support my family is something I always thought about.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Alex Malebranche: My biggest inspiration in all things is my mom. My mom, still in her mid 60’s, is the hardest working person I know. I’ve seen her work 3 jobs and sleep in her car to pick up overtime hours just to make sure we had what we needed, and we lived in Chicago, so sleeping in her car included 2 or 3 blankets in the middle of a Chicago winter. My work ethic, my drive, all derive from her. She can be attributed to any success that I have in this life.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Alex Malebranche: My journey has always led me to be a hard worker. I didn’t know if it would translate into the highest position in a corporate company, but regardless of title I was always going to bust my butt and give my greatest effort. As I said previously, my mom’s work ethic is what was modeled to me, so I started working multiple jobs in high school to help pay for family bills. I then joined the Army to help me pay for college. There were times when it was tough for a teenager to make all of that work, but ultimately they served as experiences I can pull from to fight through professional adversity.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Alex Malebranche: PlaneAhead is the first company of its kind, that takes full advantage of the termination of airline change fees. We track your purchased itinerary from the day you buy until take off. When the price of your ticket goes down, we automatically exchange the ticket and send you the airline credit from the change. My job as the CEO is to make sure the vision for the company is clear and we have a roadmap to get there. In addition, it’s my job to set the standard for anyone we work with or that works for us.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Alex Malebranche: I define it as the tone-setter. I set the tone for the company’s vision, the company’s strategy, the company’s culture, work ethic, commitment, etc.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Alex Malebranche: If I can be lucky enough to continue to be a CEO from this point forward, I’m sure I’ll continue to encounter more and more that will surprise me. To this point, what has surprised me is how much a CEO at my stage is as much a salesperson as anything else. You’re convincing investors of your product, convincing people to leave the comfort of their jobs to join your adventure, and you’re convincing consumers of the value of what you do. It’s so important to be a good and authentic storyteller to get to where you want to be.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Alex Malebranche: I think a CEO should focus on a few core things. One, setting a good culture. Many want to start with the business but it always does, and always will, start with the people. A good culture isn’t created in a night but it sure can be ruined in one, so it’s always a point of emphasis because at any moment your hard work can be undone. Secondly, focus on what value you bring to your customers.
If you focus on bringing value to customers, you’ll always be in business, it’s as simple as that. Understand the problem you solve, the solution you provide, and how you can keep making things better. The second half of that is being able to clearly communicate all of those things, as you’re charged with making sure everyone there to help you achieve the goal is clear of what it is and how to do it.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Alex Malebranche: The most difficult decision I made was to sell my family’s house. I was at a stage where I needed more money to keep the business going and I didn’t have any revenue or investors. I had to have a very serious conversation with my wife because I wanted to keep going but we didn’t have the means. We had just had our second daughter and my wife didn’t work.
Everything was on me and because of my background, it was always priority number one to take care of my family which meant the business was going to have to die. My wife allowed me to sell the house to take money from the sale, put it into the business, and move my family to a different state where we could live at a lower cost of living. I will never be able to repay her for that sort of sacrifice but she made that decision for my company and anything positive that comes from it will be because of her selflessness.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Alex Malebranche: Success for me starts with being able to take care of my family and having the freedom to spend time with them. With how I grew up, I felt financial stress before 10 years old. The only way we could avoid seeing how bad it could’ve gotten is that my mom sacrificed time with us to work 2 or 3 jobs so that we could keep a roof over our head. Nothing motivates me more than taking care of my family and enjoying time with them. Anything else is extra.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Alex Malebranche: I think I am innately trusting. I’ve been able to earn the trust of customers and coworkers fairly quickly which has always translated into success for me. I think that is due to being honest, authentic, and humble. I am always looking for feedback, trying to learn, and being open to trying new things. I think because I’ve always been a hard worker, as a leader, that translates to those following you as “getting your hands dirty” or “leading by example”.
A skill I have had to learn, and am still learning, is when to deliver bad news. I’ve always been someone that gives chances, too many. I want to be collaborative and work through issues with people, but sometimes that can hurt a company more than just saying “hey, this isn’t working”. I worry about being seen as a “bad boss” which can cloud my judgment when it comes to making a business decision. I’m always learning the balance of being fair and accepting the outcomes from there. If that means it didn’t work out with someone, then I can always be comfortable knowing I was fair.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Alex Malebranche: Well through the pandemic, I was the only employee! I started my business in the middle of the pandemic. It’s a bit crazy to start a travel business in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, but they say founders have a crazy gene and that was me! Through the pandemic, we got investment, got our first few enterprise customers, and hired a few employees, so we did pretty well based on the circumstances!
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Alex Malebranche: Focus on the person you are and the people you associate with because all of it matters. From the time you’re employee number one to the next Jeff Bezos, who you are, and who you surround yourself with does matter. It will affect your business. It will affect your ability to raise money. It will affect every aspect.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Alex Malebranche: I want to learn different languages! I’ve tried and when I had the time, I just didn’t have the discipline. Now, I don’t have the time, but it’s an amazing skill to have while traveling the world and experiencing different cultures, as well as in business.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Alex Malebranche: “It’s Not Over Until You Say So.”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Alex Malebranche for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Alex Malebranche or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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