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From Wooster Square to Up in the Air

Glenn Rohrbacker

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Michael Quiello grew up right in downtown New Haven. All of his childhood he was told that he couldn’t do things. He couldn’t get off of the street, he would never amount to anything, and he would never be a pilot, like he always dreamed.

But in 2011, after decades of flying for Delta Airlines and the United States Marine Corps, Quiello had the chance to induct his heroes into the National Aviation Hall of Fame as Chairman and President – the same people who made him want to be a pilot in the first place.

“Sometimes you don’t want to meet your heroes because they’ll never live up to your expectation, but you exceeded my expectations,” said Quiello, when he thanked one of his heroes, Joe Engle, for inspiring him to succeed.

The veteran pilot, now the Vice President for Corporate Safety at United Airlines, grew up down on Wooster Street in New Haven, a tough neighborhood where many of his friends weren’t so lucky to become a success like he did. Although some others made it out and became successful – a Ph.D, a Connecticut State Judge, an insurance executive – a few did not, and became alcoholics or had trouble with drugs.

Quiello learned at an early age that it takes self-motivation to achieve your dreams, and with inspirational guidance from many air pilots and astronauts, he got the confidence to go after what he wanted in life. After time and time again watching over the fence at airplanes taking off at the local airport, an official who worked there asked him if he wanted to be a pilot, to which he agreed eagerly. It turns out that the official owned the flight school, and from there on, he had a path.

“When I would say that on the street, they would laugh at me,” Quiello added, talking about how no one on his block had ever been a pilot before.

Quiello got his educational start at the University of New Haven as a Civil Engineering major, graduating in 1974, and is now on the Board of Governors. He was the keynote speaker last week at the Bartels Lecture Series put on by the University.

One of the restrictions that Quiello thinks is holding many young people back is a reliance on others to guide them in the right direction, specifically waiting for a mentor to bring them along and present opportunities to them. He noted that this is not a way to gain success, and that it actually comes from within.

“I always tell the people that work for me: ‘It’s your career, not mine,’” he said.

He also wanted to express how important it is for individuals to surround themselves with a support system full of people who are encouraging.

Personal confidence is key, according to Quiello. Having that inner motivation to go after what you want and look for the best way to do so is one of the most important parts of being successful.

“What I tell people is, if you’re in the frying pan, you can either die in the frying pan, you can learn to live in the frying pan, or you can get out of the frying pan. I had to get out of the frying pan,” he said.

It’s also crucial to understand your capabilities, and live towards them. Quiello found the most difficult part of rising to success was breaking away from the negativity in his life, since after a while it gets embedded into you.

Quiello spent time in the Marine Corps, where he learned the important qualities of discipline and self-worth, and attributes many of his personal advantages to that experience.

“They never told us we couldn’t do it. If you can get through all the craziness, you walk out of there saying ‘man, I can do anything,’” he said.

Quiello’s tips for being successful always gravitate back to focusing on the individual. He expressed the importance of doing a self-analysis, looking at where you want to be in three, five, and ten years, whether it be personally, professionally or financially.

He also mentions that employers are really looking for a good fit culturally in a potential new hire. The technical skill is a small, nonetheless important, part of a candidate’s resume, but the best personality can be the difference.

According to Quiello, the most important things students can do to get out there into the real world is volunteer, meet people, give back, rise to leadership roles in organizations that you are passionate about.

Passion is another keystone of what Quiello wants people to invest their time and energy in. The heroes that he inducted into the Hall of Fame inspired him because they seemed to radiate a passion for what they do, and having that for yourself is one of the most important things.

“I always like to say, you have to love to go to work and you have to love to go home.”

 

Correction 11/14/16 10:20 AM:

An earlier version stated that Quiello worked at Jet Blue, and that his degree was in Mechanical Engineering.

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From Wooster Square to Up in the Air