Airline Executive Leverages Graduate Degree to Elevate his Leadership Expertise

When John Hornibrook graduated from college with his Bachelor of Science in Aviation, he never imagined that more than 30 years later he’d earn a master’s degree in Leadership from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

John Hornibrook, Vice President of Flight Operations at Horizon Air, earned his master's degree in Leadership from Embry-Riddle. (Photo: John Hornibrook)
John Hornibrook, Vice President of Flight Operations at Horizon Air, earned his master's degree in Leadership from Embry-Riddle. (Photo: John Hornibrook)

Hornibrook’s career began as a flight instructor, and he became a pilot for Alaska Air. He worked his way up the ranks within the airline, eventually becoming managing director of line flying and a system chief pilot. In 2017, he landed at Horizon Air, a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, as the vice president of flight operations.

“When I became the Managing Director and System Chief Pilot for Alaska Airlines, I quickly realized most of the people I worked with had a master’s degree and had graduated from college within the past 10 years,” shared Hornibrook. “I worked with people of all ages, and in order to compete, I needed to go back to school.”

Hornibrook found that his graduate courses expanded his horizons in ways he didn’t realize were possible. He has applied his coursework to virtually every aspect of his professional roles. Critical thinking was one of the fundamental concepts he developed and one he uses every day.

“I had a diverse team,” explained Hornibrook of his time at Alaska Air. “From employees with a master’s in aerospace engineering and military veterans to finance employees and project managers, everyone had a very different background, but we were all working toward the same goal.”

Through the leadership curriculum, Hornibrook learned how to develop high-performing teams and look past his own biases to objectively evaluate new ideas.

He used what he learned in his Organizational Development course and applied the concepts to help rebuild Horizon Air.

“Organizational Development illustrated how to transform a company through culture,” he shared. “This was a really important class that came at the perfect time in my career and is something that I utilize still today.”

Hornibrook is now in a leadership role for The Boeing Company where he helps pilots with global engagement and works with airlines operating Boeing equipment.

During his Embry-Riddle experience, Hornibrook benefited most from his interactions with his professors.

“I probably spoke on the phone with every single professor I had,” said Hornibrook. “They were all really great and involved. It was a real partnership, and talking with them made my life so much better.”

When Horizon Air had an incident that ended in national news coverage, one of his professors reached out right away.

“Between phone calls with professors and the communication boards with fellow students, the online program felt very similar to communications at the office,” explained Hornibrook. “It really wasn’t much different than emailing and calling your coworkers.”

Hornibrook reflected on his investment in a master’s degree.

“When you have a long career, so much changes and you start to get stale. This was one of the best things I've ever done for myself,” he said.