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History: Larger Than Life

alt= Comandante Rolim Adolfo Amaro, Founder of TAM

The achievement of Latin America’s airlines in recent years would have made Rolim Adolfo Amaro proud. Born in September 1942 in Pereira Barreto, Brazil, Comandante Rolim, as he preferred to be known, was a larger-than-life figure whose restless entrepreneurial spirit provided the inspiration for much of the region’s recent success.

Rolim obtained his commercial pilot’s license in 1960 and began flying for Táxi Aéreo Marília (TAM) in 1963. The company transported cargo and charter passengers between the states of Paraná, São Paulo, and Mato Grosso. Rolim left in 1966 after three years, just as the airline was sold to businessman Orlando Ometto and its headquarters moved to São Paulo. Rolim, never a man to doubt his own ability, decided to start up his own business, buying a Cessna 170 and putting himself out for hire.

The business flourished and his company had 10 aircraft by the time Ometto contacted him again in 1971. TAM was struggling and Ometto offered Rolim 33% of the shares to rejoin the company. A year later and Rolim had upped his stake to 50%, taking over the day-to-day running of the company.

In 1976, Rolim established TAM – Transportes Aéreos Regionais, taking 67% of the new company. The first year, while Brazilian domestic aviation was growing 15% a year, TAM registered an increase of 70% every six months. Rolim later took full control of the company’s stock and built TAM up to the point where it rivaled Brazilian flag carrier Varig, proving that a privately run airline could compete in the Latin American market.

TAM’s expansion south into Montevideo, Buenos Aires, and Asunción further illustrated Rolim’s pioneering spirit and the potential of air travel in a big continent. At one point his airline was virtually Paraguay’s only travel connection with the outside world.

In 2000, the airline took on the identity it’s known by today: TAM Linhas Aéreas. The different names were a symptom of the muddied waters of aviation policy in the region as Rolim sought to take advantage of the opportunities on offer.

The constant in this heavily bureaucratic region was Rolim’s distinctive style. He wowed his passengers with exceptional service and personal charm. That creed is still on the walls at TAM today and pervades each aspect of the airline.

Rolim would fly his own planes and was notorious for loading up cargo at the last minute if it was desperately needed elsewhere or allowing ticketless passengers onboard if they too provided a compelling reason for travel. Even as he grew in fame, he would personally greet passengers each morning in Congonhas Airport, São Paulo, ensuring red carpet treatment all the way. He even had a department called “Talk to the CEO” established next to his office. Rolim would personally respond to all communications.

His political incorrectness was legendary and many likened him to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner as a result of his penchant for surrounding himself with uniformed women. He was also passionate about Napoleon. Paintings and figures adorned his office and Rolim looked to these to inspire his vision of a pan‑regional airline.

When Comandante Rolim died in a helicopter crash in July 2001, his death brought forth many other stories of his remarkable personality. He once traveled around parts of South America on a Harley Davidson motorcycle without documentation, declaring at the Argentine border that his personality was proof enough of his identity.

Apart from wonderful anecdotes and a string of honors, Rolim left behind an incredible aviation legacy. His restless enthusiasm for aviation brought connectivity to many areas of Brazil and ultimately to the region. His name became synonymous with devotion to quality customer service and an endless capacity for work. And his airline has gone on to make its mark not only in the region but also on the world stage. TAM’s tie-up with LAN, announced in 2010 and still dependent on government approval, will create the LATAM Group.

Comandante Rolim’s vision is coming to life.


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