““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
BJT Management Series: George Antoniadis, Founder and CEO of PlaneSense
When I first met PlaneSense founder and CEO George Antoniadis last October, I was struck by his effusive manner and passion for his fractional-aircraft-share company. During our recent interview at PlaneSense headquarters in Portsmouth, N.H., I saw another side of him: laser-focused, serious and smart. Here Antoniadis–a native of Greece who now lives near Boston and often flies himself to work–shares some of his entrepreneurial and management wisdom.
I strive to be as creative as my father was. He was constantly pursuing ideas and he taught me to be doggedly persistent if I thought I had a good idea. A combination of that and my own tenacity taught me not to give up easily.
There is a Greek expression: “The bigger the ship, the bigger the storm.” The transition from an entrepreneurial startup to a midsize company is challenging. Often, founders are not good managers in the second phase. It is important to be circled by a very good team. At PlaneSense we function as a team and that is how we continue to address challenges.
It's important to communicate–a lot and very openly. Email can sometimes be an enemy of communication. I always remind people that there is a face behind every email, and seeing someone in person can be much more effective.
We provide a worthy workplace for almost 300 people who support the same amount of families. We are a very strong contributor to the local economy.
You can't have a good company if you don't have happy employees, happy customers and happy suppliers. You can't have a good company if your environment hates you. Maybe you can make money, but you won't have a good company.
While it's most important to think about your P and L, you also need to think about the rest. When I started this company and there was only one other employee, I promised that when we could we would have a very good health plan. Today, we have one of the top health and benefits packages in New Hampshire.
Originally in our business plan for PlaneSense we predicted that captains would stay for only so many years, and we did all of our cost-analysis based on this. But then we realized the captains wanted to stay at the company for triple the amount of time we budgeted. To me, that is hugely positive, because it shows that we have a workplace that people want to be a part of and we can build a huge reservoir of know-how. At a price. But we are prepared to make that investment.
Because I love every part of this business, I tend to be very involved. I am an entrepreneur, and so I fought having an organization chart for many years, but lines of responsibility become very important as you grow. New employees are comforted by organization, especially when they are coming to work alongside people who have been here for 15 years. We invest a lot of time in goal-setting–for the individual, the group and the enterprise.
I am a strong believer in growing from within an organization. I think a big motivator at PlaneSense is that you can start at any level and go to any level your horsepower will take you. When higher-level positions become available, we look first at candidates from within the company.
We address people as individuals because everyone has their own story. We try to listen to it. We spent a lot of money on technology early on so that people can, for example, work from home when it makes sense for them and the company. It is very important to provide a healthy workplace. A healthy workplace also means a realistic workplace. It is my responsibility to keep this company healthy so that we can make the right choices and we can lead its destiny and not the other way around.
I believe that with leadership comes tremendous responsibility. You have a responsibility to try and improve your environment, and you cannot forget that. So if you have an idea you believe in, you have to pony up and do it.