““[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: Steve Varsano's Game Change
It took four years of intense planning and a lifetime of experience for Steve Varsano to create The Jet Business, a meticulously designed uber-high-end storefront in the most exclusive part of London. Inside, customers find a mockup of an Airbus ACJ319 cabin with an interior that can be removed to display other options. If successful, The Jet Business could alter an entire industry by changing the way preowned aircraft are sold. Here, a glimpse into Varsano’s vision:
In real estate, it's location, location, location. In my business it's reputation, reputation, reputation.
Passion for the business. Loyalty. Sincerity. Attention to every single detail. These are things I value.
You can't go by what everyone else thinks is right or wrong. You have to have your own mind. The old way of selling jets just seemed so archaic. I thought: “There must be a better way.” I was making a very good living, but I was interested in changing the game.
My idea was to have a place where clients could really get a feel for the space. I had sketches, lists, a business plan I kept refining. I knew that I would need a super combination of environment, technology and information to make it worth the client coming in.
I decided on London because so much of my business is from Africa, Europe, the CIS countries and the Middle East–and they all come to London.
Anytime someone walks in the front door, the entire glass storefront turns opaque and the doors lock, so there is complete security and confidentiality. We get royalty, celebrities, high-net-worth individuals, government officials. Sometimes the paparazzi follow clients, so we have them leave out the back door.
I've joked that the space is like a Starbucks for billionaires. Our hospitality storage room has every single food or drink anyone could possibly want. For lunch, we order in from the client's favorite restaurant. They will be sitting in the mockup Airbus dining room and enjoying their favorite foods, so that they feel like they are in their own space. It is very effective.
I absolutely think that perception is reality. Branding is super important. You are trying to create something. Everything from the logo to the pens to the front door needs to reflect the brand. The saying "You can't judge a book by its cover" is absolutely true, but the cover is what gets you to buy the book.
Business jets are time-efficient machines–business tools–and that is the most important point. But they are also luxury items. People spend a lot of time inside their jets thinking, sleeping, entertaining–so the environment is critical. Ideally it is a combination of home, office and airplane.
I got my pilot's license when I turned 17. My original flight training was at Teterboro [N.J.], which is kind of like learning how to drive in a Ferrari.
Many years ago when I was just starting out selling aircraft I worked as a waiter to pay rent. When you are selling someone an aircraft for $10 million and an hour later someone is yelling at you to fill up his coffee cup, it really makes you humble.
I am a very positive person–I always see the glass half-full. I do not want any negative energy around me. When you look at the papers there is all this bad stuff going on–but most of it doesn't affect your day to day. It can depress you. I stay focused on my business and always look forward.