““[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: Xojet's Blair LaCorte
Blair LaCorte, 49, brought a childhood passion for aviation to XOJet. He joined the company as president in 2009, was named interim chief executive officer in 2010, and one year later became the full-time chief executive officer. He is also a senior advisor at TPG, a leading global private investment firm and an investor in XOJet. When he isn't working, he spends time with his wife and three sons and coaches soccer.
As the saying goes, no one cares how smart you are until they know that you care about them. The first thing you have to do is understand what customers need. Then you have to build their trust, so they are not buying airplanes, they are buying a relationship.
Growing up in a family business, you get exposed to entrepreneurship in a very different and personal way. But there is not a lot of training, so I got a business degree to figure out what I had been doing right and what I hadn't been doing right.
My number-one criterion for hiring people is self-awareness. If people don't know who they are and what they're good at, it is going to be difficult for them to lead. My second criterion, which is based on self-awareness, is continuous improvement. I like to ask a person to discuss every time they changed a job or made a decision about where to go to school–did the person learn from mistakes and get better at making decisions?
You need to invest time getting to know someone before you hire. We do a lot of testing and reference checking up front.
Relationships are built by doing things together. We have a lot of mechanisms in place to reinforce our culture and level of service. Customer Service and Flight Operations sit next to each other in the same room. This enables immediate communication and reduces the chance for any errors or oversights when critical issues come up. We have pilot off-sites every year where they meet every single executive in the company and we also have cross-functional events where, for example, the finance team will meet with the HR team.
We spend a lot of time figuring out how someone flies and then we design something for them. The market has been taught to ask customers about airplane type and price per hour, but those are the wrong questions to ask. Things that matter to certain people don't matter to others. The first questions should be: How do you fly? Where are you going? What flexibility do you have? What type of trip is it–vacation, business, funeral? How many people will be on the airplane?
We are like a Four Seasons hotel. Whereas [flying] fractional is more like a time-share, and [flying] charter is more like using Priceline.com, where you are searching for a certain type of hotel but you are willing to put up with inconsistency. With us you always get the same experience.
A weakness in our industry is that we all try to say that our company is superior to other companies. I believe there is going to be a mix of solutions and that fractional will be right for some people, charter from aircraft management companies will be right for certain people and we [XOJet] will be right for certain people. We don't have the mind-set that our approach is superior. We have the mindset that our approach is well defined and when we're matched with the right customer, we get exceptional results.
XOJet is a private aviation company based in Brisbane, Calif. It offers charter flights and various programs such as Coast2Coast, which provides incentives for U.S. transcontinental travelers. Last week, XOJet announced an initiative called the Platinum Partner Network, which will allow customers to access its specialty programs through select charter brokers.