“Time is our most precious commodity, and there are conveniences that wealth brings to essentially get you more time. —retired Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, explaining why he commutes via private jet from his Seattle home to watch games of the Los Angeles Clippers, the basketball team he bought last year for $2 billion. ”
BJT Management Series: XOJet's Gregg Slow
Gregg Slow was just 7 years old when his mom began working for entrepreneur Richard Santulli, who went on to create NetJets, the fractional-share provider. Looking back, Slow says he always knew that someday he would work in private aviation. He started his career at NetJets in 2001, commuting everyday alongside his mom. Eleven and a half years later, he made the leap to XOJet, where he is now executive vice president of sales and client services, leading a team of more than 35 people, many of whom he hired.
When I met him recently at a press event, I was immediately struck by his candor and business insight. A few days later, I interviewed him for over an hour and came away even more impressed. A colleague who helped transcribe the interview said, “This is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever listened to.”
Gregg Slow is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
My father was an oral surgeon and I fainted at the sight of blood, so there was no way I was going into the family business.
When I started out, I really knew nothing about the [private jet] business. It took me probably a year to understand it, two years to get good, three years to get to where I could feel comfortable sitting down with any CEO in the world and explaining to them why I thought our product was better than anyone else’s.
Sales maximizes my strengths and minimizes my weaknesses. I am probably honest to a fault. I want your business but I don’t have to have it.
I always tell our advisors: “You are not convincing people who don’t want to fly private to fly private. If you do, they are not going to be great customers.”
An important factor in sales is being able to tell somebody, “You know what? I don’t think this works for you and here is why.”
I don’t like hanging around bitter people—life is too short.
It was great having a mom who worked. It was an invaluable experience being able to get her inside perspective on business aviation. One of the things I am most proud of at XOJet is that when I got here we had no women on our sales team and I just hired my eighth female. I believe in the importance of promoting women in the workplace.
My clients know they can call anytime when they are facing an urgent situation and need help. There has been many a night where my wife would tell me to go in the closet because I was talking to a client on the phone and she was trying to sleep.
The individuals who shine in this industry are really good at getting referrals from their customers. What it comes down to is: Give your clients the service they expect and they will tell their friends.
You can never judge a book by its cover. One of my early customers showed up to see an airplane in this beat-up Honda minivan. I am thinking, “Oh my God, what did I get myself into?” He ended up buying a fractional share from me and then eventually bought more hours and traded up.
I could be selling Greyhound buses and I probably would be passionate about that too. It is in my DNA to be passionate.
We are in a business where it’s impossible to have a perfect day. Even if no airplanes break, there will still be ATC delays, weather delays, airline delays, crews getting sick, stuff out of your control.
I am in the safety business first, the service business second and the airplane business third. So there have to be times where a customer wants to get out of Aspen, I can’t get him out of Aspen, and I am really sorry about it. It is important to show empathy and honesty and be proactive with service. If you are sending clients into the mountains and you are not sure if they are going to get in, set up some backup ground transportation.
The leaders on our sales team will tell me if they disagree. There are things that I am good at, and there are things that I am not. So I surround myself with individuals who have the comfort level to tell me things.
When you have employees who don’t know what is going on they feel powerless. But when you can create the right environment for them and give them regular and honest information, they thrive.
Internal relationships are as important as external relationships. I believe in a team-based selling concept. Everybody has got individual sales goals but to really make it you have to work well with your colleagues.
It doesn’t matter how much revenue someone is bringing in if they are compromising the internal environment. I have had to let people go because internally they just could not communicate. You never want to create an internal culture where it is OK for certain people to treat employees in a fashion that is inappropriate. You have to hope that the organization is stronger than the individual.
I don’t mince words during reviews. When somebody is doing a good job, I want them to know; when they are doing a bad job I also want them to know. I do it in a professional and thoughtful manner. Sometimes it is hard to have to tell someone, “Listen, there are some clients who love you and there are some clients who absolutely hate you. And we need to figure out why and get better.”
I took up spinning right before I joined XOJet. The first time I tried it—it’s dark, music blaring, no cell phone, you sort of compete with the people next to you—it was like I had found my perfect exercise environment. It allows me to get such clarity on things going on in my life both personally and professionally.
To be successful you’ve got to be a student of the game. Know who your competition is, what they are good at, what they aren’t good at. Know your business inside and out, why we do things and why we don’t do things. Because when you talk to somebody who is interested in private aviation, they are usually very smart. If you can explain to them the business reasons why something works or doesn’t work, they get it.