Jordan Hansell knew nothing about aviation when he started as general counsel at NetJets Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway company, in 2009.
Evidently, he’s a quick learner. As NetJets celebrates 50 years this month, the private aviation business is growing faster than ever — expanding into China and adding 425 new aircraft to its fleet.
Despite following a nontraditional path to leadership, Hansell, chairman and CEO, has found his outside viewpoint helpful.
“It would have been a disadvantage had I not had a very experienced group of folks here with me,” he says. “But because I did have that, in many respects it was an advantage, because I could come in without the encumbrance of knowledge or facts and form opinions, and in some sense help everybody on the team with a fresher perspective.
“But that only works if you’ve got a pretty strong foundation of folks around you or you run the risk of running off in a silly direction,” Hansell says.
That foundation is imperative in the aviation industry, which has been volatile for both scheduled and private airline businesses.
“I think that’s what makes what NetJets has done with its 50th anniversary so remarkable,” he says.
“That’s partly because of the hard work and vision of the folks who started the business and created the fractional product. That’s partly a result of being part of Berkshire Hathaway since 1998 and having access to its financial stability.
“And partly, that’s a result, in my view, of having the best group of aviation professionals in the world who focus exclusively on what’s important — and that’s servicing our owners,” Hansell says.
Here’s how the company that manages and operates the largest and most diverse private jet fleet in the world has engineered success as Hansell gets 6,000 employees to focus on what’s important.
In for the long haul
Reputation can be an immensely powerful value proposition in today’s business environment.
NetJets is in a business that requires large capital allocation decisions, such as buying new aircraft for the purposes of resale. In 2012, the company ordered roughly $17.6 billion worth of aircraft.
“There’s no way to do that, in my mind — and do it effectively and with the patience that’s required — unless you have someone like Berkshire behind you. And there aren’t many someones like Berkshire,” Hansell says. “So from our perspective, it’s a distinct competitive advantage.”
The ownership group not only provides financial backing, it gives customers peace of mind.