Born on the 4th of July: Q&A with Brad Stewart, XOJET's New CEO
SAN FRANCISCO, March 27, 2013 /PRNewswire-iReach/ -- Aviation was a theme in Brad Stewart's life even before he was born: His parents met on a charter jet flight—he was a professional hockey player, she was a flight attendant. When Stewart's father retired, the family settled first in Cleveland—where Stewart was born on the U.S. bicentennial, July 4, 1976—and then in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. Stewart took his first flying lessons at the age of 19 and has been an aviation enthusiast ever since.
Though he pursued a successful career in management consulting and private equity, eventually his path brought him back to aviation. This February, Stewart took over the controls as CEO. We sat down with him recently and asked him to talk about his life and career, and his vision for the future of XOJET.
XOJET: How did you get involved in aviation?
BJS: It started back when I was at the University of Minnesota. I was a line captain on the weekends at Executive Aviation, a large fixed base operator. I became friends with one of the customers. I took care of his plane, he'd fly me around because I was into aviation, and then he recruited me into his boutique investment firm.
XOJET: So you didn't pursue an aviation career.
BJS: No. After graduating, I went to Deloitte Consulting for about three years before getting my MBA at Columbia University. Then I went to McKinsey & Company and loved it there.
XOJET:You met your wife at McKinsey & Company, correct?
BJS: I did. She and I had the same name—her name is Brady Stewart—and we were getting each other's emails. One of my friends worked in the L.A. office with her, and he texted me saying "There's this girl who's got the same name as you. You have to meet her." We did meet three months later, and we've been together ever since.
XOJET: How did you end up in private equity?
BJS: While I was at McKinsey & Company, I had a couple of private equity firms recruit me, and I ended up accepting a position with Parthenon Capital Partners. Moving to the private equity world was a transformative experience. I discovered that I loved the idea of fixing companies—redesigning their future and their strategy, transforming the front line.
XOJET: What was your role when you joined XOJET as senior advisor?
BJS: I was tasked with helping the company create a more professional sales force and a more professional distribution model, and to help establish a clear sense of who XOJET is.
The first step was information gathering and analysis. I asked a lot of questions and listened while conducting an intense analysis of the company's financials, marketing materials, pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I kept an ongoing email dialogue going with other people on the project. Eventually, three themes emerged: scale, utilization and pricing.
Based on these themes, we developed a set of key metrics that we tied to our success. Within six months, we were starting to make real changes, gaining traction and propelling the company towards a charter model.
XOJET: Turning to the future, how would you characterize XOJET's opportunity?
BJS: XOJET's opportunity hinges on the idea that the world of private aviation has fundamentally changed. Customers now want options. You have to provide an integrated offering with a range of services and fleet types.
Part of what's made our growth possible is that we try to listen to the marketplace and respond quickly and decisively. The XOJET Preferred Access program is a great example. You can use that program however you like, and whether you want to book in advance or last-minute, you still get savings. Again, it's about creating options.
Our goal now is to serve our customers to the best of our abilities, in the way they really need a provider to serve them. At every step, we ask ourselves, "Who is the customer? What is the customer asking for?"
XOJET: Talk about the recent extension of XOJET's fleet.
BJS: More than 70% of all private flying in North America is on light or mid-size jets. Through our alliance with Travel Management Company, we have access to the nation's largest fleet of light and mid-size jets. It's a perfect complement to what we are. The customer who wants consistency and value knows that by coming to us, they know who's operating the plane, what the pricing is going to be, and whether they can get availability. It's simple, straightforward, and transparent.
XOJET: What kind of challenges do you face?
BJS: I think the industry has been opaque in terms of letting customers know what they're paying for and what the lifetime value of their product might really be. That's created a certain level of distrust in customers. So we have to infuse confidence in our customers that they're getting a fair deal.
The second challenge we face is service integrity. We're in a customer service business—we exist to make our clients happy.
XOJET: Speaking of, what role do our pilots play in that equation?
BJS: Our pilots play a critical role in this area. I get customer feedback daily that our pilots come across as highly professional and highly trained, and they go out of their way to create a connection with our customers. Our pilots genuinely want all our customers to feel welcome.
XOJET: What would you most like to articulate about your position—and XOJET—now?
BJS: I'm incredibly excited about my new role. I feel fortunate to be here because I believe completely in XOJET's future. Our best days are ahead.
Media Contact: Amanda Schuon XOJET, 310-550-7200, firstname.lastname@example.org
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