SBJ: What has been key to your recent growth?
Mark Burgess: Once COVID and travel restrictions eased up, people went back to travel. People who didn’t get to travel for a long time could justify a private jet charter if they didn’t do it before. A lot of them had given up on airlines, which were in bad shape with staffing, meeting schedules or fist fights over COVID restrictions. That’s part of what’s pushed our numbers up.
SBJ: What are your top issues when it comes to managing growth?
Burgess: Crew staffing is a real problem in our industry and the airline industry. For the last year, I was running my staff to death and having them work way too hard for my comfort level and their comfort level. We had to back up on the number of flights we were accepting. I turn down business every day.
SBJ: What has your company’s growth enabled you to do?
Burgess: It’s allowed us to expand our equipment and crew. We’ve been able to justify trying to buy some airplanes, though they’re hard to get right now, and prices are overinflated, just like with houses and cars. We hired more pilots and added another airplane last year. We had a contract to purchase as many as nine or 10 different airplanes, but people were stepping in front of us and paying exorbitant money for them. We picked up one in 2021, and we’re probably picking up another airplane this month.
SBJ: Is there such a thing as growing too fast?
Burgess: You end up straining your resources. We had to basically back up and put a lot of restrictions in place on what time of day we can leave, how many flight legs we’ll do in a day, that kind of thing. Customers don’t like it that way, but it’s the only way we can do it without losing crew or losing staff. We’re not taking on new clients because we can’t always take care of our existing customer base. We’re pretty limited right now. If somebody is coming in off the street and wanting to grab an ad hoc trip, we’re probably not going to be able to do that.
SBJ: Have your goals changed as business has taken off?
Burgess: No, not really. We still have long-term goals we want to be able to do. We already do international travel, but a long-term goal is maybe to do Hawaii and Europe. We’ve had to put those on the back burner, but we want to get bigger aircraft that can go the distance. Once things plateau in the next year, we may look at that.
SBJ: What’s the worst business advice you’ve ever received?
Burgess: The worst business advice is people saying you can’t do it. Most of the time that comes from bankers and people who have never done it before. I hate to throw them under the bus, but they’ll tell you all the reasons you can’t do it when they’ve never done it themselves. If you’ve started a business, even if you’ve failed, I want to listen to you. If you’re sitting behind a desk, how can you know what it’s like?
SBJ: What’s the best advice?
Burgess: I’ve just learned from trial and error and making my own mistakes. The best business advice was encouragement from other business owners who were encouraging to me. If you’ve got a dream to build something and do it, go out and do it.
A lot happens behind the scenes at the Springfield Art Museum.