Celebrating 20 Years of Service & Safety20 QUESTIONS WITH JAMIE WALKER
As the company celebrates 20 years of business, Jamie Walker, Jet Linx President and CEO, reflects on business, family and what it means to provide a truly unique customer service experience.
1. What was your upbringing like and how does it translate to being part of a family business?
We (me, my three brothers and sister) were always encouraged to figure things out on our own and be entrepreneurial. While growing up, there wasn’t a family business to join, so it only made sense to find our own opportunities. A series of unplanned events led to me jumping into a new business with my father – he purchased a jet, wanted to find a way to lower his expenses to own it, but didn’t have the time to figure it out due to his other business commitments. I was living and working in New York flipping residential real estate in lower Manhattan when 9/11 happened. Rather than purchase the next building I was working on in the wake of 9/11, I took 12 months off for the market to correct itself, it was then that I fell into helping figure out Jet Linx – I had the time my father didn’t to spend working on the business!
2. When you went to college, did you know what you wanted to do?
No, I changed my major from Business to English with a minor in Marketing & Journalism. The best learning experience I went through in college was starting and operating a t-shirt business –it gave me a great crash course in business for sales, cash flow management, sourcing vendors, networking relationships, managing team members, etc.
3. What is a lesson you learned early on that’s stuck with you throughout your career?
When I lived and worked in New York, I was in a cut-throat industry that quickly taught me not everyone operates with the same business ethics and values. This was a necessary and valuable lesson for me out of college.
4. When did you discover your passion for private aviation?
I’m not sure when this occurred.I definitely love the industry and all aspects of it, but I joined Jet Linx due to the business challenge and potential career opportunity it presented. If Jet Linx was in the widget business and posed the same challenge and opportunity, I would be selling widgets today. The trappings of operating private jet aircraft all over the world, meeting our clientele and learning their unique stories, and all the great things associated with the industry is really the icing on the cake.
5. What is so entrepreneurial about the Jet Linx model?
Jet Linx is still the first and only national operator that has committed to serving each and every one of its clients on a local, personal basis. We commit to this level of service to provide a truly elevated customer service experience. No one engaging with a service like this should have to dial a 1-800 number and be served by strangers with a floating fleet – they deserve better service than that for the price tag associated. They should be served by a local team, fly on locally-based aircraft, with people they know and trust. That’s our difference.
6. What is your approach to management and what is your leadership mantra?
While the foundation of Jet Linx is built upon many faces across 18 local Bases nationwide, we are one company. The concept of harnessing the power of a national operation through local service suggests that we are one team and together, can accomplish more.
7. What values have you instilled and do you reinforce in Jet Linx as a company?
From day one, it’s been about our people. We felt if we could attract the best people to our team, we’d provide the best service to our clients. Therefore, 20 years later we are in the very fortunate position that our core values are not aspirational; they’re a reflection of who we are in practice and who we’ve been as a company since our inception in 1999. Selflessness, dedication, enthusiasm, integrity and compassion are the core values embedded in Jet Linx’s cultural DNA.
8. In the private aviation industry, how do you achieve ambitious goals without risking failure?
The risks we take to grow and improve the organization are very calculated, especially today. We don’t make the decisions for changes in a vacuum – its always a round table discussion with a variety of thought leaders in the organization, across many departments. It’s only through the collection of those various perspectives shared that we shape the best plan and approach change, which in turn mitigates risks while allowing us to evolve.
9. Can you describe what it has been like to grow Jet Linx from one location to 18?
It seems like a whirlwind when looking back now, we added the 17 locations outside of Omaha (where we’re headquartered) in just the last 10 years. But during this period of rapid growth, it felt like it was taking forever. We knew we had something unique to offer the marketplace and wanted to roll it out as quickly as possible. This was in part to take advantage of the much less competitive marketplace that existed during the recession and in part to beat any would-be competitors that might try to duplicate our unique local service model. In hindsight, we were the only ones bold enough to grow a private jet company during the worst of the recession, so there wasn’t going to be any competitors. But today the marketplace is once again very noisy with pop-up private jet companies, so it was great to have rolled out as many locations as we did before the noise started up again.
10. Where is Jet Linx going in 2020?
With our northeast expansion of Boston and New York this year, we see Jet Linx moving into Florida in 2020 and then setting our sites on the west coast. We’re excited to begin offering our unique services to clients living in those regions.
11. What qualities do you look for in Jet Linx team members?
While we look for someone who possesses all five of our core values, I find that those team members with a high degree of selflessness are the most unique and therefore the hardest to find. If you can find those team members that truly care about the team, clients and our mission more than themselves, while possessing the dedication, enthusiasm, integrity and compassion needed, they rise to the top as our most successful leaders.
12. Do you see self-flying aircraft like the soon-to-be-realized self-driving cars?
Yes, I think life will imitate art and we will someday see self-flying aircraft, but it’s still a long ways off. I think projects like Uber Elevate for urban aerial ridesharing and Amazon Prime Air for urban drone delivery will help the industry blaze this trail. The gating factor will be regulating it and keeping the public safe. Companies like Uber and Amazon have the ability to invest and lead the regulatory change required. It will be exciting to watch it evolve.
13. What qualities do Jet Linx clients share?
Jet Linx attracts a clientele who values the service and safety only we are able to offer through our unique local business model. They want to know and trust the people providing the service – they don’t want to deal with a call center providing a different aircraft and crew for every flight.
14. How do you know when you’ve had a successful day at work?
There’s not a single event that quantifies “a successful day at work.” It could be the launch of a new initiative we’ve been working on for months, or the celebration of a team member’s anniversary, or receiving a thank you note from a client, etc. There are a lot of different ways I see us achieve success on a daily basis. The good thing for us is we experience a lot more days of success than failure, because there are days where I feel we’ve failed. But those days of failure lead us to improve and find future days of success.
15. What is the one thing you can’t travel without?
My laptop. I feel lost without my laptop, which is silly because I have everything I need on my smartphone. But I’m always afraid I’ll need to prepare, review or edit a document and won’t have my laptop on me to do it. I need to cut the cord and be confident I can travel and keep everything moving from my smartphone.
16. What do you consider the greatest accomplishment of Jet Linx in its first 20 years?
I’d say the greatest accomplishment wasn’t actually related to hitting a goal, it was surviving and thriving during the recession from 2009 to 2014. Like all businesses going into the recession, we took an initial hit that gave us concern for the future, but we stayed committed to the long-term plan and forged ahead by investing in the company despite the headwinds of the economy. We went for it! We added our first Base Partner location outside of Omaha in July of 2009. We really had to muscle through and convince ourselves the model would succeed when the economy was doing everything it could to prove us wrong. It is the greatest accomplishment for our team and company in its 20 years.
17. How do you see air travel continuing to evolve?
Commercial air travel has evolved from a romantic pastime to a necessary mode of transportation for the masses – it’s crowded airports, full flights and no frills. Private aviation has evolved to preserve the love of air travel while maximizing its efficiency as a business tool. Our recent partnership with Forbes Travel Guide is another step to ensure we preserve the experience. I see this gap between commercial and private only widening in the future. I also see Jet Linx defining the difference for private aviation, with us at the furthest end of the spectrum from commercial. We’ve already vacated the FBO setting and invested in our own private terminals for this very reason. We want to handhold the experience for our clients and provide them with a secure, private and controlled environment.
18. Can you describe the company’s investments in technology to better the client experience?
While the cornerstone of all of our improvements continues to be built upon our unique local approach, we believe the application of the right mobile app technologies will allow us to further enhance the customer service experience. It will allow the client to simplify their engagement with us for real-time for quoting, booking, and flightsharing through the newly launched OpenSeat Exchange – which will in turn allow us to spend even more time personally serving our clients and providing them with the industry’s best private jet experience.
19. How do you stay on top of the latest trends in private aviation?
I read a lot of news, varying from publications about aviation, technology, the global economy, etc. I then try and apply all of the things going on around us to Jet Linx, and to position Jet Linx for positive outcomes related to those changes taking place.
20. Where do you see Jet Linx going in the next 20 years?
Jet Linx will be the international brand of choice for Jet Card members and aircraft owners around the world, which comes second to being the domestic brand of choice. The U.S. marketplace will remain the core of our business for another 20 years.