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Bryon Burbage was named president of Hawthorne Global Aviation Services on May 6, 2015. Business Airport International talks to the man himself about what the role means and how he will move the company forward
How does it feel to be named president of Hawthorne Global Aviation?
I am challenged, honored and ready. Having served as CFO for the past three years, I know what drives the business. I feel confident in the future of our business and feel well prepared having had the experience of serving as CFO. We are a service company, so I will be making a transition in my new role as president toward a more external focus on customers and on the constituents we serve.
What is your first task in the new role?
My first task was to formalize our senior management team as a cohesive group, and that’s well underway. We have tremendous experience, talent and skills represented by the five members of the team. My job is to get us all aligned and expediting our path forward. It’s energizing. We already have a prioritized game plan for this next generation of leadership for the organization. It’s a team approach and we’re already taking action.
How does your previous experience in finance and accounting help you in the role of President? Are there any cross overs between the previous companies you’ve worked for and Hawthorne?
I know what drives the bottom line results. We can’t save our way to profitability. I know from experience that if we invest in high caliber people and quality facilities and equipment to provide a premier standard of service, we will attract loyal customers to Hawthorne. I have a good sense of the financial drivers of our business that will serve us well to stay on course.
I have worked in public accounting and consulting, been in senior management of other private equity-backed companies, and have worked in manufacturing and service companies. I’ve even owned and operated a restaurant. Every experience has contributed to my ability to work with people and manage a business. In other words, I have experience in everything from mopping the floors to making the payroll. In the FBO and private jet charter business, all of those skills will come in handy.
How will you grow the company over the next few years?
We are committed to expanding the Hawthorne network of FBOs and that will be primarily by acquisition. Hawthorne is creating a boutique network of premium FBOs. We have anchor locations in New York (Long Island MacArthur Airport), Chicago (Chicago Executive Airport) and Atlanta (Cobb County Airport). Now we’re starting to fill in with additional markets, such as Chippewa Valley Regional Airport, in Eau Claire County, Wisconsin, that joined last year, and we are working on a few more. We have committed capital to sponsor our growth by acquisition into a sizable network. Of course, we will also grow organically by expanding our service offerings in more locations. Our charter and maintenance businesses are growing that way.
Which geographical areas are you seeing the most growth and opportunity in?
We are focused on continental US locations and feel there’s plenty of opportunity here. We like both coasts and everything in between.
What other trends are you seeing in terms of customer numbers, types of jets handled, and so on?
Almost every trend is heading in the right direction. Flight activity is up in all locations. Average fuel uplifts are up. Charter hours are up. Maintenance activity is up. These are all good trends that are consistent with an improving economy. In our competitive FBO locations, we are pleased to see our market share improving and delighted to see more and more customers coming to Hawthorne.
What makes a successful FBO?
The industry has changed significantly over the last 20 years. There’s an art to consistently providing quality FBO facilities and amenities along with outstanding service and a ‘can do’ customer service attitude. It seems that some FBOs are so focused on process that they lose their focus on service and personality. That’s what distinguishes Hawthorne as a boutique FBO network. We can’t be all things to all people but wherever you see the Hawthorne sign, you know that name stands for quality service and a good value. I think that’s what makes an FBO successful.
What are the main challenges affecting the business aviation industry at the moment and how can these be addressed?
Our industry will always have its challenges of the day. The health of the industry is generally aligned with GDP, so things are improving for the most part. I’m always on the lookout for issues at and around our airports — making sure that we are good neighbors — and making sure that Hawthorne is an advocate for the benefits of business aviation in the communities we serve. We are the front door to some of our nation’s most important markets. While this is a national issue, the only way to address it is with local action. I advocate close working relationships with our airport authorities and our community leaders. It takes all of us working together to ensure that our business aviation airports are recognized for their vital role in the economy.
May 14, 2015
Interview by Hazel King.