There is a common theme I am beginning to recognise amongst successful business leaders I meet. Almost inexplicable; it’s just a feeling that radiates and explains instantly why said person has risen to the very top of their trade. Jahid Fazal-Karim is no different.
Forging his way through the aviation industry and creating opportunity from the depths of the 2008 financial crash, Jahid has taken Jetcraft from a successful US-based organisation and blossomed the company into a multi-billion, world leader in business jet transactions.
Tell me a little more about your upbringing and life before Jetcraft – has aviation always been your passion?
Hailing from Madagascar, air travel was a necessity to reach the wider world, and so it may have been here that my inspiration was sparked. Following that, I headed to France to study aerospace engineering, and then to the UK, where a Masters in Air Transport Management was gained from the prestigious Cranfield. I then returned to France, joining Airbus in Toulouse ahead of time spent in the US with Bombardier. You could say, therefore, that global aviation is in my blood.
I think you’re being a little too modest, here. You must have been somewhat successful at both Airbus and Bombardier in order to take-up your position here at Jetcraft. What exactly did you achieve?
At Airbus, I joined the marketing team and was able to work my way up to the position of Vice President of Business Development and Asset Management. Moving over to the more commercial side with Bombardier, I was fortunate enough to be able to head up a 100-strong sales team as Senior Vice President of worldwide sales. I suppose you could just look at their share price increase over this period if you wish to see a matrix of success.
Okay, credentials established! So, what sparked the move to Jetcraft, given your successful track-record thus far. You mentioned 2008. Did the financial crisis of the time play any part in this decision?
I would say it is fairer to put my decision down to opportunity. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I’d like to think that I have inherited the same instincts. At that period in my career, I was successful but wanted to create something on my own. What I saw in Jetcraft back then is what I still see today – a niche business opportunity that had not been explored by others. Yes, the 2008 crash may have influenced the market to create this opening, but it required years of experience to have the foresight to realise just how great of an opportunity it could be.
Are you able to explain what this niche is?
A real understanding of the market is required to appreciate the complexities. Essentially, we sit somewhere in between the manufacturers and the myriad of smaller brokers who operate around the globe. By understanding the market as we do, we can facilitate the movement of jets right from their construction, all the way through their serviceable life across multiple owners. If we match the right jet to the right buyer at the right time, business success is assured.
If I’m following this correctly, you sell the same jet more than once?
Often multiple times over its lifespan.
Tell me a little more about the overall appeal for owning private jets. We all appreciate luxury, but what are the real business benefits?
Time and flexibility. How valuable is your time? Top-level business people are the highest-paid members of their respective organisations, and therefore some of the most important. Even if you consider the closest alternative option of chartering a jet, what is the cost to the business if a potential client changes their plans last-minute and you have a flight scheduled? Owning a jet affords you the ability to be flexible and communicates a message of respect to your customers. I can’t think of a more fitting way to solidify a business relationship in the modern world.
Is that the example you’d give to somebody weighing up the decision between charter and ownership?
No, not at all. In fact, for those entering the market, we actively encourage the use of charter aircraft. We know their constraints and know that those limitations will ultimately sell the idea of ownership on our behalf. Again, that respect we show to our prospective clients will pay dividends in the future.
I get the sense that there’s slightly more to it than that, though. I read somewhere that taking into account the hours of personal use against the hours available to charter elsewhere is an important consideration. Is that true?
Yes, of course. It is no secret that owning a private jet is a significant financial commitment. But, as with all business assets, a balance can be struck to offset costs by chartering elsewhere whilst the aircraft is not required for use by the owner. There are many factors involved here with determining operational costs and potential income, however, so I wouldn’t believe anything you may read on this matter as the margin for error is just too great.
So, from an investment viewpoint, is it possible to manage a private jet to the point where you can offset your costs and eventually turn a profit at the end of its lifespan?
In theory, yes. But if you ever manage to succeed practically there’s a spot on my board for you. With so many variables and unforeseeable events, it is the complete wrong idea for anybody to think that they can simply just sell-on a jet at the end, having balanced all expenditure thus far. It’s much more complex than you’d think, and unfortunately just not a realistic scenario.
Time. That point resonates with me. Has your use of private aircraft allowed you greater control of your time?
In many ways, sure. However, when one is given more time, the instinct is to fill it. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to not fill that regained time with more work. It’s just who I am. I used to regularly play tennis, now I struggle to fit it in. One commitment I must work harder to achieve is family time. I cannot overstate how important it is to spend quality hours with those you love most. My family is the driving force behind all that I achieve.
Moving back to Jetcraft itself, then. Can you give us an idea as to the success you’ve managed to bring to the company? You’ve explained your business strategy. Just what has come from this?
When I bought 50% of the company back in 2008, there were 12 employees and Jetcraft was primarily a US-based organisation. Following my purchase of the remaining 50% in 2016, we now have over 60 employees and have just moved our global headquarters to London. I instilled the ethos in the team of “everything we do is about the client”, and it has truly paid off. It’s not been all my work, however. Bucky, our founder, had put in the place a sound foundation on which to build our pyramid upon. I will continue this sound foundation by ensuring the company culture remains welcoming – Our summer family retreats are just one example of this.
It seems to me as if you owe your success to the human element of the company. Is that a fair assessment?
Definitely. In a diverse business world, different cultures will always have their customs, and tailoring to those is the only way to put a customer at ease. People are the key to that trust and rapport. If you get the people right, the rest can essentially be learnt.
I can see your success, and I can feel the passion in which it comes from. But what about the future – what’s next?
If you’ve learnt anything from me today, it’s that I’m always striving to improve and looking to the future. For the first time in history, Jetcraft has been able to forecast the market for the next 5 years regarding both new and pre-owned aircraft sales. The intricacies behind this document are immense, but it is only by analysing the past that we can gain a sense of the future.
However, it is not all about the numbers. We take into account trends and the human feelings at play. For example, ten years ago, many buyers felt a stigma against buying a pre-owned jet. That has now passed. We predict that the pre-owned market will grow significantly quicker than the new market, with an estimation that transaction numbers of pre-owned will surpass those of new aircraft in 2023. This allows us to structure our business accordingly and ensure longevity of success.