Leader Q&A: Greg Raiff, founder of Seabrook's Private Jet Services
Private Jet Services is one of the top private aviation firms in the country but remains small and local. Most of the company's 23 employees work out of the Seabrook headquarters.
Greg Raiff started the company in 2003 after meeting his wife and moving to New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Union Leader recently asked Raiff about the secret behind the company's growth, even during the recession, and about the unique and high-profile clients the company serves.
Raiff said he would rather sell his right arm than impact the privacy of his clients, but he did provide some interesting insights.
Raiff has watched a professional sports team he has loved his whole life win a championship, and helped to arrange a salute to the airplane when it flew home. He has also flown with candidates for national office and learned about Fortune 500 company happenings before news hit the Wall Street Journal.
He started his first business as a senior in high school, arranging spring break trips for students. He eventually sold the company to a large Boston-based private equity firm and began looking for his next venture.
Q. How did you come to start Private Jet Services in 2003?
A. PJS is my third business, and I will tell you that I have fallen in love. The customers and people I get to work with every day are so interesting . from all walks of life, all parts of the globe . It is geography, culture business, ongoing hospitality business turned into a profit-and-loss statement. It has been more fun than anything I could imagine.
What I love about corporate aviation is we work with clients now who understand that the best value is not always the lowest price and there is a built-in incentive to take psychotically good care of our customers because they will come back and do come back. Our business is built on customer repeat ratio which is better than 93 percent.
Q. Can you talk about the service model the business offers?
A. Most people think of private jets and they think of fancy executive jets with leather . and if you do a Google search, there are probably 5,000 companies, all of whom focus on high net worth or the luxury leisure market - taking a wealthy family to see Georgia for the weekend or flying a celebrity to New York or L.A. for "The Tonight Show" or flying a family around to look at college campuses. None of these are mission-critical flights. Our growth came by focusing on those customers where the cost of the transportation was far exceeded by the cost of failing to deliver the customers on time.
One of our growing market segments has been corporate shuttle movements - a Fortune 500 firm buys another firm and they have an 18-month integration plan. You have to move mid-level management and key workers back and forth between two headquarters on an every-day basis.
Another example is flying a rock band into a show the day of the show. You hardly ever hear about a concert getting canceled because they didn't get there. The cost of not delivering that band or artist to that performance in a timely fashion is huge and that's where we live.
Q. Commitment to client care has been the foundation of your business from the start, how do you maintain that personal commitment as the company grows?
A. As the company grows, the single largest challenge for me as CEO is to make sure we get stronger and better instead of weaker. Typically it takes 12 months to train a new employee, relatively. We have PJS concierge service on every single airliner flight that we arrange. We staff it with our own W2ed, in-house employees, dedicated employees, so on some level our growth, which has been quite good and something I'm quite proud of, has limited our ability to staff additional flights. I will not run an airliner trip without our own employee on board.
In 10 years of doing this I have never had a customer roll up to the airport and say there is a problem with our flight, because our staff members are there, working with the airport, airline, crew, workers . aviation is one of those services where things do go wrong. Weather happens, airplanes are machines with a million moving parts that sit outside and rust and break. We are not there to fix it, we are there to fix the problem. That can mean pulling the trigger on the back-up option, it can mean notifying the customer before they leave their house or meeting, it can mean facilitating with a mechanic delivery of a spare part of whatever is needed. Sometimes it is simple, a function of facilitating the communication.
Q. How did you choose Seabrook as the location for company headquarters?
A. Because Seabrook has great infrastructure, great local facilities and services, and it's right next to the Massachusetts border so we've been able to recruit people who work here who live as far as Boston and the South Shore. Then we start seeing people moving into the Seacoast who lived in Newburyport or Boston.
Q. What areas do you see for continued growth and expansion in the future?
A. The market segments that I see as most exciting for the company in the next three years is growing collegiate and professional sports practice and specific areas of the corporate world - high tech, pharmaceuticals - and I'm thrilled to tell you the corporate meeting and incentive market has a pulse again. In 2007 corporate meetings and incentives were a significant chunk of this company's business. In 2009, it was almost zero, so that piece is coming back nicely.
One of the principles we now operate through as a team is to never try to aspire to be the single biggest player in any market, but we want to be the second largest player in every market.
Q. What are some of the unique needs of your often high-profile clients?
A. I have one pro sports team that eats entirely vegan. I have another team in the same league that shows up for every flight with buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. I have a head coach of a team whose favorite food in the entire world, the only thing he will eat even on a six-hour flight from one coast to the other, is Links beef jerky, and it has to be the teriyaki flavor . I have a guitarist who always seems to have a cigarette dangling from his mouth who has to have Fanta . the plane can't take off without it. It doesn't matter if it's nine o'clock in the morning.
For the most part, as wonderful and special as our clients are, the thing that I love about all of them is they are just people. They want to be comforted, taken care of, they want privacy, and they just want to live their lives."