Choosing board members is a critical part of managing a corporation. They can help lead a company in to the future, or steer it to its demise. For key issues like logistics and productivity, having a Board member with Business Aviation experience is highly beneficial. Having Directors with some prior knowledge in this form of transportation can help guide Board discussions regarding the benefits of an aircraft and how best to manage such an asset. Hopefully new Board members would at least look objectively at the productivity enhancements that accrue from the efficiency of travel via business aircraft.
For example, should the business aircraft be used exclusively by senior leadership or should it be used in a more egalitarian manner, available to a broad cross-section of the company? Having had experience with an aircraft, combined with the knowledge of the corporate mission, an aviation-minded Board member is better prepared to address such issues. I have seen the successful use of the business aircraft as a company shuttle. One corporation I worked with has two main operating locations. In addition to senior leadership using the business jet, top management opens the remaining seats on the company aircraft to any employee with a business purpose traveling between the locations. The CEO of that corporation sits on another Board and is a proponent of maximizing the use of the business aircraft.
In helping the senior leadership define and evolve the mission of the corporation, an aviation-minded Board member can assist in the strategic discussions of how best to take advantage of the business aircraft. For example, I assisted a corporation that was expanding its operations in Asia. They debated purchasing a global business jet to transport their executives from the US to Asia, but the Board was hesitant about costs. Charter was an option, as was fractional ownership. A Board member whose own company did business in Asia helped them understand the pros and cons of the various options. He knew where to find expert advice both from within the company’s flight department and from the spectrum of available aviation consultants. As a result of his guidance, the Board was confident in their decision to purchase the global business jet.
There are times when the personal use of a business aircraft by the CEO becomes a publicity issue. Even when 99% of use is business, the appearance that the company’s aircraft is the personal limousine for top management can leave shareholders upset, as well irritate employees. This issue can be front page news if the corporation has just released a bad earnings report. Sometimes, “Sell the plane!” is the emotional—and wrong—reaction to that negative press. A Board member with business aircraft experience can be a voice of reason. He or she can help craft a public reply justifying the aircraft as a business tool, or perhaps even raise the ethics and discuss the issue internally before controversy surfaces.
The strongest reason for having Board members who are familiar with aviation relates to fiduciary oversight of the flight department. An active Board should be diligent in evaluating whether the corporation has the adequate resources it needs to achieve its goals. Part of that oversight should be evaluating how well existing transportation options facilitate enhanced productivity. When a company has a flight department, Board oversight must address how well the company aircraft serves the corporate mission.
Metrics should be developed so that both management and the flight department have a clear view of how well they are doing. Cost per hour and total budget do not tell the whole story. Does the flight department have the right aircraft for the mission? Does the department have good leadership currently, and is it developing within future managers the management and business skills needed to maintain flight department excellence? A Board member with aviation experience will help with the review and management of the flight department while ensuring the optimum use of the aircraft as a business resource.
A knowledgeable and involved Board of Directors is an important ally to senior leadership as well as the source of oversight and guidance that shareholders require. Having a Board member with aviation experience can broaden the vision and effectiveness of a corporation’s governing body, particularly when issues of productivity and optimum use of time are discussed.