Tom Bertels, managing partner at Sullivan Higdon & Sink, fell in love with aviation as a boy.
He would look through old encyclopedias to learn about the parts of an airplane. And he saved money from his newspaper route to buy a ride on a seaplane at Lake of the Ozarks.
He was hooked.
“It’s a disease, isn’t it,” Bertels joked about his passion.
A pilot with instrument and commercial ratings and a former air traffic controller, Bertels is involved in most of the agency’s ongoing client relationships in Wichita and Washington.
About a third of its Wichita business is in the aviation industry.
Sullivan Higdon & Sink employs about 100 people in Wichita and Kansas City. It employs a “couple” of people in Washington, D.C.
Bertels, 58, grew up in northeast Kansas in Nortonville. After high school, he joined the Navy and worked as an air traffic controller.
After the Navy, he worked for six years as an air traffic controller for the Federal Aviation Administration but was caught in the 1981 strike when President Reagan fired thousands of air traffic controllers for walking off the job.
Bertels then went to the University of Kansas, where he majored in communications. After college, he worked at the former King Radio, then joined the Avion Group in Kansas City, where he became a partner. Avion was acquired by Sullivan Higdon. Eventually, Bertels joined the former Raytheon Aircraft as vice president of marketing, then rejoined SHS in 2001.
In aviation, clients include Spirit AeroSystems, Pratt & Whitney, Lycoming, Rocketdyne, TECT, Sojourn and others — everything from small planes to rockets.
Most recently, it worked with Cessna Aircraft on the unveiling of its new Citation Longitude business jet.
At SHS, one team works on aviation, aerospace and defense business. Another is dedicated to its business with Cargill.
A third focuses on local and regional accounts, including the Kansas Health Foundation, Intrust Bank and Westar Energy.
Bertels and his wife, Karen, have a son and a daughter and one grandchild.
When not working, he likes to read, play guitar and is learning to play the banjo.