A conversation with Bob Taylor

12/29/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Bob Taylor, founder of Executive AirShare, a regional fractional ownership company, fell in love with aviation in the midst of a long career in finance.

Taylor, who will turn 67 in a few days, is stepping down as CEO of Executive AirShare effective Jan. 1 to focus on sales and business development of the company.

“I always said I’d gladly throw in the keys if I could be a salesman,” said Taylor, who will serve as the company’s chairman emeritus. Now, “my day job is selling airplanes.”

Keith Plumb, the company’s president and chief operating officer, will assume the role of CEO.

Taylor’s career began as an accountant with Price Waterhouse in Kansas City. He then served as assistant treasurer at the Hesston Corp., director of financial planning and foreign exchange with the Coastal Corp. in Houston, chief financial officer at Rent-A-Center in Wichita, private investment manager at Devlin Enterprises and chairman and CEO of Railroad Financial Corp., along with other ventures.

In 1998, Stan Roth, founder of Wichita-based Executive Aircraft Corp., and his brother, Jim, the company’s vice president, were killed in a plane crash. Taylor was friends with the Roth family.

He was asked to help Stan Roth’s widow with the private company. Taylor became its CEO.

In that role, “I got out there and fell in love with aviation,” Taylor said.

Taylor began taking flying lessons and bought a small Cessna airplane.

In the fall of 2000, Taylor and Plumb started Executive AirShare as a division of Executive Aircraft. Later that year, Taylor helped sell the business for Mrs. Roth, and in 2001, he, Plumb and investor Dave Murfin bought the Executive AirShare part of the business.

Executive AirShare’s headquarters moved from Wichita to Kansas City in 2004. Wichita serves as the company’s maintenance control center. Its markets include Wichita, Kansas City, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas, Fort Worth and Buffalo, N.Y.

The business has grown from two King Airs to 28 fractional aircraft today. It also manages another 19 airplanes.

Taylor grew up in Plainville, north of Hays.

He holds a degree in mathematics and economics from the University of Kansas and a master’s of business administration from the University of Michigan. He became a certified public accountant in 1971.

He and his wife, Kathie, have been married 44 years. They have two children and five grandchildren.

Now that Taylor is changing roles, he will have more free time. He plans to play more golf. He and his wife also like to travel and support KU basketball.

At the same time, Taylor is the non-employee chairman of the board of Elecsys Corp. in Olathe and serves on the board of Blue Valley Bancorp in Overland Park.

What do you like best about the financial part of your career?

After I got into operating companies, I liked the understanding of the profit and loss statements and what you could do to get better results – the financial analysis related to the companies. In finance, I was fortunate to do some work on Wall Street. The thrill of the deal, if you will, is always great.

What got you interested in starting a regional fractional ownership business?

From the very first time I learned about (fractional ownership company) NetJets, I thought that was a really great concept. I view it as a marriage between a financial product and an airplane. How we developed the company, if you stand outside the hangar door and say, “Where do people go and how long do they stay?” the vast majority of flights are 300 to 700 miles, and they leave or come back in a day or two days. That’s how we developed the regional model based on how people fly.

What has been your biggest challenge with the company?

The biggest challenge certainly as a result of the financial crisis was getting funding from banks, and so that environment is a lot better today and the value of owned inventory kept declining.

And on the positive side?

We introduced the (Embraer) Phenoms in 2009, and that’s been a very, very successful plane, both the Phenom 100 and the Phenom 300.

Why is that?

They both fill a very competitive niche. The Phenom 100, if you look at who it competes with is the (Cessna Citation) Mustang. (The Phenom 100) is substantially bigger and has more performance. As a commercial airplane it fills the niche with what I call the lowest cost, quality, high-tech airplane. It’s just a very, very good airplane. Now, Cessna has brought out the M2. They made their first deliveries literally last week. Clearly that will be a solid competitor against the Phenom.

Will you add the Citation M2 to your fleet?

We’ve added the CJ2+ to our fleet. And that has longer range, is faster and carries up to six passengers, where the Phenom 100 carries only four passengers. The M2 is certainly a competitive product. We’re pretty invested in the Phenoms in terms that we have 10 Phenom 100s in our fractional fleet. We’re not looking to make a change.

Your company grew quite a bit in 2013. What is your biggest challenge now?

In 2013, it has been growth in a very positive way. We’ve added about 30 pilots in the last year. Our flight revenues are up 25 to 30 percent. We’ve added CJs to our fleet so that we had to get a whole new group of pilots trained and ready to fly. I would say just gearing up for a larger company.

What’s the most fun thing for you about the business?

Meeting your customers when they go on a flight. They’re going somewhere; we know them. It’s just a positive relationship with our customer. We’ve never had a customer leave over a safety or service issue. We develop a close relationship with our customers. Second, I really do like to sell. I like the thrill of the closing.

You’ve done a lot of things in your career. What are you the most proud of?

Executive AirShare. We’ve grown. There’s only a handful of fractional companies in America. We’ve proven that our regional model works. It’s been fun to grow this company. Just being around aircraft is a lot more fun than doing mortgages or renting TVs.

What’s your best advice to other sales professionals?

(Have) passion about your product. Our program really is the best in terms of cost, quality, safety. So I think to be successful as a salesperson you do have to have passion about your product and your company.

What is your best management advice for others?

Hire good people. You’re only as good as the people who work with you.

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