Jonathan Breeze, 37, founder and chief executive officer of Jet Republic, launched the private jet company last September, placing a $1.5bn order in Europe for 110 Bombardier Lear Jets. In 2011, turnover is forecast to hit $500m, reaching $1bn by 2013.
Breeze began his career in the RAF and, as a Hercules pilot, was involved in humanitarian and evacuation flights.
In 2002, he joined NetJets as a pilot, later becoming an instructor and captain. In 2003, he was asked to set up a commercial office to manage costs, then took over procurement as commercial director.
In June 2007, Breeze led a management team, partnered with Euram, the Austrian private bank, to acquire Travelex’s concierge service. The company, rebranded as WhiteConcierge, is a global concierge business serving banks and private banks.
Breeze, who is based in Lisbon and Geneva, holds an MSc in Air Transport Management. He is a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Did you think you would get to where you are?
No, it was not planned. Typically, when you retire from the RAF at 30, you would join a commercial airline and fly until you retire at 55 or 60.
Nothing could have been further from my mind than setting up my own company. I must have been 32 when I realised that there was an opportunity to move into business jet aviation. I was the commercial director until 2004 for our only competitor, one of my former employers, NetJets, owned by Warren Buffett’s company Berkshire Hathaway. As I got more involved in running someone else’s business, I realised that I could do a better job by running an improved version myself.
It is very easy to criticise what goes on around you when you work for someone else, but quite a different matter to use your own resources to try to turn those weaknesses into an opportunity. I committed a significant amount of wealth I had created from other businesses. We are talking about an eight-figure sum, many millions of dollars.
When we made the decision to buy 110 aircraft, we knew there was a financial meltdown coming. In some respects, you have everything going for you in a recession. You have got a choice of staff because the best pilots are coming out of the military and the airlines are not recruiting. And when you talk to manufacturers, they really need you.
Jet Republic is on track to be turning over more than $1m a day next year.
What is the secret of your success?
Hard work, an eye for an opportunity, and the ability to recruit teams, because these things are always people businesses.
What I have ended up doing is creating a technical and behavioural performance specification for our pilots. I would never step in for an absent pilot myself because then it would mean that the business could not carry on without me, which certainly isn’t the case.
How did you feel after raising more than $1bn?
I was humbled. You spend so much time and energy on a project, then other people who are not connected to the industry coldly analyse it and give you a cheque. Raising the money was an extraordinary achievement, but it only got me to the start line.
Euram Bank, based in Vienna, funded the business and put together its own customer base of investors. The funding covered substantial deposits on 110 aircraft, plus starting up the airline operation, which has so far involved hiring staff from all over Europe. Our first aircraft are delivered this year, so we are on target for a $150m turnover, which should rise to about $350m next year.
What is your basic business philosophy?
Serve the customer. Our job is to take them from where they are to where they want to be, as effortlessly as possible. You are treating a customer in a way you expect to be treated at your favourite restaurant. Most don’t do that well.
We pay attention to every detail. It is personal service and attention to detail that can keep a business afloat. You realise from day one that the customer is king. You cannot fail on customer service.
Do you want to carry on till you drop?
It is a good question. The thing is, I love what I’m doing and, as long as I am doing what I am passionate about, why should I stop? I understand people who are fed up with their jobs and want to retire but I hope I am never in that position.
Have you had time for personal financial planning?
I work with a couple of private banks, and have begun to discuss long-term financial planning with them. I work with tax advisers in the UK, Portugal and in Switzerland, where I am based.
What was your most prudent investment?
It was quitting my job and backing myself with my own resources to help purchase WhiteConcierge, my first company. I sold my flat in London and I took out the equity I had in another house. I also quit the best paying job I ever had – in doing so, giving up hundreds of thousands a year of income from Air Partner, the company I joined after NetJets. If you don’t do it, then you don’t deserve the success because you don’t risk anything.
Have you made any pension provision?
I have a small RAF pension that I will get at 65 and I imagine it will be worth very little. Beyond that, I do not have a formal plan. I hope that, with the success of Jet Republic, I will not need to worry about a pension, but I intend to have a diverse portfolio of cash, investment properties and the business.
Have you taken steps to pass on your wealth?
I’ve made a basic will, because I was obliged to in the RAF. As for estate planning, I have not done that yet. It needs to be addressed in the near future.
What is your attitude to philanthropy?
I think philanthropy is the next phase of my life. I would like to formalise how specific charities can benefit from a percentage of my investments, giving them long-term benefits.
Do you allow yourself the odd indulgence?
When I can, I like to ski, mostly in the French Alps but a little in Switzerland as well. The indulgence is taking time out from running the business. I go away on a Friday and come back on Monday. I was a downhill ski racer for the RAF. I probably had more courage than talent but I certainly enjoyed it.
What is your money saving tip in the recession?
Buy a fraction of an aircraft instead of a whole one. By only spending £1m, you are saving £9m! The majority of my customers are entrepreneurs, many of whom are either selling their own aircraft or who will no longer contemplate a full aircraft purchase.