Fly to Make the Deal, Insights from Hotel Magnate Jack DeBoer
07.15.15 · Deanna Harms
Few entrepreneurs extol the virtues of business aviation as well or as colorfully as Jack DeBoer. The hotel magnate has used aircraft throughout his storied career – from being one of the largest apartment builders in the United States in the early 1970s to founding four hotel brands: Residence Inn, Summerfield Suites, Candlewood Suites and Value Place. He pioneered the concept of extended-stay and all-suite hotels.
Up Close With the Citation Latitude
DeBoer hosted the Wichita Aero Club’s July meeting at his hangar at Jabara Airport. He shared billing with a gleaming, new Cessna Citation Latitude making its first local public appearance. The $16 million midsize jet received Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) type certification in June. Textron Aviation CEO Scott Ernest and Cessna Chairman Emeritus Russ Meyer were both on hand for plane talk. And there’s a lot to discuss. A new fuselage design. A 2,700-nautical-mile range at high-speed cruise. The most spacious cabin in its category. A longtime Cessna-aircraft owner, the towering DeBoer seemed most impressed with its flat floor and 6-foot-tall cabin.
The Need for Speed
An anecdote DeBoer shared illustrates how he could never have accomplished what he has in his career without private aircraft. He told of a time back in the Residence Inn days, when he was sitting in the back of his ready-to-takeoff Learjet 24, about to kick back with a bottle of scotch. He got a call from a broker with a hot land deal a seller wanted to make. Now. DeBoer tucked the bottle away, walked up to the cockpit (well, more like crawled, he said, since it wasn’t a stand-up cabin) and instructed the crew of the change in destination. “That one deal paid for all this bullshit,” DeBoer said gesturing about him.
Time and again, business aircraft have proven to be vital business tools – when used correctly. “Airplanes make money. Airplanes also cost money,” said DeBoer. “Don’t do it on the cheap. That’s how people get hurt.”
Insights From the Left Seat
An experienced pilot with 6,000 flight hours, DeBoer credits his stellar safety record with “always flying with someone better than me.” He holds the 3-kilometer world speed record for jet aircraft under 18,000 pounds. In 1988, he and his wife, Marilyn, flew his Gulfstream II around the world in a four-month, life-changing journey to study the world’s most pressing needs.
This led to their current, deep involvement with World Vision. Today, even at age 84, it takes a fleet of aircraft to keep up with him and his management team. DeBoer acknowledged that business aircraft can be used for non-business purposes. “But that’s not why you have them,” he said. “No one can operate them just for fun.”
Time To Do Things Right
DeBoer primarily spoke about his use of aircraft for business, but he also ballyhooed his largely unsung enterprise, Wichita Air Services. It employs a dozen people, operates and manages five private aircraft, has brought home multiple wins from Oshkosh and Reno and, quite impressively, has operated jet aircraft without incident for 47 years. A branch north of Wichita restores war birds and vintage aircraft from around the world. A recently renovated Lockheed Electra will soon head to a museum in Prague, Czech Republic.
Telling It Straight
DeBoer also drew from his book, Risk Only Money, and the business lessons he shares in its pages. That could be one of DeBoer’s greatest strengths as a presenter. He doesn’t just highlight what went right in his career, but also his mistakes. The things he had to learn the hard way. He spoke about the perils of ego and how it led to losing his multimillion dollar apartment empire decades ago and even receiving a death threat from one of the many people he owed money. He talked about hitting bottom, then climbing back. Working to achieve success, yes, but even more, to achieve a life of significance.
DeBoer believes there are things we should never jeopardize: family, reputation, self-respect, friendships, health. But money? To him, capital exists to risk, gain, lose and reclaim. And then to do it all over again. As DeBoer points out, win or lose, tomorrow the game begins again. And if you have an aircraft to seal the deal, all the better.
This column ran in the July 16 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.