Does private aviation make you successful? No. But it propels the dreams of successful people. People like Austrian racing legend Niki Lauda.
Rush, Ron Howard’s movie about the three-time Formula One world champion, opens in September. Every time I see the promotional trailer, I’m transported back to my interview with Lauda for Bombardier’s Spring 2000 issue of Contrails magazine. At the time, he was running a rapidly growing airline and charter operation. He was in Tucson, Arizona, to pick up a newly completed Learjet 60 for Lauda Executive.
I did the interview on the ramp at Bombardier’s completion center in Tucson, scribbling on a notepad, trying to hear above the roar of aircraft engines – with Lauda holding my tape recorder. He said no to my suggestion of going inside to a quiet room where we could sit down. I soon understood why.
Be Quick. Be Brilliant. Be Done.
“I want to be efficient with less time,” Lauda told me. “If you achieve that in a company, you blow everyone else away.” One way to do that: meetings without chairs. Based in part on his example, it’s a philosophy our agency has come to embrace: holding quick swarms, discussing issues, disbanding to work out solutions individually, then regrouping and repeating the process as necessary.
Lauda knows what he wants and is relentless in its pursuit. Challenge drives him. When he founded Lauda Air in 1979, he spent years fighting to gain the right to enter a market monopolized by Austrian Airlines. Finally, all was in place to begin scheduled flights. On the day of the inaugural flight, he was told some paperwork wasn’t in place after all and he would be unable to land in Sydney, Australia, as planned. He refused to take no as an answer and personally piloted the airliner to Sydney. He landed to bands playing, TV cameras rolling and civic leaders delivering speeches. By seizing the spotlight of world attention, Lauda gained grassroots support for his airline’s right to fly. (Note, Lauda Air merged with Austrian Airlines in 2012 and the brand was retired in March of this year.)
Don’t Look in the Rear View
Lauda applies the lessons of the racetrack to business – discipline, innovation and, most of all, speed. In addition to his racing triumphs and stint managing the Jaguar F1 racing team, Lauda founded and ran a second airline: Niki, now a low-fare subsidiary of Germany’s Air Berlin. “Many people have the same idea, but success goes to the one who can accomplish it first,” he said. “Success starts with creativity, but it is realized by taking care of every little detail.”
Lauda won his first championship at age 26. A year later, in 1976, he crashed his Ferrari at the German Grand Prix, suffering such severe burns and toxic fumes that he was given last rites. Only 30 days later, he was back in the cockpit, though scarred for life. The movie Rush focuses on this epic, drama-filled Formula One season, framed by the crash, but fueled by the rivalry between the perfection-seeking, laser-focused Lauda and the charismatic, English playboy James Hunt. They were the rock stars of the raceway.
To Finish First, First You Must Finish
“In racing you’re not always winning,” Lauda said. “Sometimes you’re losing, crashing, ending up in the hospital. … Racing teaches you very quickly what it takes to be successful, because you see the results each week. You go out there every Sunday, and there’s no question about the judging. The first is the first, the second is the second. There is nothing to discuss. You have to adapt to a very simple, non-excuse lifestyle. If you do not win, first you must look to yourself. Then if you can’t find a solution, you work with your car or crew. When you start doing this at age 18, it become ingrained.”
Taking the Keys
There’s only one Niki Lauda, but I’ve been impressed by how, more often than not, the individuals I meet in business aviation share a common trait. They have more than knowledge and skill. Their ultimate weapon is drive. The sheer force of will. Their ability to motivate others and themselves. And to do extraordinary things.
While you wait for the movie to come out, you can read the full Niki Lauda article from the Bombardier Contrails Spring 2000 issue here.
*This article originally appeared in the July 4 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.