Lessons Learned From a Leader
04.19.16 · Deanna Harms
FlightSafety International CEO Bruce Whitman didn’t give a long speech. He kept his keynote to the April gathering of the Wichita Aero Club short, heartfelt and real. The venerable company
celebrated its 65th anniversary in March, so naturally he talked about that history, especially the start-up years and his role at the side of late founder Al Ueltschi. How they kept in the black at first by Ueltschi not taking a salary. How they financed their first simulator, for the Gulfstream I, by having customers pay for blocks of time in advance. How he had to convince the nascent business aviation industry of the importance of professional training.
Power to Your People
Whitman broadened his message from building one’s business to strengthening one’s team. A favorite activity of his: “I like to recognize and promote.” Which was not surprising to hear coming from a person who’s legendary in the industry for his ability to single out individuals, remember their names and make them feel special. Quite a good trait for a CEO whose worldwide network of Learning Centers has 1,800 instructors.
Whitman told about his decision at age 16 to never again work at a job or for a company that didn’t fully engage him. He wanted to live a life of purpose, one that required all he had to give. “I hope you all do what you like with people you like,” he said. Then he assured the crowd that he certainly does. And has for the 55 years he’s been with FlightSafety, 13 of which as its chief executive.
Bottom Line, It’s About More Than the Bottom Line
This accomplished businessman, pilot and patriot also urged us to broaden our outlook, to give back and to help others. “Find a cause you feel passionate about.” Whitman has a long list of nonprofits he supports, but two receive extra consideration: the Congressional Medal of Honor and Orbis International.
All the organizations, foundations, advisory councils, boards and committees that Whitman serves made Wichita Aero Club President Dave Franson say, “I’ve come to the conclusion that Bruce Whitman is really two people.” We have been thinking the same thing. Except wonder whether there might actually be three.
Featured at top: FlightSafety International CEO and President Bruce Whitman addressing the Wichita Aero Club meeting on April 13. Photo credit: Visual Media Group, photographer Brett Schauf. This column ran in the April 20 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.