ORLANDO — This fall the franchise chain Million Air began providing fixed base operation and airline services at Albany International Airport under a management services contract. During the recent annual meeting of the National Business Aviation Association held here, Million Air president and CEO Roger Woolsey sat with AIRPORT BUSINESS to discuss the potential of this new profit center and how his company is meeting the associated challenge of growing managers. Here is an edited transcript.
Woolsey took over control of the Million Air Interlink parent company three years ago, and moved the headquarters from Dallas to his Houston Hobby Airport FBO.
AIRPORT BUSINESS: At NBAA you announced that Terry Cross, a former VP with EPIC Aviation, is joining Million Air as COO. Is this move related to the management opportunities you see among FBOs?
Woolsey: Recall we had a five-step process that we have been focused on since we acquired the leadership role of the chain. Although we’re in our 20th anniversary as Million Air, at 17 years is where we assumed the helm and at that time we took a pause, and went out benchmarking the world and tried to redefine our brand.
The second step was designing for that outcome; the third step was training the focus and design. The fourth step was to live it on a daily basis. The fifth step, which is where we are at with the brand, is to grow it. We have been improving our locations and bringing on new franchisees, such as Edsel Ford [Pentastar Aviation] in Pontiac and Regent in St. Paul.
When you do that growth, you start taxing your systems, your administration. That’s really where Terry Cross comes in.
AB: What did the benchmarking tell you about the company?
Woolsey: We need more depth in our management. We have done quite well to have gotten to this point, but there aren’t enough resources or outside experiences, maybe, in our own team. We’re a lot home grown internally; Terry brings a well-rounded outside perspective.
His role is to help us to systemize our culture even better; bring the day to day glue to the operations. We have more company-owned and managed stores today.
Now we have other outside people looking to us. We have airport authorities and other business owners coming to us who want us to manage their property.
So instead of the owner, be it an airport authority or private investment group, trying to manage that facility they can call Million Air and we’ll come in and manage it for them completely. It’s a lot like the Ritz Carlton model; Ritz Carlton, when we were benchmarking them, we found more that Ritz Carlton didn’t own a single hotel, which was shocking to me. They own the brand; they employ the people.
Ritz is so strong with what they do with their brand, they’re sought after for that expertise. Somebody can build a fine building and then let them come in and bring life to it.
AB: So, in effect, you’ve added a new profit center?
Woolsey: That’s what we’re now doing with the Million Air brand. As you land and come into one of our facilities, it could fall into one of three categories: it could be a company-owned store; a company-managed store; or, it could be a franchisee. But it doesn’t matter really what it is; you’re experiencing Million Air.
AB: Why would an airport be calling you?
Woolsey: Albany Airport Authority is very progressive; it’s the capital of what is arguably the most important state in the union. At Albany Airport, they built a gorgeous building and had an FBO, but the service levels were not matching what the city was trying to do.
The numbers were going down for the airport. They started looking at their options. So, the airport authority bought out the lease on the existing businesses and invited us in. The weekend we opened, the business levels were triple what they were. I think it’s the fact that the brand meant something to the pilots. I knew we’d have an impact; I was a little surprised with a 300 percent increase the first week.
AB: What exactly are you providing at Albany?
Woolsey: We’re under a contract with the airport. Let’s call them the investor. The airport authority now owns the brick and mortar and they have hired us to come in and run it. We’re managing the property. We put up our imaging, our signage, our furnishings, our training.
AB: Do you see more such opportunities in the market?
Woolsey: I think there are a lot of opportunities like that out there. We have to build up that warm-up bench of personnel as we add locations.
What happened in Albany was less than a 30-day notice, at a facility that fuels 99 airline departures a day, entering the deicing season already, and running a full-fledged FBO in the state capital. That’s where the Million Air University comes into play; we might have employees who want to relocate in the chain.
AB: So, are you creating a Million Air academy to train managers?
Woolsey: We are developing a Million Air University; it’s one of Terry’s primary focuses — talent development. Knowing that we have this growth, we have to have some captains in training as we turn on facilities. We need general managers ready to take the opportunity, and there are five or six on the table.