Don’t sweat the small stuff: time is a scarce commodity when you’re running a small business. Don’t waste time (or energy) on small issues when you could be going after the next sale or making another important contact. There will be lost contracts or people who won’t call you back. Brush it off and move on quickly. Don’t hold a grudge and keep your eye on the ball.
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Gregg Brunson-Pitts.
Gregg Brunson-Pitts began his career in the White House in 2003, eventually working his way up to Director of the Travel Office.
In 2010, Gregg made the leap to private sector jet charter brokerage. His experience with well-respected charter companies lead him to start Advanced Aviation in 2015.
Gregg’s philosophy for business is that reputation is king. Gregg believes in showing clients how painless travel can be with luxury service, personalized offerings, and industry connections.
As a seasoned subject matter expert, Gregg knows the ins and outs of commercial and private charter travel.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My first interaction with charter aircraft was as the Director of the White House Travel Office. That experience was extremely formative, to say the least — it taught me about the fast paced and high touch private aviation industry. I also learned how to stay cool in a high pressure environment, which is absolutely essential in my industry. I was working and interacting with many people at the pinnacle of their careers, so I learned professionalism, decorum, business ethics, and more that I carried into the private sector.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Scaling my company was a major challenge. For the first six months of Advanced Aviation Team, it was just me servicing clients. At first, things went really well and I was busy all the time, but I went through periods of feeling scared, isolated, and a bit lonely. Being in it by yourself may sound good, but I’m someone who needs a team. I would have my husband double-check proposals to get another set of eyes on them before they went to clients, and eventually things started to fall through the cracks. Today, I’m so grateful for the support of our team.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I knew there was a need we were fulfilling, and I was confident in the quality of the service we were offering. The private aviation space is saturated options but not all options are created equal. Advanced Aviation Team offers a high level of personalized service. We are a much smaller team than some of the players in our industry, but that is exactly why clients prefer to work with us.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
COVID-19 has impacted my business and the entire industry. There is heightened interest in private aviation as a safe and secure alternative to commercial flights. We are getting requests from families for charter flights to get to a vacation spot or second home, or to help them move an elderly parent in a safe and secure way. Of course, several of our clients are sitting out travel entirely for now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wouldn’t consider this a mistake, it’s more of a funny circumstance. The first person I hired at Advanced Aviation Team, Jesse Smith, started on the same day I left for the birth of my son, Thomas. Jesse arrived for his first day of work, and as we sat down to get started, I got the call that Thomas’s birth mother had gone into labor. I left Jesse to fend for himself with a bunch of work he knew very little about! The lesson is to hire people who fit with your company culture, and for me, that means you just make things happen. Jesse was not an expert in aviation, but he was very supportive of me, my family, and our company, and he showed up for our clients when I needed him the most. He is still with us today and hiring him one of the best decisions I made.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Private aviation requires a high level of trust — clients choose us because we are professional, discreet, provide a personalized service and have deep industry expertise. Most clients know our entire team on a first name basis — one of the benefits of having a small team. When I hire new team members, I don’t always hire from the aviation industry. Instead, I look for people who will fit with our company culture and prioritize the customer experience.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Private jet charter comes with a high price tag, and in turn, clients expect a lot out of us. Good aviation providers should prioritize reputation, transparency and the customer experience in their processes for long-term growth and sustainability. Since Advanced Aviation Team has had this covered from the beginning, we spend less time scrambling, which in turn keeps us from burning out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My husband Brooks has been my biggest supporter. It’s not easy being the spouse of a small business owner, but he has handled it with grace. Every time I would get worked up over a lost contract or a vendor, he was there at the right time to offer the right. There is no way Advanced Aviation Team would be successful after five years without his quiet support through this journey.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have donated a number of charters over the years to charity groups like Best Buddies and World Central Kitchen. And, as a business owner I try my best to provide an environment for our team to thrive. It’s been a true joy to see people learn more about this industry, make connections, and grow in their career through Advanced Aviation Team.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Put customer experience first: at Advanced Aviation Team, weare always thinking about how we can enhance the customer experience. From the first touch point customers have with us to the last, how can we make it easier and more enjoyable.
- Hire the right people: it’s absolutely crucial to hire team members who share your vision and company values. I can train someone in aviation, but I can’t teach someone our values.
- Reputation matters (big time): here are a few tips that are helpful on building a good one:
Exit a transaction the same way you enter it, regardless if you got paid. You never know when you will encounter that customer or vendor again.
Do favors for industry colleagues freely without asking for something in return to build social capital.
Genuinely care about people — your team, your clients, your vendors. Get to know names and be professional & friendly.
Advocate for your clients when they aren’t in the room.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: time is a scarce commodity when you’re running a small business. Don’t waste time (or energy) on small issues when you could be going after the next sale or making another important contact. There will be lost contracts or people who won’t call you back. Brush it off and move on quickly. Don’t hold a grudge and keep your eye on the ball.
- Turning down business is ok: I have walked away from clients who were not a good fit for Advanced Aviation Team. It’s all about values and culture, and the service we were offering was not a good fit for them. No need to put strain on your team trying to make it work.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Empty private jets move all over the country every single day. I would love to see those put to good use.