An Interview With The CEO
The CEO of Xclusive Jets talks growth, the future, what drives him and being the new kid on the block.
In June 2016, Hampshire based company Just Develop It completed the acquisition of then known Xclusive Jet Charter. It has given a new lease of life to the Southampton based charter operator. We caught up with the new CEO Shane Carruthers to ask him a few questions.
How did you become involved?
Previously I was Managing Director of another Just Develop It project. The CEO Chris Phillips invited me for lunch and asked me straight out. “I am looking to buy an aviation company, and I want you to lead it”. What do you think? It came completely out of the blue. It was an honour that he had thought I was the best person for the job. As much as I had enjoyed myself in my previous role, who wouldn’t want to be involved with private aviation. It didn’t take long to make a decision and accept the offer.
What was your first task?
It was to complete the acquisition. Whilst Chris had finished most of the due diligence and formalities, I had to go in and dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Running parallel, I was negotiating and completing the deal with Dassault for our first aircraft; The Falcon 900B G-FLCN.
What experience did you have in aviation?
None! The only thing I knew about private jets is that I liked to fly on them. As CEO I don’t need to know every detail. We have a product to sell, whether that product is pens, shoes or flights it doesn’t matter to me. I manage people, watch the financials and ultimately give the talented team I have around me everything they need to hit our targets and goals.
Before I joined, I looked at years of financial data. When you’re brought into a struggling business, you should first ask what’s wrong with the profit and loss. It’s important to find the problem in the context of the P&L rather than something like the culture, the structure or the processes. Together with the investors, we identified what we needed to do and have actioned that in a short time frame. Do I now know more about the industry, yes, but it is important, not really.
At 32 years of age, you are younger than most CEOs in the industry. How do you feel about that?
It is what drives me everyday. There is no denying I am working in an industry where everyone is a lot older than me. I go to events and conferences, not dressed in a suit but what I feel comfortable in. People tend to approach me last out of my team as they probably feel I am no one of importance, however, that’s exactly how I like it. It’s allowed me to go under the radar and to concentrate on what is important. I don’t need any recognition and the people that I need to know to make things happen know who I am.
How do you cope with managing people who are older and more experienced in this industry than you?
I believe working with colleagues who are more experienced than me is a positive thing. I work with people who didn't discriminate against me because of my age or my industry knowledge, which would have been easy to do. Then there was lots of hard work, commitment and dedication. You also need some intellect about you, as well as ambition. I made some mistakes along the way and probably tried a little bit too hard to gain people's respect at first. My advice to young leaders is never to lose sight of who you are. Don't try too hard to impress other people.
As previously mentioned, most challenges come from outside my organisation. There are times during negotiations with other parties when people are surprised by my age and try to exploit that. In my experience, they get over that pretty quickly when they realise I know what I am are talking about. Age becomes a side issue.
Have you enjoyed your first 24 months in aviation?
I can’t say it has been easy. I have had some major ups and downs, but ultimately it’s a job that I love. I wouldn’t change anything that has happened, it has made me a stronger person.
What have you enjoyed most?
The rapid growth. In such a short period of time, we have accomplished so much. On day one we were working out of a small rented office at Southampton Airport with 10 employees and 1 aircraft. Today we operate 10 aircraft, 6 of which are owned by us with 40+ employees in a state of the art HQ. We have come along way and only just getting started.
What are you most proud of?
I have given opportunities to some young, inexperienced pilots who most companies would have ignored. One, in particular, I consider to be a friend and watching him fly around the world, improve and gain more confidence on a daily basis under the the guidance of our senior crew is when I feel the greatest sense of pride. There is no better feeling than giving young talent opportunities to fulfil their dreams.
Oh, and seeing a new aircraft join the fleet with my initials as the registration, who wouldn't want that?
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the job?
The variables that are out of my control. I can’t control fuel prices, the economy, foreign relationships and I don’t know day to day if I will have a tech issue on the way to collect my next VIP clients. However, we prepare for the worst case, and that is all you can do.
Where do you see Xclusive Jets in 5 years?
If we can do half of the things in my head we will be years ahead of our competition by then. The charter market hasn’t been this active since the 2008 recession, yet most of our competitors aren’t moving with the times. I don’t see the growth slowing down soon, and people should be looking at us seriously now.
What would you like your legacy to be at Xclusive Jets?
I would like to see us achieve our vision of becoming a 5-star operator. Not only from a commercial aspect with our charters and clients but also for the work we do behind the scenes with the UK CAA. There is no reason why we can’t achieve this, we have the knowledge and financial resources to go in any direction we want. I’m inspired by creating a kind of airline company that doesn’t exist today. That’s the legacy I hope for.
Images by Rob Jamieson Photography