The Shortest Distance Between Two Points
January 19 2011 by Michael Gelfand
Practical considerations in the corner office usually prevent chief executives from doing anything more than daydream about moving to Hawaii. But when Carl Pick decided to follow his heart and move from his hometown of West Bend, Wisconsin, to live in Honolulu, he recognized that certain aspects of his job as chairman, CEO and chief scientist of Video-Propulsion Interactive Television would get more complicated. Especially barnstorming all across the continental U.S. for 60 days a year, usually for a week at a time, to meet with clients, suppliers and colleagues.
As you might imagine, Pick relishes his time at home, and because travel is such a large and important part of his job, it’s critical for him to keep the times and the distances traveled as minimal—and as comfortable—as possible. “I visit lots of customers and suppliers spread out all across the U.S. and Canada, sometimes in little towns,” explains Pick. “If I was using commercial transportation, I would only be able to see maybe four of them in a week. But with private aviation, I can see 10 or 12, meaning I can do more in a week than I ever could before.”
Pick first started using private aviation services once or twice a year in 1977. Back then, he says, he didn’t fully understand all the principles involved, and learned some expensive lessons as a result. In 2006, his company’s flagship product (the FloodGate, which delivers high-definition video services for clients in the hospitality industry) started picking up traction in the market, forcing him to travel more frequently. As a result, the student has now become the master.
Pick currently logs approximately 25,000 miles a year on private flights, or roughly 80 hours of flying time. Before deciding on the best service to use for a given trip, he plots the most efficient route using Great Circle Mapper (www.gcmap.com), a web site that calculates the shortest geodesic path between two points and provides extensive data about small airports. From there, he taps a spreadsheet he created to calculate and compare actual aggregate travel costs for most of the private aviation providers that he could possibly use. “Before I book a long trip on the Piaggio, I send the details out to various charter providers, telling them, ‘If you can do it for better than this cost, I’ll consider it,’ and sometimes it happens.”
A Day in the Life
Today, Pick’s company owns a 1/16 (50-hour) fractional share of an Avantair- operated Piaggio Avanti turboprop, which puts almost all his destinations within four hours of his Slinger, Wisconsin, headquarters. He relies on it for almost 80 percent of his travel, filling in the rest of his domestic travel with Sentient Jet’s Jet Card program and by cherry-picking competitive offers from independent brokers when it’s advantageous to so do. “I don’t have enough Piaggio hours to cover all the travel everywhere I need to go,” he explains, “so there’s a little catch-as-catch-can travel over the year, but it’s probably not worth doubling my contract with Avantair. So I’ve gotten a certain amount of flexibility to use other services for the extra traveling that I do.”
A typical business trip for Pick starts with an overnight commercial flight from Honolulu into Atlanta, Los Angeles, Minneapolis or New York. From there, he uses the Piaggio to methodically work his way through second-tier cities and smaller towns across the country—sometimes traveling with colleagues, other times on his own—before flying back home from Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta or San Francisco. When he’s really longing for home, he can save a half-day of travel by flying into Las Vegas for the 2:30 a.m. flight back to Honolulu. “I can make that flight from anywhere, when most commercial flights into Las Vegas from any other part of the country have already ceased,” he says.
While the Piaggio’s comfort and amenities in the air are important, Pick cites its convenience on the ground as most important. “Learjet, Citations and some other services have larger planes and fly faster, but they don’t want to land on a strip that’s shorter than 5,000 feet,” he says. “Many of my customers are five miles from an airport with a 4,000- foot runway, and 35 miles from one with a 5,000-foot runway. With the Piaggio, I can drive to the local airport, fly into a smaller airport, jump into a rental car with my bag already in the back, and be at the office I’m visiting in five minutes,” he says. “I’ve saved half the day, which means when I’m done, I’ll go see another customer, doubling what I would’ve otherwise done.
“I had years where I would take a red-eye from Honolulu to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to see our largest client, LodgeNet. I’d spend the whole day in meetings, but if I wanted to get to Wisconsin that night, I had to leave their offices at 4 p.m.,” he recalls. “That meant I went years never having dinner with our largest client. Now I leave whenever I want. The ability to save a day or extend a meeting when I want is often as valuable as anything.”
That’s all the rationale Pick needs. “It would be nice if it cost half as much, but you get what you pay for,” he says. “Leveraging my ability to see as many people as possible is pretty easy to justify, even in cost-crunching periods. I got over the notion that it was costing me several thousand dollars for an hour-long flight because it’s worth the cost of the trip to save four hours of production time. I know what I’m worth as an asset to my company, and when I can do a lot more in less time, it’s like there are two of me doing things.”
And what CEO hasn’t wished they could clone themselves?