Private aviation is a luxury that is relatively unattainable for the average American. But even amongst the world’s wealthier circles, XOJET has managed to earn a reputation for impeccable service and an undying dedication to fulfilling customer needs to the fullest extent.
Founded in 2006, XOJET has become one of the fastest-growing private aviation companies in history, serving more than 5,000 customers worldwide. The company quickly attracted the attention of high level investors, in 2007 alone, they received $363 million in investment from TPG and Lehman Brothers GPS.
What separates XOJET from the competition is the fact that they actually own and operate their own fleet, ensuring that customers are provided a carefully curated luxury aviation experience. In a highly competitive market, this emphasis on fully servicing the customer ensures that XOJET remains cutting-edge and the premier option for a luxury aviation experience.
Elite Daily was fortunate enough to sit down with the CEO of XOJET, Bradley Stewart, for a brief interview regarding his life as an entrepreneur, the story of the development of his company, and his plans to further develop XOJET.
Who were the primary influences that shaped you to be the successful businessman you have become today?
First, success is a relative term. I suppose I feel I am successful because I’ve achieved a level of personal fulfillment. I have a wonderful, supportive family and I believe that in my professional life, I’m doing what I have been called to do. In that context, who are the people who have shaped and influenced me? My fellow executive staff constantly shapes me by challenging my thoughts and ideas. My success is the sum total of their efforts – big and small – every day. I had a mentor early in life, Todd Hendrickson, who saw something in me, took a chance and hired me away from my job at Executive Aviation to Miller & Schroeder, a financial firm. He taught me to lean into my strengths and to pursue my passion, even if the goal might not be the popular path. Bill McGlashan, currently the Managing Partner at TPG Growth and Vice Chairman of XOJET, gave me the opportunity to be CEO of a high profile company, and has invested a tremendous amount of time in developing my leadership approach. People who know me know that I’m a bit of a student of leadership. I love a good business book. My favorites include The Breakthrough Imperative by Mark Gottfredson and Steve Schaubert and The Corner Office by Adam Bryant – required reading for any aspiring business leader. But the person who trumps all of these in terms of impact is my wife, Brady. Much of success in life comes down to the partner with whom you choose to share the adventure. Brady is an incredibly thoughtful person who keeps me grounded, and happens to be a brilliant business person. And we share the same name (hers is Brady Stewart), which is cool.
Great business arguably happens by transforming good ideas into full-fledged, thriving businesses. We’ve all heard of individuals who have “thought of an idea first,” but never took the initiative to capitalize upon it or bring this idea to fruition. How important would you deem self-determination, drive, and confidence to be in the process of transforming one’s ideas into a business?
My own belief is that to a large degree, systems dominate business and we are all players in the game we choose to play. If you’re on a roll, people jump on the bandwagon. Alternatively, when things get bad and you’re faced with serious challenges, as a leader you must acknowledge that the current course isn’t good enough. The financial crisis of 2008-9 was a significant challenge for many industries, but it was particularly challenging for the private aviation industry and XOJET. Did I stand up and have the courage to change our path? I did, but I’d like to believe that most people in my shoes would have done the same thing. I was brought in to execute change. Things weren’t working and I fixed them. In order to bring about great change, it took a lot of introspection and self-analysis – in addition to asking the right questions and doing a tremendous amount of homework. I had to challenge myself to be more thoughtful and build a level of conviction and authority to push for substantial change, which helped us turn a page in what was a challenging chapter in our history.
What has been your most fulfilling career experience and what experience would you pinpoint as having provided valuable lessons that have impacted your career?
You can learn from everyone you work with and everything you do. Every day. I think this period of my professional life is the most comprehensively enjoyable. I work in an industry I love, I work with the people I want to work with, and I’m making the changes I feel are important to our success. Putting my current position aside, there is another experience that I look back on as being particularly impactful. At the age of 31, I was brought on to lead a corporate turnaround at a medical laboratories company. It was an exciting and incredibly high pressure time. I had to try a lot of things that were new to the company and new to me. I was simultaneously making the transition from someone who had counseled and advised companies and investors, to someone who suddenly had to lead a company. The lesson I gleaned from that experience of transitioning from an advisor to leader, was the importance of keeping my team focused on our goals as we marched towards change together. I had to trust my instinct, and understand that the key driver of success for any change within an organization is rallying people to the collective cause.
Despite the competitive nature of the field and the difficulty in establishing oneself, what would you pinpoint as the highlights of the entrepreneurial lifestyle? Is there a certain satisfaction that comes with the freedom of being one’s own boss?
I feel I have the best job in the world. I have more ownership, more pride, and more flexibility as the CEO of XOJET. Having said that, there are few instances in life where you don’t have a boss. I work for our shareholders and even more importantly, I work for our customers and our employees. I’m a big believer in servant leadership.
What tangible changes have you noticed as a result of your success that have improved your quality of life? Not specifically monetarily, but general freedoms you’ve been permitted as a result of your success. Are you living the life you’ve always wanted to live?
I am fortunate to have reached a level of professional success and we are blessed financially. My wife and I make more than we spend, and we are aligned in how we live our lives. There are external trappings that we certainly enjoy, such as a great school and top-notch childcare for our daughter. Our ability to donate to social causes is also important to us. But above all else, what really matters is being true to yourself and to your passion. I want to be the first person at work – I wake up energized because I love what I do. Is being able to travel in comfort nice? Of course, but my true passion is my family and my work.
Changing the brand's culture is not easy for an already successful team. What qualities do you look for in those around you?
I prize three qualities: 1. Character 2. Intense, passionate energy for what you do 3. Thoughtful, well developed approach to problem solving That is my simple model for who I look for in terms of my team – and ultimately, I think these are the key ingredients that anyone needs to be a successful and impactful leader. If you know you have something special in you, it will compel you to work harder and do better than anyone else. Then you’ll be noticed, you’ll be promoted – ultimately you’ll stand out. But above all else, the most important thing to do is to LISTEN. You know the answer.
What are your plans for further development of XOJET? What milestones you have in mind when you contemplate growing the brand's legacy over the next decade? What's the most difficult part of taking an already successful brand to even greater heights?
Much of XOJET’s legacy has been about great value, but if we are going to go from good to great, we need to move away from tactical messages to what clients really want, which is to be taken care of at every touch point. This isn’t about milestones as much as ensuring the best possible travel experience on every trip. We want to be a world class, service lead organization whose name stands for service and integrity. We do own planes and operate aircraft, but we are trying to downplay the institutional nature of our brand and put forth the human element. This is about people serving people. To achieve this legacy, we have to be unrelenting – and ruthless – in our consistent delivery of world-class service. If you are doing something challenging, it becomes a way of life and not only an outcome. It’s an aspiration and we are either accomplishing it or we’re not.