Building Great Places to Work

June 11. 2014

Winner Spotlight: Flight Options

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June 11. 2014

Flight Options: Soaring Above the Standard

Flight Options, located in Cleveland, is one of the largest private aviation companies in the world, serving owners and clients across the globe. The Cleveland headquarters alone employs more than 500 employees.

Even though Flight Options caters to owners and clients all over, it never forgets who is at the root of this successful operation: its employees.

Flight Options is a 10-time NorthCoast 99 winner, and it credits its employees for not only carrying out but going above and beyond expectations with its three fundamental principles.

"We believe these fundamental principles to be timeless and use them as our guiding principles to help make decisions from a management and employee standpoint, almost every step of the way,” says Bob Sullivan, Vice President of Human Resources.

The first principle is Employees are the foundation of a service organization.

Paying fanatical attention to detail is the second principle. “There is a little bit of a negative connotation in fanaticism, but we believe as it relates to safety, as it relates to our customers and most importantly as it relates to our employees, that we need to be fanatics about it,” says Sullivan. “We need to have a relentless pursuit for safety, for getting things right, and for doing things right the first time."

Lastly, Sullivan says that “Maintaining relationships for the long-term outlook, we will sacrifice the short-term for the long-term gain, and that spirit lies in our employees, and in our customers.”

The right incentives will take you from the bottom to the top

Flight Options has a reputation for catering not only to its owners and clients, but to its employees as well.

I think we take an outside of the box approach to some of the incentives we have for employees here. One thing that we try to do is really tailor our incentives to be around the individual, so we have some really unique things such as:

  • The Bistro: Open 365 days a year, breakfast and lunch are served five days a week for employees at the onsite Bistro. Flight Options also subsidizes the group that services the Bistro, so it’s a much more affordable option for employees then going out to lunch. Often, the Bistro will have free lunch for employees to enjoy.
  • Charity Events: Flight Options has made donations to many charities over the years, including Toys for Tots, the VFW, Children’s Hospital, and other local area charities.
  • Adoption Assistance: Flight Options will give $10,000 to employees that would like to grow their family, because adoption is near and dear to Flight Options employee’s hearts.

“We are really private about a lot of the things we do, but I will tell you that we have an individual relationship with all of our employees. So they know we have an open door policy and we want to incentivize them to be open and honest, because we think that promotes the best work place,” says Sullivan.

One thing was clear when we spoke to employees at Flight Options: They love their job and everyone feels like a family.

“One of the unique things about working at Flight Options, and it was a real draw to me, was the culture,” says Christian McCracken, Area Sales Manager. “It’s such a team environment to work in- where you can walk from one end of the building to the other and ask somebody a question. Everyone’s willingness to help out when you absolutely need is something that really stood out to me.”

Danette Jackson, who has worked in owner services since 1999, was particularly excited to share her love of Flight Options.

“I absolutely love what I do. I love my owners, my co-workers, the environment; I love everything about Flight Options,” says Jackson.

Karl Seeds, a Line Captain and Pilot Support Manager of 14 ½ years with Flight Options, talked about Flight Options employees as if they were in fact his own family.

“I came here looking for a job and ended up finding a family, friends, and people that will be with me my whole life,” says Seeds. “I don’t even like using the word work; I just like to say I am leaving my home to go to my other family. In the OCC (operation control center) we conduct everything from flights, to scheduling, to weather, air traffic control, and maintenance, and I don’t call it the OCC, I call it the family room.”  

There is clearly a very dedicated dynamic group of employees at Flight Options that love aviation and are passionate about the industry and organization.

“A lot of people in 24/7 organizations give up their nights and weekends and holidays and time that most would want to spend with their families, but they choose to spend it here ,” says Deena Click, Services Manager. “It certainly makes it enjoyable to spend that time with people who make it feel like a surrogate family.”

Why reinvent the wheel?

One of the many reasons Flight Options has been recognized over the last 10 years is for its efforts to promote employees from within. Flight Options’ goal and mission to promote from within is really the core of the company.

“If you think of employees as the foundation of the service company, what better way than to grow the company then from within,” says Sullivan. “Most of our senior executives started out from the lowest ranks among the employees-because they get it. Culturally, they understand who we are, there are no questions about it, these are people that live and breathe what we do.”

One employee that fits this description is Megan Wolf. She is the Vice President of Owner Experience and has been with Flight Options for 14 years.

“I have stayed with Flight Options through the ups and downs, the challenges in the industry, and economy because I believe in what we do,” says Wolf. “You can’t recreate a flight operation like this anywhere. I believe in making Flight Options a success because I really believe in the people here. I care about the people who are here and I think of them as an extension of my family and friends and less as coworkers.”

Manda Redfern, Director of Catering Services, is also a longtime employee of the company.

“I started as a logistics coordinator in 2003, and have since worked about a half dozen positions within the company, which led me to be involved with the catering program. I wanted to stay with Flight Options because I have been able to expand and be promoted from within the company; it’s something the company really advocates to all of us, making it an even more special place to be,” says Redfern. 

Flight Options is not opposed to new ideas or suggestions or new blood, but it’s always looking for that unique person to make it in the aviation industry, and usually those people come from within the company.

“I think this shows a duel level of commitment,” says Sullivan. “I think it shows our commitment to our employees, but I think it also shows the commitment level from the employees to the company. We are family; you can’t just leave family behind. That’s just kind of how we operate.”

Make a customer, not a sale

Owners and clients are given a world class experience from the first time they visit Flight Options. 

When people come to visit Flight Options, they walk in the door and automatically get a buzz that something special and unique happens here.

“You get a true sense of our company from the time you walk in the door, and that translates over the phone with our owners, because I think there is a real sense of a genuine interest that we take in the people that we interact with, and that is really the heart of the people that you see doing this every day,” says Wolf.  “That is not something you teach in a classroom, or put into an employee manual. I think it’s just a reflection of the type of people that we have hired over the years."

That is something that makes Flight Options so unique- its level of service it provides owners and clients.

“We look at our customers not as customers, but as clients who are family,” says Click. “We want to know everything about them, we want to know about their families, pets, what they like and don’t like, and we spend a lot of time getting to know them.”

Winning NorthCoast 99

“As the head of HR, we are always looking for validation of if our strategy is right. And we look for moments and glimpses along the way if we are doing the right thing; there is a constant reassurance that everyone needs,” says Sullivan. “I think NorthCoast 99 capstones that one moment that everything you put into your people the last year, was right. And it really gives you the chance to separate yourself and step back for a moment and say-wow; we got it right this year.”

Aviation can be a tough industry with uncertainties. But if you hire great people that have great values, responsibility, and great character, your company can also be a great workplace.

“I think what makes Flight Options so unique is that we are very passionate about what we do,” says Wolf. “There is a true calling for people who work in the aviation environment and when you infuse passion with family values, you have a recipe for success.” 

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