Pete Lynch Williams set up independent charter broker Flaps International seven years ago after a career working for major brokerages. His experiences have prompted him to write his life story
How did you get into aviation and what career did you have before that?
I suspect like most of your readers I got into aviation as a wide-eyed kid. My father worked in the oil industry and we flew out to join him in Tehran in the mid-1960s - Iran Air Boeing 727s with the central rear staircase, MEA flights to and from brief holidays in Beirut with tea stoves in the aisles. As a grown-up I had 10 years as a fire officer before injury forced a halt. I retrained in management with a Blue Chip multinational before joining Air Partner in the late 1990s.
© Flaps International
Williams: word of mouth endorsement is best return on investment
Where did you go from there and why set up on your own?
With a number of others I was made redundant by Air Partner after 9/11. Luckily I was snapped up by rival Hunt & Palmer as commercial manager and after some happy times there became head of charter at PremiAir Helicopters - David McRobert is a contemporary visionary in aviation - before starting my own business. I thought I saw a gap in the emergency evacuation planning market and dived in. I had good support from some major global players in that market.
What are the advantages, and downsides, of running your own brokerage?
In common with many small businesses, the flexibility, the uncertainty and the need to clearly identify and then promote your unique selling points are similar, but the difficulty in this market is advertising. If you've done a fantastic job, overcoming a legion of difficulties for a celebrity, for example, you can't tell anyone how good you are without their permission, which as likely as not you aren't going to get. Equally, the lazy, default method - Google adwords - can be prohibitively expensive and over-rated. Looking back, word of mouth has produced by far the best return on investment; the investment being effort.
You have been through two severe industry downturns - post-9/11 and the credit crunch. Which was worse and how have you had to adapt?
Personally, although thankfully briefly, 9/11 was the most difficult following my bum's rush from Air Partner. My sister died in the same month, which hardly lightened the load. The credit crunch hit us in two ways, although neither was as serious as it was for others. We regularly used Citation operator Jet Options at Birmingham before it closed, as did some other operators (and competitors), but perhaps because we are regionally based we weren't dependent on charter business from banks.
You have catered for some of Hollywood's biggest stars. That can't always be easy
Someone from a large rival company once spoke of businesses like mine as having set up "above a chip shop", which was wonderfully disparaging. From our perch above the fryers, we've managed to secure the repeat business of some of Hollywood's biggest names. I always wear my starched white coat and straw hat when welcoming them aboard to enjoy their newspaper-wrapped catering!
Why write a book?
I wrote Waking Sienna because one morning I woke up on a Challenger 300 flight high above the Atlantic inbound to Luton with the eponymous actress [Sienna Miller] sleeping in front of me. I had a rare moment of clarity and asked myself how I'd come to be in that, er, position, if you see what I mean, from humble origins. It's not a tell-all about the business, but I hope it's entertaining. I emailed it to my little brother in Los Angeles to get his thoughts on it, but sadly, he died just a few days before so I'll never know. Since he features largely in the story it seemed the right time to publish.
Source: Flight International