Back in the dark days of late 2008, the CEOs of the Big Three auto companies flew in their private jets to Washington to appear at a hearing of the House Financial Services Committee. The topic of the day: a possible $25 billion loan bailout for the faltering industry.
Some in Congress were none too amused, even if they were amusing. “It’s almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo,” CNN.com quoted Democrat Rep. Gary Ackerman of New York, as saying at the time. “It kind of makes you a little bit suspicious.” Left unsaid was that the automakers, like many companies, had policies requiring their CEOs to travel in private jets for safety reasons.
But a greater irony may be that exponentially smaller companies account for the vast majority of corporate-jet use, says Sohail Ashraf, the finance chief of JFI Jets. “The use of corporate aircraft for personal reasons may be indefensible,” he allows. “But a lot of smaller companies compete in marketplaces that demand flexibility and speed, and do business in areas where commercial airlines provide very limited or no service.”
Ashraf has been in the corporate-jet business for only a year and a half, but his timing is right. While the financial crisis devastated the industry, it’s just recently turned a corner and is back in growth mode, he says.
CFO sat down with Ashraf at a recent conference to talk about the unique industry, JFI Jets and the role he plays as a finance chief.