Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to set up Fly Victor?
My wife and family describe me as having a relentless obsession with wanting to know how things work, why they fail - and then becoming hell bent on trying to fix them.
I started my first company at the age of 21. It was a loyalty membership card program for affluent retailers in Kensington, and while it didn’t last more than a few years, I learned a lot of valuable lessons about sizing a market, pricing a service, and figuring out what it takes to run a profitable operation.
Many decades later, and with fourteen companies under my belt (some which have lasted over 20 years) the term serial entrepreneur has stuck. In the early 90s I founded Global Beach, one of the first digital marketing agencies managing the transition to a new and emerging digital economy for many of the world’s most influential brands (Aston Martin, British Telecom, Financial Times, Jaguar, Hewlett Packard, Sony, and Unilever). It was a very exciting period, transitioning traditional businesses to the internet and understanding how that journey would impact their very foundations. It helped me develop a deep understanding of consumer behaviour and how to build a cost-effective strategy to acquire, convert and retain customers.
When it came to setting up Victor, I wanted to tackle the opaque world of private jet charter. I wanted to build a new brand and digital platform that would challenge the status quo, put the customer first and place transparency at the very heart of our brand proposition. Publishing the identity of all the charter operators and details of their actual aircraft in a side-by-side quotation was a bold decision, which shocked the jet charter broker community. Many predicted we wouldn’t last very long. To the contrary, for over a decade now we have remained steadfast to our principles. Our customers did not go behind our backs. Instead, they appreciated and valued our transparency and have remained fiercely loyal to the Victor brand.
How is Fly Victor tackling environmental issues in private aviation and what challenges have you had to overcome in doing so?
The issue of climate change, carbon emissions and flying private has always been a subject that most in our industry have avoided. With transparency at the heart of our core brand values, I was adamant that we addressed this issue head on. When our industry did not want to hear our ideas, it was time to switch our focus to our customers and ask them. It was not an easy task.
In July 2019, I mandated that every Victor private jet charter would fly double net zero. We diverted all our marketing budget to address how we could make this happen and then we quietly challenged our customers to think about what we had done and asked them to step up and do more, but this time, out of their own pocket. Our commitment included publishing the emissions associated with every aircraft, in our side-by-side quotations. We also published an independent account of all our annual emissions and how much we invest in all our carbon mitigation programs.
On 29 June 2022, we announced our partnership with Neste, the world’s leading producer of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), to set a new sustainability benchmark in business aviation. From today, Victor members can purchase Neste MY Sustainable Aviation Fuel™ for every private jet booking, globally, enabling them to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for their flight by up to 80 per cent compared to fossil jet fuel.
We know our efforts are just a drop in the ocean, but the world needs someone to be the first and then hopefully others will follow.
What are some other luxury brands that inspire you and why?
The luxury brands that have placed the issue of sustainability at their very core and become a beacon in their industry started with Tesla. I switched to all electric in 2018 and never looked back. Today I drive a Fiat 500e which for London and the short commute to Henley-on-Thames is perfect. Elon was the first in his industry and now a decade on, almost every car manufacturer has an all-electric option.
What advice would you give to a founder who is trying to disrupt the industry that their business is operating in?
Technology in a luxury business is an enabler. Understanding where and how to blend a personalised and responsive service, while benefitting from the immediacy of capturing and responding to consumer behaviours, can be a very costly exercise for both an established brand and a cash hungry start-up. The core business principles should always remain front and centre. Why and how does this help our customer find what they want, and how can you differentiate your brand from the competition to ensure you can retain the customer?
Today, we have access to many cloud-based tech platforms which can be easily customised. Companies should not obsess about achieving perfection from the get-go, but instead, be ready to constantly measure, evolve and adapt. Speed to market is everything. If you are selling lots and making a profit then you can worry about reducing the cost of servicing.
What I have learned is you will never know all the answers and you never stop learning, so open your mind!
What do you see as the future of flying, and what are your future ambitions for Fly Victor?
The challenge for humanity is how to address the desire to travel, to seek a better life for yourself and your family and the desire to experience something new and exciting. Flying will always be an enabler. We can’t deprive those that have not yet enjoyed all that we have benefited from living in the developed world. So, it is incumbent on us not to discriminate. Not to take a one-dimensional approach to tackling the concept of sustainability and specifically emissions, but to think about the planet and the economy as one and develop a circular mindset. What we take out, we must put back in. And we must be willing to account for our actions.
Today we have carbon offsetting and sustainable aviation fuel. Tomorrow, we have the possibility of reducing contrails (the white lines of ice crystals left behind in the skies which contribute to global warming). Next it will be hybrid propulsion and then eventually zero emissions.
Coming full circle back to transparency. I firmly believe we need to know the truth before we can make informed decisions. I was fortunate to have my paper published by an all-party Parliamentary Select Committee last year setting out my recommendations to have every airline seat labelled with its energy efficiency and propionate amount of carbon emissions. This commitment should also include every private jet charter quotation. So not only will we know how much we pollute, then we can ask; why isn’t anyone doing something about it? That starts with me.
I feel the debate on sustainability has become far too dumbed down. Mainly because no one wants to tackle the question, “so who is going to pay?”. Nothing is perfect. Without genuine third-party scrutiny, the weaknesses won’t be called out and we won’t evolve. All of us have to listen more to each others’ arguments and find compromise. This is a journey that demands we all participate and the best way for that to happen is to motivate and reward industry, leaders, consumers, and activists.
Yes, it’s extremely urgent and yes, we have to act now - inspiring a generation is the only way we can get this done.
If you require further information about anything covered in this interview, please contact Beth Balkham or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.
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© Farrer & Co LLP, August 2022