01 Dec 2004
Marquis Jet Takes Off
Soars with new approach to private-jet travelby Roger ThompsonTopics:
Marquis Jet may be flying high today, but just three years ago it was far from clear that the New Yorkbased companys innovative approach to private-jet travel would ever get off the ground.
The companys very existence hinged on a highly unlikely partnership with NetJets Inc., the nations leading purveyor of fractional private-jet ownership. Without them we didnt have a business, recalls Bill Allard (MBA 89), Marquis president and CEO. There was no one else we could go to.
What Allard and his three partners took to NetJets was a new concept membership cards giving customers 25 hours of flight time for $109,000 and up. Functioning primarily as a sales and marketing organization, Marquis Jet needed to ink a partnership with NetJets to gain access to the companys renowned fleet of 500 private aircraft and 2,800 pilots. Marquis Jets customers, in effect, would be buying flight time on NetJets planes.
Simple as it may sound, the Marquis Jet concept created a new niche in the staid aviation business. Heretofore, private-jet travel came in three forms: outright ownership, fractional ownership, or charter. The first two came with seven-figure price tags, and charter posed uncertainties about planes and pilots.
From outside the private-jet business looking in, Allard who at the time was president and COO of SFX Sports Group, a leading sports-talent management and marketing firm saw an opportunity to create a fourth way that would lower the financial barrier to private-jet travel while guaranteeing high-quality service and aircraft through a partnership with NetJets.
Allard and his partners, who also came with sports- and entertainment-marketing backgrounds, felt they were uniquely positioned to broaden the customer base for private-jet travel to their former clients: young, highly paid athletes and performers. By contrast, their research showed that the typical private-jet customer was a highly successful 55- to 65-year-old businessperson.
Plan in hand, the quartet paid a visit to Richard Santulli, chairman and CEO of NetJets, who showed them the door in less than thirty minutes. Recalls Allard: Rich basically said, Why should I give my brand to a bunch of guys I dont even know?
He had a good point, concedes Allard. I thought we had a great idea. But Im a realist. I had to acknowledge that for Rich Santulli to lend his brand to a bunch of guys who, quite frankly, didnt know what the hell they were talking about was a stretch.
But stretch he did. It was one of those perseverance stories, says Allard. We believed the concept was right, and I think Rich knew we were right. He just needed time to get to know us. Ultimately, I think he saw in us a lot of himself when he was younger. He saw passion, and energy, and business acumen. We gave him all the reasons why he should give us the chance to succeed. After a half-dozen additional meetings with the persistent group, Santulli finally said yes.
Allard and his partners launched Marquis Jet in January 2002, selling 245 jet cards for an average of $150,000 each during that first year and 1,000 in 2003. As hoped, the company initially scored big with athletes and entertainers but quickly segued into high-net-worth individuals and corporations now 90 percent of Marquis Jets clientele. And it reaped a bonanza of free exposure when NBC producers picked the company to appear last January on the second episode of The Apprentice, Donald Trumps hit reality TV show.
With revenue this year projected to top $240 million, Allard says that the business has far exceeded expectations. Success, he admits, now looks deceptively easy. Allard knows better: Its the hardest thing that Ive ever done.
Class of MBA 1989, Section I