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Office Solutions & News for Enterprises

How running a business is like flying an airplane

Posted by William Albaugh on Jan 9, 2019 5:22:36 PM

How running a business is like flying an airplane

By day I am the CEO of Nimble Technologies. We are an office automation technology company that focuses heavily on compliances solutions for the large SMB's and enterprise organizations.

All of my friends and family know that my first passion is flying! Not just flying, but going places. I have often said the ability to fly an airplane is like having your very own time machine. I can take off in Charlotte at 7:00 am and be at a breakfast meeting in Raleigh by 8:00 am. Take off by 10:00 am and be at a lunch meeting in Atlanta by noon. I can then have a client meeting at 2:00 pm, take off by 4:00 pm and make it back home for dinner at 6:00 pm. This trip would be a 2-3 day trip in a car with much fatigue I might add.

We are in our 9th year of business at Nimble Technologies with a year over year growth rate holding steady at about 20%! During these nine years, I have noticed some distinct similarities to running a successful business to flying an airplane. Both require attention to detail, strong discipline, flawless execution and the ability to stay calm under pressure.

Before I get into the differences, I find that folks like the story of how I became a pilot. Along with how I use an airplane for business, networking and relationship building.

I earned my pilot's license in 1998 in Zanesville, Ohio where I grew up. There was a tiny airport just outside of town called Parr Airport, and after years of wanting to fly, I walked up to the side door of the airport office one day and signed up for my first lesson. The airport was like walking onto the set of a movie from the 50's. The entire airport- hangers, fuel pump, and Border Collie looked as if it was frozen in time.

My instructor Chuck Norman was just two degrees separated from the Wright Brothers. Chuck's father learned to fly from one of the Wright Brothers mechanics. One thing Chuck told me is that if I learned to land an airplane at Parr, I could land at any airport. The runway at Parr was just 2800' long and 30' wide. From the air, it looked like a sidewalk. (See real photo below. Also, google "Chuck Norman Parr Airport Zanesville Ohio" to see a video of Chuck talking about the early days of flying and the Wright Brothers connection.

Chuck Norman Parr Airport Zanesville Ohio

This cockpit view shows just how narrow the runway is! Can you see it?

Chuck was a fantastic instructor with the heart of a teacher. Well into his late 60's when I found him and a treasure trove of knowledge and experience. Chuck taught me many things but two have stuck out to me more than others over the years that relate to flying airplanes and running a business.

First, "always trust your instruments because your butt will lie to you". Technically speaking, the fluid in your inner ear is always one step behind the subtle movements of the aircraft; don't fly by the seat of your pants!

The second lesson was to get a subscription to the NTSB Reporter. The NTSB Reporter is a monthly publication that details the probable cause of all airplane related accidents. Chuck would say "You cannot live long enough to learn from your own mistakes." Chuck had a calm simplicity to his teaching style, and I owe a lot to him for keeping me safe for all of these years.

Cirrus SR22 back to Parr Airport

In May of 2014, I flew a Cirrus SR22 back to Parr Airport to visit Chuck 16 years after earning my pilot's license. Chuck is much older now and no longer drives a car; however, Chuck is still flying - its a lot safer!

Chuck and I standing in front of N5654G

Chuck and I standing in front of N5654G, the two-seat Cessna puddle jumper we trained in back in 1998.

More on how I use the airplane in business later. For now, let's dive into the similarities I spoke about earlier.

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

  • In aviation. We are always taught to "just fly the airplane" if something doesn't go right.
  • In business. The same applies: When things get crazy, just "run the business" get back to the essential core of what makes your business run before you run head first into to randomly fixing things.
  • In aviation. Once you have the airplane under basic control, now focus more on where you are going and how you are going to get there.
  • In business. Once you have the company under essential control, now focus more on where you are going and how you are going to get there.
  • In aviation. Now that you are flying the airplane and you know where you are going, it is time to communicate this to Air Traffic Control or other aircraft.
  • In business. Now that things are under control, communicate where you are going and how you are going to get there with your executive team, employees, partners, and customers.

Develop personal minimums

Regardless of what the primary rules are, make sure you know your limitations and develop your own "minimums."

  • Always use a checklist for every flight.
  • With all of the technology in my pocket, I still use an analog paper bullet journal to make sure I don't forget anything!
  • I never rush a preflight inspection. The airplane is going to get me to my destination ten times faster than a car, so why rush the pre-flight?
  • We do not rush anything except our service department at Nimble Technologies. Especially sales cycles. We exist to solve a problem or eliminate pain, not to push someone into buying something from us.

Trust your instruments

  • 29 seconds is all it takes for a pilot to become spatially disoriented when flying into a cloud. During advanced instrument training I had to force myself to make inputs into the controls of the airplane that did not match the feeling in my head or butt!
  • From financial reports to KPI's, these are the instruments of running a business. Assuming you have data integrity, these instruments don't lie. You must trust them regardless of your feelings if you are to make good decisions.

Go, No Go decision making

  • Before every flight, there are several things to consider before launching into the sky. How's the weather here, during the flight and at your destination? Me, am I tired, stressed, cold war with the wife? Business problems? Is the plane ready?
  • In business, these same things should also be considered during hiring, firing expansion, new product launch, etc.

Fly the safest most technologically advanced personal aircraft in the world

  • Ok, a lofty goal since such an airplane this advanced comes with a hefty price tag. The Cirrus Sr22 is an all-composite aircraft with a ballistic parachute system built inside. There is a red handle is the ceiling that you can pull during emergencies that launches a rocket out the of the back of the plane which deploys a parachute to bring down the aircraft and the occupants safely. Here is a video of one landing safely after deployment.
  • I look at every aspect of my business with the strategic eye of a CIO. We look for the latest technology for every department where that technology can lower cost, speed up a process, make employees happier, or help our customers.

Another thing that flying does for me is that it gets me out of bed every day. By this, I mean that sometimes even as a business owner, we can get beaten down by the daily battles we face. The love of flying is that extra motivation to keep going because it takes money to fly! I have told other business owners to find your "airplane".

One of my favorite things to do with an airplane is to share the experience with others. Apart from my travel for business or pleasure, I have used my gift of flying to network and build relationships.

Lunch in Asheville

Lunch in Asheville!

Find three business friends, pick them up in Charlotte and fly them to Asheville, NC for lunch on a Tuesday! A 30-minute flight.

From left to right: Kyle Elworthy, owner of Network Essentials. Robert Fish, owner of Insight CXO. Myself and Rebecca Wofford attorney at Wofford Law.

Another lunch in Asheville

Stacy McHorse, owner of Kinetic Channel Marketing and myself before taking off at Concord Regional Airport just north of Charlotte.

Another lunch in Asheville.

Hit King Pete Rose from Oneonta

One of my more stress-inducing flights was flying the Hit King Pete Rose from Oneonta, NY to Rochester, NY for a minor league baseball game appearance. Why so stressful? I was planning on going to the game when Pete's agent called me and asked if Pete could catch a ride. I jumped at the chance because after all, I was flying an airplane with a parachute. Halfway through the flight, it hit me; even if we survive an emergency and land safely with the chute, I would instantly become famous. Not something I relish.


Hazel my granddaughter who loves to fly!


Who would have thought that an airplane could take you so many places, meet so many people and teach you how to run a business.

Contact me if you would like to learn more about flying or just want to do some "high level" networking and get on the shortlist for the next lunch trip! You can also contact me for analysis, strategy, design, implementation, management services as it relates to your office automation and compliance needs.


Give Me a Call Connect With Me on LinkedIn


Topics: business