November 1, 2004
Julie K. Boatman
Jim Hagedorn grew up as one of six kids. Although his father was a prosperous entrepreneur — Horace Hagedorn launched Miracle-Gro fertilizer with a partner in the early 1950s — the senior Hagedorn wanted to instill in his children the same work ethic that led him to success. Jim wanted to be a pilot, so his father told him that if Jim netted a scholarship, the young man would get half the money he saved his father in return as an incentive. So he landed a slot in the Air Force ROTC, attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, and spent the last two years there courtesy of Uncle Sam. He graduated in 1976 with a commercial certificate and flight instructor ratings for single- and multiengine airplanes (as well as his instrument instructor rating). He took a year off, and then started pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi.
Jim was one of the few second lieutenants put directly into the F-16 in 1981 (most F-16 pilots transitioned from F-4s), and he spent several years based in Utah, Germany, and Florida, building flight time and a family. "We had a girl at Hill [AFB in Utah] and a boy at Hahn [AFB in Germany]," he says. When Jim left the Air Force in 1987, he moved his young family back to the East Coast to continue work as a shareholder and principal in his father's company.
Fast forward to 1994. The Hagedorns began negotiations to sell Stern's Garden Products, owners of the Miracle-Gro brand, to the Scotts Company, another major lawn and garden corporation. The Hagedorn family accepted payment in stock, making them the largest shareholders and effective owners of Scotts Company. Jim was made a senior vice president in 1995, moved up to president two years later, and was made chief executive officer in May 2001.
As senior vice president of Scotts, Jim realized he would need to relocate to Ohio, where Scotts is headquartered. The news came to mixed reviews at home in Port Washington, New York. Since leaving the Air Force, he had rented airplanes from time to time, but now it appeared that he could use his piloting skills to make it so his family would not need to relocate — a definite plus, as they had one more child on the way.
Jim bought a new Mooney TLS in 1995, which he still owns. At least twice a month, he flies from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York, to Columbus, Ohio, on Monday morning and back on Friday night. He typically plans the flight out for two hours and 40 minutes at 8,000 feet and the return trip for two hours and 10 minutes at 19,000 feet. "I've done it in as little as one hour and 40 minutes takeoff to touchdown eastbound."
He flew the TLS for two years, at which point the company's board of directors determined that they wanted Jim to either fly something with more than one engine, or stop flying altogether. "It became a board issue, my flying after work, at night, in the winter. I give my life to this business, but I'm a pilot. When I'm up in the airplane by myself, it's very relaxing. I would never give up flying."
So Jim bought a Beechcraft King Air 200, only to find he'd rather fly the Mooney single pilot than the more complex King Air. But to compromise with the board, he sold the King Air and purchased a Raytheon Beechjet, in which he's type rated. He had planned to upgrade to the Premier when the first models were delivered, but circumstances led Jim to reconsider, and now Scotts owns another Beechjet that he flies 50 to 60 hours a year with a copilot. The flight department has also added a Dassault Falcon 900 for long-haul missions.
Jim's interest in flying has made the Scotts flight department pay off. "The Beechjet reduced the impact of 9/11 by shifting the travel emphasis to the corporate flight budget," he says.
But Jim still commutes often in the Mooney, and he has learned to effectively manage any risk. "Fly by the rules," he says. "If you fly the approaches and obey the rules you won't get hurt. I don't fly without a working autopilot — aside from the engine it's the most important thing." Since Jim ends up "flying the weather that's out there," he makes good use of weather-escape equipment such as a Stormscope and the TLS' certified anti-icing system. Datalink weather displayed on the Garmin GNS 530 also adds to the Mooney's capability.
After more than 1,500 hours in the Mooney alone, "the airplane for me is a commuting tool," he concludes. "It's a bit like the fax machine. At first people were shaking their heads, 'Aw, Hagedorn's crazy.'" But he's sold his colleagues on business aviation. "For the guys who have to visit Wal-Mart (in Bentonville, Arkansas) and Lowe's (in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina) — they couldn't do their jobs effectively without it."
"When people ask what makes me nervous, I say, 'The end of a [business] quarter,' not flying. The best thinking I do is in the airplane, by myself."
The Upwind Summer Scholarship Program, which gives high school students a chance to earn their private pilot certificate in the summer between their junior and senior year, is accepting applications for its 2015 scholarship.
If only one person had been helped, it all would have been worthwhile. But much more than that has been accomplished over the 25-year life of the National Gay Pilots Association, said its executive director.
A restaurant with a view of Los Angeles International Airport built as a tribute to aviation heroes is poised to land a new lease.
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