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Turbine Edition: Left Seat Leaders

Meet four CEOs who use turbine horsepower for their business needs

James Robins President, Robins Group James Robins, president of the Robins Group, Inc., is a man on the move. The Robins Group owns three manufacturing companies — The Michigan Wheel Company (boat propellers), Marshall Engineered Products Company (centrifugal pumps and turbines), and Berry Metal Company (heavy equipment for steel mills).

James Robins
President, Robins Group

James Robins, president of the Robins Group, Inc., is a man on the move. The Robins Group owns three manufacturing companies - The Michigan Wheel Company (boat propellers), Marshall Engineered Products Company (centrifugal pumps and turbines), and Berry Metal Company (heavy equipment for steel mills). Robins's central office is in Chicago, but Michigan Wheel and Marshall Engineered Products are in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Berry Metals is near Pittsburgh. He uses his 2002 EADS Socata TBM 700B to make biweekly rounds of his factories - commuting from his new home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

When Robins travels, it typically takes him four to five days to make all his stops and conduct business. "My week starts with taking off from Santa Fe, going to Grand Rapids and Pittsburgh, then landing at the Gary, Indiana, airport. That's when I spend two days in the Chicago office. Then it's back to Santa Fe," Robins says. "This is the tremendous utility of using this airplane. It lets me conduct business as usual and still be in Santa Fe 20 days a month."

Robins bought his TBM in 2005. He wanted a low-time, stout, reliable turboprop to replace his 1998 Mooney M20M Bravo. "The Mooney was a great airplane, but the Chicago-Santa Fe trip meant two, two-and-a-half-hour legs flying at 18,000 feet and wearing an oxygen cannula. It wasn't an ideal airplane when you add in all the other trips I do," he explains. "With the TBM it's non-stop, and I can do from Santa Fe what I used to do from Chicago, when I lived there and had the Mooney. And I have twice the time to spend with the people I need to talk with." He flies approximately 300 hours per year, and so far has logged 730 hours in the TBM.

Robins estimates that he's by himself half the time he flies. His wife accompanies him when they travel to Montana, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and other vacation spots. He also flies from Santa Fe to another of his offices in San Diego. "That's an easy trip," Robins remarks. "I arrive at 9 a.m., and I'm back in Santa Fe by 9 p.m. the same day."

Robins says, "I fly at 27,000 or 28,000 feet most of the time. And you know what? Those are empty altitudes! I have the sky to myself. I'm below the airliners, but above the other turboprops." As for buying a single-engine turboprop, making that decision was easy. Robins doesn't have a lot of multiengine time, and he likes the simplicity and economy of operating a single.

"Getting insurance was easy," he says, "And for me there's no safety issue. I think you can get into more trouble losing an engine in a twin." To keep emergency procedures firmly in mind, Robins regularly goes to SimCom Training Centers for simulator-based recurrent training.

"It's a great training experience," he says. "Besides, I need the reminders. I've never had an emergency, and while the airplane is great, there have been parts availability issues."

Even so, for the businessman-pilot who always needs to fly point to point, and often flies to airports without major air service, proven reliability is a major reason to invest in a turbine-powered airplane, be it turboprop- or turbofan-powered. For Robins, there's no going back to pistons. - Thomas A. Horne

Jim Thompson
President and CEO, Orix USA

Jim Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Orix USA, doesn't take a formal approach to fashion: "I wear a suit about three times a year," says Thompson, which may strike someone who doesn't know the investment banker as unusual. But his casual manner turns animated, and then serious, when he talks about his passion for aviation.

The bug bit early - Thompson soloed a glider in his teens. Then, like many of us, he had to take time off from flying to get through college and start his way in the world. Fourteen years later, he launched into flight training with the same focus that has served him well in his career.

Thompson bought his first airplane, a new Mooney 231, in 1982, and completed his private pilot certificate in the airplane, which he based at John Wayne Airport-Orange County in Santa Ana, California. That first year of ownership, he amassed roughly 700 hours. His instrument training came concurrently. "It was never divided," says Thompson. "The private [certificate] was just a waypoint." He sold the Mooney in 1988, with 1,800 hours in it.

After renting for a while, he bought a Mooney TLS, in 1994, which he owned through 2002. That airplane he took across the Atlantic three times, in the summers of 1995, 1996, and 1997. "When you buy an airplane, your interest is in flying places." He flew some for business, simply because the two mixed well.

In 2002, he made the move into turboprops, with the purchase of a Pilatus PC-12, an airplane he still adores, collecting more than 2,000 hours in nearly five years he owned it. His latest move? To a Cessna Citation CJ3, which he took delivery of in September 2006. When we spoke in mid July, Thompson had just finished his first European trip in the airplane. Upon completing his initial training in the CJ3, the insurance company required 100 hours of initial operating experience with a more experienced pilot, but let him go it alone at a little less than that. He notes that with owner-spec'ed airplanes, all the money is spent up front: "You see fewer options in the cabin - it's all in the cockpit!"

Thompson currently heads up Orix, an international diversified investment banking and financial services company, begun 20 years ago as a commercial equipment leasing company. The company is anchored in Dallas, with 1,200 employees with offices across the country and in London, Paris, and Frankfurt. Now, Thompson retains a pilot to fly the CJ3 on business trips, because he feels that to fly single pilot with divided attention would be less than optimal.

For Thompson, being a pilot is clearly not an ego thing, but a real engagement. For fun, he keeps an Aero Vodochoy L-39 Albatross, in which he enjoys flying light acrobatics - to the tune of about 100 hours a year - just to reinvigorate his passion for flight. As he passes the 50-year mark chronologically, he feels the need for more proficiency training, and less of a drive to multi-task. He finds the jet "simpler" than the turboprops. "You can always slow things down when you want - Julie K. Boatman

David Goode
President and CEO, Goode Ski Technologies

Entrepreneur David Goode worked his way to a Cessna Citation Mustang one ski at a time. Both in his business as a manufacturer of water and snow skis and in personal matters, Goode and wife Dawn have followed this philosophy since dating as teenagers: "Dreams become thoughts, thoughts become actions, and actions become reality."

Goode dreamed of becoming a top skier and qualified to earn a spot on the U.S. Ski Team in 1974, but injuries got in the way. Goode says today only that he did "OK," and that ends the discussion. His dream of becoming a pilot was instilled by his father, who owned a Cessna 340. Goode soloed 36 years ago in a Cessna 172 and became first a Cessna 182 owner, then, for thousands of flying hours, a Cessna 310 owner. The dream of owning his own ski company took precedence, but secretly, "I dreamt of flying a jet," he says.

That was a lot of ski poles ago. And water skis. And snow skis. At age 19, Goode started his own company in his home state of Michigan, manufacturing carbon-fiber ski poles, and they were a hit. He was too busy running a company to hear how it ought to be done, so he skipped college. He expanded to lightweight carbon-fiber water skis, moved the company to Ogden, Utah, and now offers carbon-fiber snow skis.

Goode began calling his Cessna distributor three years before the Mustang was announced, trying to confirm rumors that an entry-level jet was in development. Finally the salesman called him on September 18, 2002, to confirm the rumors, and Goode consulted with Dawn (the couple is called D-squared because they are always together) before faxing a copy of the deposit check that night at 11:02 p.m. He still has the fax.

He drove his business harder to pay for the Mustang and in 2006 had his best year ever, in part because of the approaching delivery date early in 2007. Training for this 9,000-hour pilot took just two weeks plus three days and was followed by 25 hours from mentoring from a Cessna pilot. Goode had never seen a Garmin G1000 cockpit before, which can entail a two-week course by itself. Everything that has happened to Goode since he first stepped into the 340-knot jet has further convinced him he made the right choice.

Since no simulator was available at the time, he took all his training in production model number 2, including the coast-to-coast mentoring. When a starter generator broke, his mentor turned to him for a decision. Goode chose to land at the nearest Citation service center and was surprised to see a group of technicians approaching the aircraft before it had stopped rolling. He was even more surprised that a new Mustang starter generator was in stock, given there was no Mustang fleet as yet.

Less than three months after taking delivery in April he had flown the Mustang 173.5 hours, "...ninety-nine percent of it for business," he says. During that time he has had a lightning strike that fried a static wick - easily replaced - and exited by burning a pencil-sized hole in the top tip of the tail. There was no damage to the metal aircraft's systems. Goode is not convinced that an airplane built of carbon fiber would have reacted well to the heat of lightning, and he knows carbon fiber well.

Now there's a new dream for D-squared, both of them avid skiers, and that is to fly the jet to ski on every continent. There's also a new name for the aircraft: Dreams To Reality. - Alton K. Marsh

Bill Crutchfield
Founder and CEO, Crutchfield Corporation

Mention Bill Crutchfield to a tech-nophile and watch their eyes take on that dreamy look that Homer Simpson gets when he thinks of doughnuts. Known internationally for its breathtaking inventory of anything electronic, Crutchfield Corporation of Charlottesville, Virginia, makes its mark in the competitive consumer electronics business through incredible customer and technical service. Call with a question and you'll speak with a technician trained in the setup and use of whatever piece of gear you are interested in or have purchased.

Founder and Chief Executive Officer William G. Crutchfield started the company based on his interest in car stereos, which still represent a significant portion of the company's business. Today the slick catalog and glitzy Web site - and two Virginia retail stores - also feature big-screen televisions, home theater systems, GPS, car navigation systems, MP3 players, and digital cameras - among other things electronic.

Through it all, Crutchfield has used airplanes to help him grow the vibrant company. For the last decade it has been a Beech-craft King Air C90B that he has piloted throughout the East to visit vendors, attend electronics shows, foster a new customer call center in southwestern Virginia, set up shop in Canada, and support his various philanthropic causes - including using the airplane to transport high-level administrators and donors for the nearby University of Virginia.

"The King Air allows me to do those trips more reliably and arrive more refreshed. Many are day trips that wouldn't be possible with a piston airplane," Crutchfield says. In four decades of flying he has owned a Cessna 150 and 172, two Mooney 201s, and two Beechcraft Bonanza A36s and a Baron 58. "It used to be with the piston airplanes I would have to go someplace the night before in order to relax and get ready for a meeting."

While flying the single-engine airplanes long distances, at night, and over the Appalachian Mountains, Crutchfield realized that he wasn't comfortable with the risk, so he began inquiring about a turboprop. His insurance company encouraged him to get some piston twin time first, so he bought the Baron and flew it for the requisite 500 hours before climbing into the King Air. "It's truly an all-weather airplane. It's comfortable, has auto-feather and rudder boost and my maintenance is less than I spent on the Baron." Crutchfield trains annually at FlightSafety International to maintain proficiency. "If you can afford it and with the training and experience, it makes no sense not to invest in a turbine airplane."

He credits the King Air with the success of one of his biggest business expansions - a new call center in southwestern Virginia. The rural region was economically depressed, and Crutchfield believed it would be a good place for a call center, although it would have been easier from an infrastructure standpoint to move into some existing facility near the coast. Using the King Air for frequent trips to the region, he persevered - he installed the high-speed Internet and phone connections, built a building, hired and trained the staff, and now employs 110 people at the site. After he blazed the trail, other companies also set up call centers there, which now employ more than 1,000 people in one county. "The trickle down effect is amazing - restaurants, car dealers, and other retailers are all flourishing because of those jobs," remarks Crutchfield. "It would not have been possible - absolutely not a consideration but for that airplane," he says, pointing at the stout King Air. - Thomas B. Haines

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