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Sky's The Limit

Ever thought of starting your own airline? Now that's an entrepreneur.

The unlikely roots of Ned Homfeld's success story can be traced back further than any of his entrepreneurial ventures. Although the ultimate result has been a multimillion-dollar company, Homfeld has traveled a long road and faced the challenges of starting and outgrowing a number of businesses since he honed his survival skills in the competitive arena of sailboat racing as a teen. "The competition in sailing is much like the competition in many of the businesses I've been in," says Homfeld. "If there are 40 boats that are exactly the same--the same sails, the same hulls, the same weight--they ideally have the same speed. It's how you sail your boat that determines whether you win or lose a race."

As Homfeld studied to earn his degree in naval architecture, his goal had been to design America's Cup racing yachts. But a funny thing happened on the way to the Cup: A string of businesses, beginning with a trucking company he started while in college, kept Homfeld's beloved hobby just that.

At the end of that string is Spirit Airlines, which offers low-fare jet service to 14 popular leisure and business destinations, including Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Atlantic City, New Jersey and several Florida locations. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based company grossed more than $135 million in sales last year and boasts the highest load factor (proportion of seats filled) in the industry. And the addition of five new MD-80s last year increased seating capacity by 20 percent; as a result, 1999 sales are projected at $230 million-plus.

But the flight to success wasn't a smooth one: Homfeld had to learn to roll with the punches--to go back to the drawing board quickly and pursue change wherever necessary. Perhaps the key to his achievements has been not being afraid to re-evaluate and then head in a different direction.

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This article was originally published in the August 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sky's The Limit.

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