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.