Practice Makes Perfect

FlightTime Corp. - Waltham, Massachusetts

FlightTime received its 1989 award from SBANE for "identifying and capitalizing on a new niche in the business travel market." Founded in 1985, the company geared the concept of air chartering to the then untapped corporate and academic market. Then FlightTime totally reinvented itself in the late 1990s as the Internet came into its own and now offers charter reservation services online to business and leisure travelers, sports teams and corporations. The firm had sales of $27 million last year, up from $20 million in 2000.

The complex task of integrating its state-of-the-art Internet booking system has not stopped FlightTime from continuing its product innovations. Last year, it introduced Freedom Plan, a service with the convenience of private aviation and the flexibility of charter. This year, the company launched its Charter Management Program to help corporate clients create charter travel policies, boost security and reduce costs.

"A culture has been nurtured here to introduce innovative products and services to meet customer demand," says Michael Foliot, CEO and president, who joined the company in 2000. "As a small company, we can do that very well." The company has 80 employees at its Waltham headquarters and in nine offices worldwide.

According to chairman and founder Jane McBride, the method of promoting an innovative culture at FlightTime has changed over the years. "In the early days, our culture encouraged a 'wing it' management style. We used to think that was the only way to stimulate innovation," she says. "But in the late '90s, when we saw the impact technology and other market forces were going to have over the next five years, we had to change dramatically, and part of that was creating more discipline. We had to develop an organizational structure and systems for measurement and accountability."

Creative reorganization actually freed the company up to be more innovative. "It was painful to go through the soul-searching and choose to make big changes, but we had to put the infrastructure, a new management team and a whole new culture in place to allow us to keep innovating," McBride adds. Naming Foliot as CEO was part of that evolution. While McBride continues to serve as the company's chief visionary, Foliot handles operations.

"Getting ideas was never a problem for us; we always have tons of ideas," says McBride. "But putting processes and procedures in place has enabled us to get ideas through to implementation faster and to weed out those that aren't going to work. We now have criteria against which we can measure and prioritize ideas so we move ahead with the very best ones instead of taking the scattershot approach we used to take. This has made a big difference in our ability to bring innovative products to market faster."

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Practice Makes Perfect.

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