Follow The Leader: Thomas Flohr, Founder And Chairman, Vista Global Holding
Flohr, has successfully transformed a venture that started with operating just two aircrafts into a global private aviation group with 350 jets flying to every continent.
This article is a part of the 2022 edition of Entrepreneur Middle East's annual Follow The Leader series, in which enterprise head honchos from the region talk strategy, industry-specific tactics, and professional challenges as they lead their respective businesses to success.
"I certainly didn't set out to be an entrepreneur!" confesses Thomas Flohr, who, over the last 18 years, has successfully transformed venture that started with operating just two aircrafts into a global private aviation group with 350 jets flying to every continent and can also brag about flying Formula One team Scuderia Ferrari's racers!
But Flohr, the founder and Chairman of private aviation firm VistaJet, says that his decision to launch the company was simply a byproduct of his innate ability to look for solutions. "What really inspires me in life is the challenge- if something doesn't make sense, it's my natural inclination to change it," Flohr says. "That's what happened with private aviation many years ago. Prior to founding VistaJet in 2004, I was in asset finance and flying hundreds of hours each year. But the only way to be in multiple meetings in multiple countries in one day was to fly private. However, I was surprised by the amount of time that business jets would sit idle, and the lack of consistency from one to another, which meant that as a customer, I didn't know what would be waiting for me on the tarmac. So, I saw an opportunity to offer an alternative."
In 2018, Flohr set up Vista Global Holding in the city of Dubai in a bid to consolidate all of his brands that provides a full range of access to global business aviation. In addition to VistaJet, a second aviation firm, XO, was added to Vista, while the company also went on a streak of acquisitions including Apollo Jet, Red Wing Aviation, Talon Air and, more recently, Air Hamburg, and Jet Edge. VistaJet's story, however, began in the small European country of Malta, where Flohr envisioned the creation of "a completely new way to fly, with access to a global, consistently branded fleet, paying only for the hours you fly, with guaranteed availability and no asset risk."
What Flohr alludes to by asset risk is that, through VistaJet's services, clients can enjoy the full advantage of flying private, without having to actually own an aircraft. The firm offers these perks to customers who register with VistaJet's Program membership. "We fly to 96% of the globe -essentially anywhere in the world where you can land an aircraft- and offer the added benefit of guaranteed aircraft availability with as little as 24 hours' notice wherever you are in the world," Flohr says. "Our global infrastructure is what makes this possible. We have a floating fleet, which means none of our aircrafts have a 'home' to fly back to– when you book with us, we simply move the nearest plane to pick you up. By removing the restrictive burden of repositioning fees, our clients only ever pay for the time they are in the air. It is a feature of our Program membership that delivers exceptional savings for private individuals and resonates particularly well with our corporate clients– especially when compared to the cost of ownership, which includes steep depreciation of the aircraft and high maintenance costs."
Flohr adds here that his aviation firm has also witnessed a record number of bookings for its on-demand services feature, adding that, over the last two years amid the COVID-19 crisis, "a new set of clients looked at private aviation for the first time as a way to keep business moving in a disrupted world." But in the midst of stating VistaJet's progress, Flohr manages to almost instantaneously delve into the driving force behind his firm's operations. "Since the launch of VistaJet, our sole focus has been to make flying private simple, and everything we have done, and continue to do since then, is with that clear goal in mind," he explains. "For travelers, the cabin experience is the most significant part of the journey, and this is particularly true for private travel. It is why we seek to do things differently and take care of every detail to ensure our members enjoy a tailored and unparalleled experience, every time."
It is here that Flohr reflects the kind of attention to detail one would expect from the man behind such a successful business journey. For starters, the firm's fleet specifically comprises the Global 7500 aircraft, touted as the world's largest and longest range business jet. "VistaJet currently has 10 aircrafts in its fleet, making it the largest operator of Global 7500 aircraft in the world," Flohr adds. "Its record-breaking speeds mean that, for the first time, travelers can go from Dubai to as far afield as San Francisco, Vancouver, or Sao Paulo in one trip– and arrive up to 21% faster than the next fastest business jet on the market. VistaJet is also renowned for having the only consistent fleet in the industry. So, whatever aircraft you're traveling in, the interior of our aircraft -from the spacious cabins to the elegant furnishings, with dark wood and fine Italian leather- is identical throughout, and you know what to expect every time you fly. We even offer a curated library. For corporate leaders, it is business as usual when they fly, as all cabins are equipped with the most advanced office equipment and fastest WiFi to maximize productivity."
Thomas Flohr, founder and Chairman, Vista Holding. Source: VistaJet
Despite a primary focus on creating memorable on-board experiences, Flohr's goals also transcend into one very pivotal aspect of the private aviation industry's operations: sustainability. "We are already laying the groundwork that has put us on track to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025- 25 years ahead of current industry goals," Flohr says. "Since April 2021, VistaJet has worked to make the adoption of carbon offsetting by VistaJet members grow to over 85%, ensured single-use items are kept to a bare minimum- having achieved an over 90% reduction in their use, refined its fleet sharing model to continue driving fleet efficiencies, and maximized fleet optimization to improve fuel-efficient consumption by 8%."
Meanwhile, unlike much of the global aviation industry, the COVID-19 crisis didn't majorly affect VistaJet's operations. "Overall, private aviation was fairly insulated from the challenges that have beset commercial aviation over the past couple of years," Flohr reveals. "It proved to be a pivotal moment for the sector, with the industry benefitting from a seismic shift in perceptions that came about as a direct result of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic." And as has been characteristic of Flohr throughout his entrepreneurial journey, the founder used this as an opportunity to induce further growth for his firm. "It wasn't a time to rest on our laurels -if anything, the opposite is true- and in doing so, we had an opportunity to show new clients how VistaJet can be a financially viable travel solution for the long term as well," he adds. "As a result, we have seen a significant surge in new corporate memberships, as organizations came to recognize the many benefits we offer in terms of safety, security, and accessibility."
By capitalizing on the opportunities created in the last two years, VistaJet has managed to sustain that growth well into 2022 as well, despite the resurgence of commercial aviation. But Flohr remembers the period during the onset of the pandemic as one that allowed him to further appreciate the capabilities of his workforce. "What I really discovered is how incredible the team around me was– the whole company thrived thanks to their openness to change, their resourceful and entrepreneurial spirit, as well as the utmost dedication to guarantee continuity of service to our clients," he says.
Flohr's pride in his team's response during the peak of the COVID-19 crisis is particularly significant when he puts into perspective just how long VistaJet has been around. "From launching a company at the end of the dotcom bubble crisis, to navigating ebola, the financial crash, the European Union debt crisis, Arab Spring, crash of the oil price combined with the ruble depreciation, Brexit, a global pandemic, and now the crisis in Ukraine, Vista has proven its resilience," Flohr says. "Our reason for resilience is that we operate in the right aircraft class, have the right business model being asset-light, and have the global infrastructure and contacts that have taken many years to build. At Vista, we have a startup approach, but also a global mentality. Everyone is responsible for driving success, and we have always worked as one combined team, and we have an internal trust across teams that has proven itself even more over the last year. I might have had the initial vision– but it is as a team that we have made Vista what it is today."