Saturday, July 16, 2005

Former friends, part I

We didn't make the flight today. For what amounted to an unnecessary trip that would be accomplished any time, I didn't want to deal with heavy IFR, and a return through thunderstorms.

I did catch up with Chris- the deposed former owner of the school where I formerly worked. Until this morning, we hadn't spoken in 11 months. He had held a grudge for a while, though I suspect it was more due to his frustrations with being near failure of the business, than directly due to me.

I had been working there for a while- even before he bought the school. He had been an instructor there when I was still a student. He is a talented pilot, and had been, at one time, a very good instructor. But the business end of the place wore him down.

Some of the problems came about by trying to cut corners, in an attempt to save a few dollars here and there. I recognized that problem quickly, only because I had been taught a very poignant lesson in a marketing course I took many years ago (in preparation for what almost led to pursuit of an MBA). I had been in a marketing simulation game, and due to having a couple students drop out, I was playing the 4-student-per-team game by myself. I was doing well, and had a chance to win the class competition, but I tweaked the product just enough that I lost the market segment I wanted. I came in third.

Same kind of thing happens every day in the real business world though. Cutting corners usually happens when profits are low. But if you cut enough, you invariably remove one of the main reasons you have customers to begin with. Then the profits get even lower. The end result is usually a spiraling descent toward failure. That is what Chris was doing. Especially in a service-driven market, you can't cut those corners and survive for long.

Those problems are what I believe led him to a bit of depression, and a tendency to not bother showing up at all for days at a time. He wanted other people to deal with his problems. I could understand his mindset at the time, but I couldn't seem to get him past it.

During the spring of last year, I bought a Cessna 172 and kept it in the school, partly for the income, partly for the ability to more directly influence the business end of it. Not long after, I found myself making contacts with people who wanted something different: a school with new aircraft, and a different philosophy. We had some meetings, and our plans seemed to match well, so we continued discussion.

At the time, several of us were feeling the frustration of trying to get through to him, having met to discuss issues several times recently. I felt I had one last attempt to change things from within before ending my commitment to that school, and I met with Chris to lay it all on the line. I listed what I expected him to change, and explained that if he couldn't do that, I'd be leaving, possibly to compete against him. I wanted to make sure there could be no reason to blame me from that point on. It would be my last warning.

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