CEO: How a small shift in my language opened up massive growth opportunities

Nick TarascioNick Tarascio

In my first year as CEO, I was standing in the lobby of our flight school when a man in his eighties walked in after his first flight experience in the pilot seat of a small propeller aircraft.
The first thing I noticed was that he wasn’t smiling. Instead he had a blank stare instead of the the toothy grin I’m used to seeing.

I asked him if something was wrong with the flight. 

His somber response, “I just realised that I could have been doing this my whole life. All these years, I had built up this idea that this was something that was unattainable or unrealistic.” 

My heart sunk with his.

It was that moment that ultimately made me realise how often people don’t push to their edges. It also made me realise I was at risk of developing the same blind spots which could lead me to a point where I was left with wonder and regret. 

I started monitoring my language and noticed how often I argued the reasons I couldn’t do things. From that point on whenever I’d catch myself about to respond with a “but”, “That won’t work”, or “That’s not possible,” I’d pause and ask myself if I had to try, how would I do it?

How do you make a million dollars in aviation? Start with five million. Jokes like that and anecdotes about failed aviation companies underscored the unfortunate reality that many aviation business are losing money. For roughly 7 years at the helm of the company, I accepted the belief and ran the company at a loss feeling as if it’s the best I could do. 

Last year, one of my employees pointed out to me that the charter jet industry was shifting from a round trip model to a one-way model and he saw the opportunity for us to embrace the changes. My initial reaction was that there was no point in doing so since that won’t work anyways. It felt like it would be too expensive, too time consuming and we didn’t have the expertise to pull it off. 

I caught myself before the words came out and asked how we could explore the model without taking too much risk. Over the following 3 months, we tested and tweaked until we started to see some positive results. After 6 months, the results came in that had increased margins by 33% and pushed us healthily into profitability. 

As I reflected back, it amazed me that a small shift in language opened up a massive growth opportunity in an industry that “you can’t make money in.”

 Nick Tarascio is the CEO of Ventura Air Services.

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