Orange County Business Journal

Rough Takeoff to Smooth Sailing

Rabin Pilots JetSuite to Steady Growth Laurence Darmiento Sunday, March 31, 2013

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Rabin: “most supportive investors you can imagine”

JetSuite’s timing couldn’t have been worse.

The Irvine-based charter jet service started up as the U.S. economy plunged deeper into recession in 2009, and terms such as corporate bankruptcies and layoffs became part of routine conversation.

President and Chief Financial Officer Keith Rabin says he managed to pilot the company through the recession by hiring the best people, investing in smaller, fuel-efficient light jets, and harnessing the power of social media to “bring private jet travel to more people than ever before.”

His strategy has kept the company on a growth track amid the economic recovery.

JetSuite has grown to 130 employees during Rabin’s tenure and was recently ranked No. 10 in the travel/hospitality sector of Inc. Magazine’s Hire Power Awards.

The company doubled its fleet last year by adding Cessna Citation CJ3 aircraft, which can seat six or seven people.

“Regardless of the economic environment, if you have a great product that is 30 to 40 percent cheaper, you can get a great market share,” said Rabin, who was one of the honorees at the Business Journal’s 12th annual Excellence in Entrepreneurship Awards on March 20 at the Hyatt Regency Irvine.

JetSuite doesn’t disclose profits, but Rabin said it has been growing revenue steadily since its inception, reaching $25 million last year. It expects revenue to double this year, helped along by the addition of two planes, taking its fleet to 18 overall.

Groundwork

Rabin started groundwork on the company in 2006 with two partners—Alex Wilcox, the company’s chief executive and cofounder of JetBlue, and Brian Coulter, vice president of operations—for Proctor NBF.

The New York-based private equity firm had just invested in several fuel-efficient light jets and asked Rabin and his partners to put a business plan behind the aircraft, providing startup capital for operating the first five airplanes.

“We researched the market and analyzed the competition, everything from food, fuel, pilots, cost structure,” Rabin said. “We wanted to find a way to offer comparable or better service for roughly half the cost of already-established companies.”

Rabin discovered that private jet flights usually carried four people at most, traveling less than 1,000 miles. His competitors had sizable fleets of larger aircraft designed for long hauls and consuming more fuel. Some charged customers for extra travel time caused by traffic delays or bad weather.

“You’d get a surprise statement at the end of the month,” Rabin said. “We wanted to be transparent. JetSuite posts [prices] on our website, so you know exactly how much it will cost.”

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