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'Why I joined VistaJet, the private airline firm bigger than BA'

My First Boss: The people who helped shape business leaders

Why I joined VistaJet, the private airline firm bigger than BA
VistaJet CFO Charlotte Colhoun joined the global firm in 2018. Photo: VistaJet

Having worked at PwC within their deals practice, Charlotte Colhoun, who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Law and Accounting from University of Exeter, joined VistaJet in 2018 and is group chief financial officer.

With over 4,000 staff, Vista Global Holding (Vista), celebrating its 20th year, is regarded as the world’s biggest global private aviation group. It witnessed record flight hours in 2023, a 20% growth in subscription hours and member base.

In a male-dominated space – only 13% of women hold CFO positions in the top 100 airline carriers – I joined VistaJet with no prior background and enticed by a dynamic company in a fast-paced industry.

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I’ve been able to carve out my own leadership style and given opportunities to lead smaller teams up to our finance department, which is nearly 300 people globally.

That has been down to founder and chairman Thomas Flohr, who creates a sense of pride and tangible impact in what you are doing.

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His background is asset financing and early doors I was working closely with them. I was surprised at someone working at that level and realised VistaJet wasn’t hierarchical. He wants to know and appreciate the individuals in the organisation and he gave me opportunities to challenge myself.

What has helped in my relationship is that level of trust and I kind of know what I don’t know. He’s helped to fill the gaps and has taken extra time to teach what I don’t know.

Thomas Flohr has led VistaJet from a European start-up company operating two aircraft into a leading global aviation company. Photo: VistaJet
Thomas Flohr has led VistaJet from a European start-up company operating two aircraft into a leading global aviation company. Photo: VistaJet

I was previously at PwC focusing on financial services clients where you are put on projects, execute them and walk away. You never really see them through to completion. At VistaJet, you are ultimately accountable to an individual rather than being a resource being farmed out.

Thomas is super passionate and that’s both addictive and one that encourages everyone in the organisation to thrive off his vision. He’s also approachable, humble and always been very respectful.

When we are working in stressful situations or closing deals on limited sleep, he has also found the right balance of making sure you are aware when something hasn’t gone to plan and you learn from it.

Essentially it’s the good, the bad and the ugly in terms of feedback.

The interior of a new Bombardier Global 7500 business jet is seen as the company celebrates its 10th delivery of this aircraft to VistaJet in Montreal, Quebec, Canada March 29, 2022.  REUTERS/Christinne Muschi
The interior of VistaJet's Bombardier Global 7500 business jet. Photo: Reuters (REUTERS / Reuters)

From an industry perspective, VistaJet has disrupted it. Everything we’re doing goes against the grain of the industry norm. The macro trend that drives our growth is the shift away from asset ownership to asset-light solutions, where the majority of the industry is incredibly inefficient.

VistaJet is a global company which is providing global private aviation solutions on a subscription basis. It’s a unique business model that has revolutionised how the industry works.

Thomas created a model of no home base, one where our aircraft naturally float across the globe and follow where our clients are.

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The clients we are targeting are individuals and corporations that typically own a fleet or fleet of planes. But owning an aircraft has become increasingly challenging both operationally or from a balance sheet perspective.

What we offer is more efficient than the average.

If you are leveraging a shared fleet of infrastructure versus an individual with a plane, we are minimising the ‘empty legs’ to operate as efficiently as possible and this also drives sustainability.

VistaJet has enhanced its service offering with an extensive fleet refurbishment – showing greater demand for private aviation despite economic shifts.
VistaJet has enhanced its service offering with an extensive fleet refurbishment – showing greater demand for private aviation despite economic shifts.

As our clients are generally corporations, they also demand us to have clear strategies: Sustainable aviation fuel, carbon offsetting and transparency and reporting.

Thomas repeatedly says to hire not for where you are today but where you need to be.

And we’ve got a good strategy for attracting diverse talent globally. It takes a lot of time to build the knowledge on how to get in and out of certain airports and the permits needed but also we have an in-house technology which facilitates everything from the initial flight request to crew deployment and private dining.

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VistaJet has 4,400 employees — 50% of which are operational flight staff — and we operate a wider operating fleet of over 300, averaging 240 flights per day. To put that into context, that’s bigger than British Airways.

We deliver a premium client service and constant communication to make sure any single flight runs on time is fundamental. The commercial aviation space runs on scheduled routes whereas we run unscheduled globally.

The complexity that goes into our day-to-day flight operations is pretty phenomenal and we execute on it pretty seamlessly.

Watch: Jet dubbed 'Ferrari of the skies' one of fastest in the world

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