Glenn Gonzales, Aviation Entrepreneur
“I don’t know what started it,” he says. It was something innate. “I just wanted to fly.”
Today this former Air Force officer is flying high on his new dream: as co-founder and CEO of the burgeoning airplane share company Jet It.
The Texas native enrolled in the prestigious US Air Force Academy in Colorado, where he could play Division I college basketball and pursue his aviation interests. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and went to Laughlin Air Force Base for pilot training.
Soon he became an instructor himself, teaching trainees how to fly in formation in the Northrop T38 Talon supersonic jet, taking them above the speed of sound for the first time.
“Flying fighters was the most exhilarating experience. It’s a level of power – like physical power, defiance of nature to an extent – it’s almost indescribable,” Glenn says.
He went on to fly F-15 fighter jets out of Langley Air Force Base, where he was a flight commander. Glenn completed a tour in Kyrgyzstan for a deployment supporting the base commander where he spent time on the Ambassador’s country team. He also pursued a master’s degree in aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
In 2009, he left active duty and lined up a job at Gulfstream, piloting aircrafts as part of the sales demonstration team. However, he ended up furloughed due to the recession.
“I had a rude awakening: the pilots are the first to be let go and the last to be called back,” he said. He ended up reinventing himself as a business acquisition and development consultant, completing his master’s and starting an MBA at the University of South Carolina. “When Gulfstream called me back, I was a different person.”
He aimed to work his way into the sales side of the business at Gulfstream. He went to work figuring out what skills he would need for the gig. He started checking off boxes. He studied the background of executives whose careers he admired. He sought out officials throughout the company for advice – sometimes to the annoyance of others who didn’t appreciate him getting that kind of access. He came prepared to talk to them about their experiences, and his own.
“I had a number of mentors helping me….I was very much focused on how do I get what I want? I don’t have all the answers. Who can help me? What resources do I have?” he says. “I just wanted to get in the room with them.”
He wanted to get into sales because that career path often led people to the c-suite. His MBA essay was a pilot’s guide from cockpit to the c-suite.
“It was my heart. I was bleeding on the page about what I wanted to accomplish. I followed my own words that were in this guide on how to become a sales representative to build my network and to learn more about this business.”
He got his chance in sales with Honda Aircraft Company, headquartered in Greensboro. In 2014, Glenn became its regional sales manager in charge of 16 states, one of only a handful of people in the world selling the newly developed light business jets directly to consumers.
“It was everything that I expected. I loved it. I love people. I love helping solve problems. Any sales person knows that is what you are doing,” he says. “You are not selling for yourself or to make a commission. You have to be focused on solving the individual’s problem. You have to have an affinity for what you are selling. I believe in the HondaJet and I believe in the company behind it.”
It was in that problem-solving that spurred the idea for his business, Jet It.
People loved the aircraft. But they didn’t need a whole airplane. Existing plane-share businesses – which sell by the hour – didn’t meet their needs either, Glenn found. His colleague and co-founder Vishal Hiremath discovered potential clients in the same predicament in Asia.
It was an ignored segment of the market. So they developed a new business model, where owners bought days instead of hours. Clients got more value for their dollar.
Glenn had a new business.
“We are the only ones conducting our business model. Harvard wrote a case study on Jet It and how we will scale and how we will grow and be a success,” he says.
Headquartered on S. Elm Street in Greensboro, Jet It now is operating in the US and Europe. Glenn delivered their first aircraft to Canada recently, and they’ve announced plans to be the launch customer for a new electric aircraft designed by Bye Aerospace.
Glenn and Vishal were recently named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Southeast.
“Our goal is to be a global company. We should be able to replicate our business around the world,” he says. “We are focused on one successful flight at a time.”