In 1976, at the age of 22, Mike Thompson started in the insurance business. As a suggestion for success, more seasoned colleagues advised him to get involved in civic activities, so Thompson chose to attend a civic club meeting in East Charlotte.
Charlotte’s mayor was the club’s guest speaker and Thompson recalls the mayor’s first remarks as especially meaningful.
“When he got up and said, ‘My name is Ken Harris and I’m with New England Mutual Life Insurance Company,’ I immediately felt like my career choice had been validated. The mayor of Charlotte was an insurance agent and proud to be one,” Thompson recounts.
Today, Thompson himself is the managing partner of the former mayor’s agency, which was known as Harris Murphy and Associates before 1994.
It’s been Thompson Financial Group, Inc. (TFG) since then, but the roots of the company date back to 1905. “There have only been six others in my position, so it has been a privilege and an honor to have this firm,” says Thompson.
TFG is the North Carolina agency for New England Financial, a MetLife company. New England Financial formed when MetLife merged with the oldest mutual company in the U.S., New England Mutual Life Insurance Company, in 1998.
With close to $600 million in assets under management and over 50,000 policy holders, TFG offers a wide range of financial services from estate planning, investments, insurance and total wealth management to corporate solutions such as risk management and employee benefits.
“My predecessor handled the pension plan for the North Carolina Bar Association, so many of our clients in the 1940s and ’50s were attorneys,” explains Thompson. “We still provide financial services to many attorneys.
“We’ve also had a very large business in the construction industry. We started the Carolina Construction Alliance as a service to our customers in the construction industry. At one point, we handled the insurance and investments and were the primary financial advisor for 300 to 500 construction firms.
“More recently, we’ve been working with independent pharmacies across North Carolina and Virginia.”
TFG started out based in North Carolina with principal offices in Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. In 2007, TFG merged with the Virginia agency for New England Financial, Financial Services of Virginia, and gained offices in Richmond and Charlottesville.
Last year TFG merged with the South Carolina agency known as Carolina Capital Management, whose main offices are in Charleston and Greenville.
“So now we encompass three states and we’re more of a regional firm,” Thompson comments. “We also have international clients and are licensed in 42 states.”
All of the agencies have kept their original names to retain local market recognition and, along with TFG, are covered under the corporate entity name NEF of the Carolinas, LLC.
TFG currently has about 55 career advisors and several hundred associated brokers. TFG career advisors start as employees, but as they grow they become independent contractors, eventually owning their own businesses. As the firm’s managing partner, Thompson’s goal is to assist each advisor toward that opportunity.
“Each of the 55 advisors runs their business according to their own business plan and their target clients vary according to how they wish to specialize themselves in the marketplace,” Thompson explains. “Some advisors specialize in working with individuals, some only with corporations. But whatever client market they choose, our products and services can support their clients’ needs.”
MetLife is TFG’s primary carrier but Thompson notes, “Our career advisors have access to many carriers, and choose where to place a client’s business based on what is best for each client.”
“The days of the product sales people have pretty much gone away. Agents are called advisors because they act in that capacity. Somewhere around 50 percent of our business today is in wealth management, with the remaining portion in risk management or insurance. When I started, only five percent of the business was wealth management. Today’s industry professionals need to be well-versed in the entire arena of financial services.”
Expertise, Products and Tools
Each advisor has specialized tools to best assist their clients. TFG uses a holistic approach to financial planning called “consultative selling.” The seven-step program begins with an assessment of a client’s current position and of their goals and objectives, identifying gaps and creating a vision, and then moves to development and implementation of a customized plan to achieve those goals. Periodic status meetings monitor and refine the plan.
Many advisors also take advantage of the firm’s specialized technology tool called Personal Financial View (PFV). According to Thompson, “PFV is a web-based program that aggregates all of a client’s critical documents and key information in one location. A client can easily access and view their financial picture and collaborate with us in real time. The PFV tool separates us from our competition.”
TFG identifies several common stages with specific financial planning needs: early stages include a new couple or a startup business, both needing to establish a relationship with a financial services person; intermediate stages may involve a couple buying a home or starting a family or a growing business needing advice on liability insurance, adding employee benefits or group health insurance; later stages could involve establishing kids’ college education funds or estate planning for the individual and additions of a 401(k) plan or programs for key employee retention or a business succession plan for a mature business.
Through their in-house specialists or affiliated companies, TFG has the personal solutions for all the stages of the financial life cycle. But Thompson notes that TFG also stands out for its expertise in an emerging market.
“Many companies can help you make money, but what happens when you want to start taking the money out?” asks Thompson. “Who will help you integrate your 401(k) with your pension? When is the best time to start receiving social security? As a business owner, how will I be able to retire? What are the tax implications when you withdraw or move money from an account?
“Baby Boomers are running into these questions now. They’re afraid they might outlive their money. Our expertise really works well with distribution planning. My goal, and our goal as a firm, is to make sure clients have a comfortable retirement. This kind of planning is a specialty for our firm. There’s no substitute for planning.
Thompson has been assisting some of his clients for over 30 years. Dr. Jerry Punch became a client 36 years ago when he was just a second-year medical student at Wake Forest’s Bowman Gray School of Medicine.
“The first time I met Mike Thompson, my wife and I were living in a three-room apartment that had no heat. Mike came over to speak to us about planning for our future,” recalls Punch. “When you’re a medical student a lot of insurance and investment people reach out to you because of your potential for a significant income in the future. I had turned down numerous other people, but Mike was different. After speaking with him, I realized this was an individual who really cared and would look after my family long-term.”
Punch, who in addition to having been CEO of his own emergency medicine company and a hospital chief of staff, is also well known for his work as a commentator for NASCAR and college football and basketball games on ESPN and ABC and as a motivational speaker and a consultant in sports medicine.
“I travel a lot in my career and I’m constantly bombarded with people who say they’re an expert in estate planning or that they have this high profile athlete or NASCAR driver as a client,” Punch says. “But in my opinion, none of them have anything more to offer or are anymore knowledgeable than Mike Thompson.
“I use almost every service TFG offers and I’ve never had a single regret. I trust him with my future and with my finances. I have a tremendous comfort level knowing that Mike is taking care of me and my family as if he were a part of my family.”
Thompson acknowledges that the most satisfying part of his work is seeing the tangible effects of what he does in his clients’ lives:
“It’s always rewarding when my work helps a client achieve a goal.” He recalls one instance when he met with partners in a lumber company in theNorth Carolina mountains to discuss a buy-sell agreement so that in the event of a partner’s death the remaining partner could buy the deceased partner’s share of the business. It would protect the business but one partner was very resistant.
“It took a lot of planning, explaining and working with the partners to finally get the agreement in place, but it was important that we did it because within two years of the policies going into effect, one of the partners passed away. Because of the policies though, the remaining partner was able to retain the business, and the deceased partner’s wife and family received a fair market price for their share of the business.. They were so thankful that we had worked to get that protection into place. That had a huge effect on me.”
Thompson’s concern for his clients is one of the reasons he’s initiated a succession plan for his own firm. “My plan is to retire from management of the company in the next few years, but I want to ensure my clients are still receiving the service they deserve. So I’ve entered into a succession plan with my partner Ed Cook, who will be the management successor. But I’m not getting out of the business; I’m just changing roles.”
Last year MetLife initiated a “team selling” system where experienced advisors pair up with individuals new to the business. The new people assist the advisors, freeing them up to focus on clientacquisition and sales. There are dedicated roles within the team for the advisors who focus on sales and the practice managers who manage service to clients.
“I’m forming a team myself so I can lead by example,” says Thompson.
Thompson’s team practice manager is April Lee. Lee, who has worked as Thompson’s right-hand person since 2007, finds many advantages in the team selling approach. “This service model enhances the client experience,” she says. “Clients like having one point of contact and the responsiveness that brings. They also like that the advisors have more time for interaction with them.”
Thompson predicts that service enhancements will also result from MetLife’s choice of Charlotte as the hub for their U.S. retail business. The move will consolidate MetLife’s product management, marketing, sales and customer support people in the city by the end of 2015.
“I am very proud that MetLife chose to relocate to my hometown,” says Thompson. “This is a good thing for the city of Charlotte, for our firm and for our clients.
“And that’s the most important thing—that we can continue to provide a great client experience. We want to ensure that our clients’ financial needs and concerns are addressed with the highest level of attention, insight and capability.”
Infinisource is a leading provider of fully-integrated, SaaS-based, cloud-resident Human Capital Management (HCM) solutions for small to medium-sized employers that are looking for a better way to manage and optimize a workforce. Their offerings include everything an employer needs—including payroll, human resources, benefits administration, time management, talent management and compliance—accessible from one login, anywhere and anytime.
Sound like an employer’s dream? Well, it is for many.
Infinisource was initially formed as COBRA Compliance Systems, Inc. in Coldwater, Mich., to handle health insurance COBRA benefits under the newly passed COBRA legislation in 1986.
Throughout the years, it has grown steadily, enhanced by several strategic acquisitions to supplement and enhance its offerings—COBRA Compliance of Indianapolis, Ind.; Aurora Administrative Solutions of Dayton, Ohio; Priority Pay of Laguna Hills, Calif.; Full Circle Payroll of Palmetto, Fla.; ABCO Payroll Services of Bradenton, Fla.—and acquired the new name in the process.
Headquartered in Ballantyne, Infinisource has been in business for over 27 years now with operations all over the country, serving over 63,000 small and midsize customers worldwide including some high-profile clients such as the San Francisco Giants, Washington Redskins and several of the Inc. 500 fastest growing companies in the country.
Its powerful presence in Charlotte is due to the amazing vision of inspired entrepreneur and investor Gary Trainor, its CEO. He is on a mission to create the most trusted provider of human capital management solutions by supplying industry-leading technology and expertise that empowers people and companies to do their best work.
The American dream of business ownership is oftentimes for people just that—a dream. But for Trainor, it’s the culmination of a lifelong pursuit with corporate America his training ground.
Trainor was born in Belleville, New Jersey. After graduating with honors with a B.A. in business administration from Rutgers and obtaining an M.B.A. in business from Fairleigh Dickinson University, he began what would be a 17-year stint with automatic data processing firm ADP in Roseland, N.J.
At ADP, Trainor served on the executive committee and was division president for two of the company’s largest business units. However he’s most renowned for launching the EasyPay system, a widely distributed payroll product.
Following ADP, from 1992 through 2005, he served as president of business management services firm CMS, Inc. in Winston-Salem, and then as division president at electronic commerce and payment services giant First Data.
But Trainor had a vision of his own. He has an entrepreneurial drive he attributes to his father, who started as a sweeper in a leather finishing factory and ended his career as president and general manager of the same company. He wanted to create an entity that would combine the best of the best into a full-service solution to serve the human capital management needs of small and medium-sized businesses.
In 2008, he joined leading private equity firm Accel-KKR as an operational advisor. Accel-KKR, a partnership between venture capital firm Accel Partners and leveraged buyout firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, is a firm focused on control investments in software and technology-enabled services companies.
Having had over three decades of experience at both ends of the human capital management equation, Trainor was ready to head up his own growth venture.
“I wanted to build a company that cuts out the cost and complexity of being an employer,” says Trainor. “I wanted to change how small to medium size companies, those with 20 to 2,500 employees, manage their workforce by providing a total workforce management solution.”
He felt his years of experience gave him great insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the market and that, by focusing on the human resource needs of organizations, he could build a company that targets all the ‘must haves’ in HR—payroll processing, tax and regulatory compliance, benefits administration, scheduling, human resources management and time and attendance systems.
Trainor’s search for the best workforce management software to offer this underserved market led to Infinisource, a leading provider of integrated benefits and compliance solutions for small and mid-size companies, known for great service and expertise in compliance law. At the time, Infinisource had over 4,000 broker relationships, 17,000 employer clients and 1.3 million “lives” on its system.
Fortunately, Trainor had a partner with capital who believed in his vision, and so in September 2011 Accel-KKR acquired a majority equity interest in Infinisource. Trainor was appointed CEO and the former head Gary Hart was retained as president of benefits administration. The investment proceeds would fund the company’s continued growth, broaden its suite of offerings, and deliver SaaS technology for employers and business partners.
Trainor had no sooner identified Infinisource as a necessary part of his vision, than he set to work surveying the workforce management landscape for the best technology available in the industry. That had drawn his eye to America OnShore, Inc.
Trainor had determined that America OnShore, a leading provider of human capital management technology for small and mid-size companies, would provide Infinisource the most leading-edge, cloud-based technology on a single platform to manage the information lifecycle of an employee.
“Not only did we have tremendous knowledge and experience around compliance issues with regard to tax filings, benefit offerings and other sensitive workforce management that must meet established regulations,” says Trainor, “but we now had the best technology in the industry with America OnShore.”
Simultaneous with the acquisition of Infinisource, Trainor, along with his equity partners, purchased America OnShore, launching the combined entity as Infinisource with Trainor at the helm and retaining the former head Todd LaFever as president of employer services and technology.
For Trainor, it was the trifecta of technology, marketplace and investment dollars to launch his vision.
The Proving Ground
In early 2012, Trainor moved Infinisource headquarters to the growing Ballantyne Corporate Park in Charlotte, announcing plans to hire more than 160 employees.
Trainor had purposefully chosen Charlotte as headquarters for the combined entity that met both personal and business needs. His two adult children reside in Charlotte, and he wanted his new company to be located in a high growth city.
“Charlotte is such a pro-business town,” says Trainor. “We knew we could grow the company with the talent pool available here, both on the technical and managerial side of the business.”
Hart and the team at Infinisource were excited to begin their partnership with Accel-KKR, who they knew to be a firm with a long track record of helping to grow great businesses.
“I knew the partnership would solidify our foundation and enable us to capitalize on the tremendous market potential while increasing our relationships with customers and partners,” comments Hart.
“I believed in their vision,” recounts LaFever. “Between the natural synergy, Gary’s vision and the technology platform, I knew that we could outsell and outperform our competition.”
Soon after the formation of the combined Infinisource, Trainor’s son Chris joined as the company’s chief marketing officer. Prior to joining Infinisource, Chris was a senior vice president and strategy executive at Bank of America.
“I was excited from the beginning, because these acquisitions would allow us to cross-sell a best-in-class product to a very satisfied customer base,” comments Chris. “And statistics show that when customers have a high level of satisfaction with one product, they have a greater propensity to purchase additional products.”
The new reformulated Infinisource hit the ground running with several strategic initiatives. In early 2012, the company introduced the new Infinisolved HCM technology, a cloud-based SaaS technology enabling human capital management tools accessible on a unified platform.
Chris likens the single interface to that of the iPhone: “It’s so intuitive, that on one single platform, HR managers have access to their employee database of information at so many levels.”
In December 2012, Infinisource acquired Qqest, adding a time and attendance software to its arsenal of human capital management services. This strategic move not only added more service offerings, but doubled its client base, making Infinisource the largest single-source provider of workforce tools for small and medium size employers.
With these acquisitions and strategic initiatives, Infinisource has bundled these services into its marketplace offering called iSolved, a payroll and employee management system with a complete solution for managing a workforce including payroll processing, benefits administration, talent management, and time and attendance. iSolved gives companies an unprecedented view of employee data with a single login onto a single database.
New client Angie Johnson of the Charlotte Athletic Club says, “In a small business where you wear lots of hats, I didn’t have time to waste creating spreadsheets and keying data just to get the payroll out. So we chose Infinisource, a company that does everything for you. The key benefits are the ease of using their system and their involvement in keeping us moving.”
It All Comes Together
Over 40 states in the country have laws that mandate the continuation of health benefits when employee-sponsored coverage is terminated. Infinisource helps employers comply with laws at the state level and the federal level (COBRA) that can be challenging and confusing to implement. These laws are complicated and driven by ever-changing regulation and business conditions.
With over 25 years of experience, Infinisource Compliance services prevent employers from exposing themselves unknowingly to tax issues and litigation. For example, the average cost of a COBRA lawsuit is $40,000 to a company and, according to the IRS, 90 percent of employers are noncompliant with COBRA regulations.
And, adding to their compliance expertise, Infinisource has recently announced new technology enhancements that enable employers to meet requirements and deadlines associated with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or commonly referred to as Obamacare.
Another key market Infinisource targets is insurance brokers who work with companies selling benefit plans for their workforce. They offer exclusive programs for select brokers who want to partner with Infinisource and represent the Infinisource brand of services to their customer base.
These programs include co-branded marketing materials, dedicated account managers and access to a library of industry-related information. A Preferred Broker Program gives Infinisource the ability to share revenues with the very best of partners.
Infinisource has conducted seminars and webinars for over 25 years now, educating more than 275,000 human resource managers, benefits professionals and brokers with topics on critical issues that keep companies compliant with tax laws, benefit offerings and up-to-date on new approaches to workforce management solutions. Their website is replete with infographics, checklists and guidelines helpful in the human resources arena.
Infinisource’s solutions and services have proven successful in many industries, including manufacturing, construction, agriculture, health care, banking, hospitality, education and government, retail, service and others.
With Trainor’s substantial expertise and entrepreneurial vision, Infinisource has been nationally recognized as a leader of workforce management technology solutions and named to the 2012 Inc. 5000list of fastest-growing companies. Trainor attributes this success to his management team being the best in the industry—seasoned payroll industry executives from hand-picked companies.
Infinisource currently has over 400 employees on the payroll. They also maintain division offices in Coldwater, Mich., and Sandy, Utah, and satellite offices in Colorado, Idaho, Washington, California, New Jersey, Florida and Texas.
Trainor’s number one goal at Infinisource is growth. He believes that by focusing on growth they will continue to enhance the value of their products and services, expand their competitive advantage, and create career opportunities in the local communities where they are based.
“Growth should be our obsession,” Trainor communicates to his employees. “Not growth for growth’s sake, but rather for the discipline it demands to build great technology and deliver great service.”
When asked what his vision is for Infinisource five years from now, Trainor says, “I’d like Infinisource to be the most admired technology provider in the human resources industry, reach the $200 million mark in annual revenue, and make a significant contribution to the local Charlotte community.
When Chiquita Brands International was looking for a new headquarters location, one of the primary reasons they chose to move to Charlotte was Charlotte Douglas International Airport. With direct flights to many of Chiquita’s main business centers in Europe and Central and South America, Charlotte was a perfect fit.
That scenario has played out any number of times, with Charlotte Douglas figuring sizably in corporate decisions to move to the Queen City as well as event planners to host in the city.
As the largest connecting hub for US Airways, Charlotte may have the best air service of any city its size in the world. Charlottebusiness and leisure travelers benefit from over 700 daily nonstop flights to over 100 cities in the United States, plus 35 more around the globe. It is the 6th busiest airport in the world in aircraft movements, and is 11th nationwide and 25th worldwide in passenger traffic.
Without a doubt, Charlotte Douglas has been a key driver of economic growth for the Charlotte region over the last three decades. According to UNC Charlotte’s Center for Transportation Policy Studies, the airport contributes nearly $10 to 12 billion in annual total economic impact to the region, and more than 100,000 jobs are either directly or indirectly tied to the airport and its services.
Now, with the US Airways and American Airlines merger underway to create the world’s largest airline, and with the Norfolk Southern Intermodal Facility at the airport becoming operational late this year, Charlotte Douglas’ role will expand from being the largest hub for the nation’s fifth largest airline to a global hub for the world’s largest airline and one that can be simultaneously accessed by air, rail and highway.
Alongside the new trade corridors being opened up to the East coast because of the expansion of the Panama Canal (to be completed next year), Charlotte Douglas is poised to become an “inland port” for world trade. It is no wonder the city of Charlotte and the North Carolina Legislature have recently begun battling for control of this crown jewel.
- J. “Jerry” Orr is the chief executive of Charlotte Douglas International Airport. As Aviation Director, Orr is responsible for all aspects of the airport’s operation. Orr is a native of Charlotte and a 1962 graduate of North Carolina State University where he received a bachelor degree in Civil Engineering. From 1962 until 1975, he operated his family-owned land surveying business. In 1975, Orr joined the City of Charlotte’s Aviation Department as a staff engineer and was named Aviation Director in 1989.
He says his management strategy hasn’t changed from 24 years ago: “We decided that was about providing the highest level of service at the lowest possible price. So that’s how we structured the program, and that’s how we’ve always run the program.”
Eric Spanberg of the Charlotte Business Journal captures the “plainspoken visionary’s” personality regularly in his news columns. One example: “At 71, Orr remains blunt and spry. His cryptic sense of humor is a constant, as demonstrated by his relish for telling CEOs and civic groups the airport is spending money ‘like a bunch of drunken sailors.’ The truth, of course, is anything but.”
Or his description to Spanberg of running the airport: “We look at it like we’re running an infrastructure platform that is publicly owned and operated without any cost to the public, which is a pretty good deal. We run it very much like a business. We don’t like to tell people ‘no’; we don’t like to make people mad. We like to find common ground, knowing that if we make them successful, it will make us successful.”
Although the 71-year-old hints from time to time about his imminent retirement, talking about how much he enjoys picking oranges from the tree outside his house near Charleston, when asked point-blank about retiring in 2013, he responds in his usual taciturn style, “No. Maybe another year.”
Known for his unique style and fiscal stewardship, Orr is respected as a visionary in aviation by leaders in the industry. During his 38-year tenure at Charlotte Douglas, Orr has developed, implemented and refined unique solutions to challenges in an ever changing industry, resulting in an air transportation facility with continued airline growth that is one of the most cost-efficient airports in the world.
Orr also developed the CLT Air Cargo Center and has led the extensive development of corporate aviation, resulting in the locating of seven Fortune 500 corporate flight operations at CLT. He has spearheaded the establishment of the airport-based intermodal facility, connecting four modes of transportation—air, rail, sea and highway—in one location, transforming Charlotte into a major global freight center.
Voted Charlotte Business Person of the Year 2012 by the Charlotte Business Journal as man-in-charge of what has become an airport of international distinction and one that is vital for keeping and recruiting companies and jobs to the region, he is noted for being “off limits” to political rhetoric and none too keen on excessive supervision.
It doesn’t matter if you agree with his management style; the results speak for themselves—he has steadily built Charlotte Douglas into the nation’s most efficient operation, working closely with US Airways/American Airlines to secure its hub status, and is creating the airport of the future.
According the Air Transport Research Society, Charlotte ranked as the most “cost-competitive” airport among 30 large U.S. airports studied. And among several dozen airports in North America, Charlotte also had the lowest landing fees for a Boeing 767.
Orr is quick to point out that even the airport’s bond rating as well as passenger traffic have increased over the last few years, both of which are against the flow.
The airport that preceded today’s facility was privately owned and used only on weekends for air shows and military pilot training. In 1935, with the leadership and foresight of Mayor Ben Elbert Douglas Sr. (for whom Charlotte Douglas International Airport is named), Charlotte voters approved a bond that brought the airport under the management of municipal administrators and set the stage for the expansion that was to come.
Charlotte’s airport was an airline “hub” long before people even called them that. In the early 1970s, Eastern Air Lines used Charlotte as a regional connecting point, funneling passengers from other cities in the Carolinas to connect with flights to the Northeast, Florida and upper Midwest.
But it was the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 that ultimately set Charlotte on course to become one of the nation’s largest airline hubs. In a regulated environment, Winston-Salem-based Piedmont Airlines’ mission had been to serve smaller communities and feed passengers to Eastern and Delta in places like Atlanta.
But after deregulation, Piedmont was free to expand its own route network, buy bigger airplanes, and fly passengers to their final destinations without funneling them to the bigger rivals. Charlotte was perfectly positioned along the east coast flyway between the Northeast and Florida, and in 1979, Piedmont picked Charlotte as its first hub.
While deregulation was a boon for Piedmont, Eastern struggled to adapt its cost structure to the changing market environment. As Eastern was dying, Piedmont flourished, eagerly assuming all of Eastern’s vacated gates. In 1989, Piedmont merged with USAir, and in 2005, USAir and America West merged to form US Airways.
Fueled by the mergers, Charlotte has continued its meteoric growth trajectory. Total annual enplanements have grown from less than two million passengers in 1980 to over 20 million in 2012. In 2010, the airport was the fastest growing airport in the world outside of the Pacific Rim and Middle East.
While many cities have seen air service decline as the industry consolidates through mergers, Charlotte has bucked the trend. US Airways has continued to add both domestic flights and international destinations, and the airport’s other domestic carriers—Delta, American, United, Jet Blue and Air Tran—have also added service. This month Southwest Airlines flights will replace those of their Air Tran subsidiary as part of the operational integration of those two carriers.
Earlier this spring, US Airways and American Airlines announced an agreement to merge, creating the world’s largest airline. According to airlines officials, the new carrier will operate as American Airlines and be headquartered in Fort Worth, Tex., where American has its headquarters now.
US Airways’ CEO Doug Parker will serve as CEO, and the new American will offer 6,700 daily flights to 336 destinations in 56 countries with hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.
Parker says he is confident of antitrust approval because both airlines networks are so complementary: “One of the holes in the American Airlines system is up and down the East Coast, particularly the Southeast. Charlotte fills that hole extremely nicely.”
Furthermore, Parker contends the merger will strengthen the industry because American will become the largest airline but remain comparable to Delta, United and Southwest, with American-US Airways accounting for 25 percent of the total airline seats in the United States.
Both airlines’ officials as well as Orr expect Charlotte to prosper as an American hub—anticipating that traffic will continue to grow. According to Parker, US Airways and American Airlines overlap on 12 routes out of 900, which bodes well for retaining almost all of the employees. Executives from the airlines hope to close the deal in the third quarter.
Running a Tight Ship
Ask the airport’s aviation director to explain Charlotte’s success and he will tell you it all starts with smart cost control, as well as offering a high quality product that meets airline and passenger needs. Unlike some other cities that have built large, sometimes extravagant terminals at enormous cost, Orr says Charlotte has stayed true to the principle of building the airport one brick at a time.
“I’m a small businessman and I run this airport like it’s my own small business,” declares Orr. “Revenues need to exceed costs; you don’t spend money you don’t have; and you don’t spend money that you don’t need to. We’ve built only what we could afford, but we built everything to be expandable. So we’ve just added on to it as the demand is there.”
Orr says the airport’s efficient operation helps keep the rents and fees paid by the airlines the lowest of any major domestic airport. According to Fitch Ratings, CLT’s cost per boarded passenger is only about $1 per passenger, compared to a national median of $9.97. Airport concession and parking revenue also helps defray operating costs for both the airport and the airlines.
Orr predicts continued growth after the merger as a direct result of the airport’s low cost advantage.
“The new American can choose to feed Latin American and Caribbean passengers through Miami or they can choose to feed them through Charlotte. But the cost per passenger in Charlotte is $1, and the cost per passenger in Miami is almost $20. Do the math.” He also points out, “Miami is a very crowded airport. Charlotte is a lot easier to navigate.”
Orr also looks at American’s extensive international network and sees potential for many new international destinations out of Charlotte Douglas. Between now and 2020, experts predict that 75 percent of the growth in air traffic will come from emerging markets like Latin America, and Orr thinks that Charlotte will capture its share of that growth.
“To start service to a new international city, an airline must negotiate with the foreign government, get State Department approval, obtain a gate, hire staff, and set up the operation in that new city before they ever carry the first passenger,” explains Orr. “That’s a lot of work on the front end. But with the merger, the new American could start flights fairly easily from Charlotte to many of the places they already serve. That means we can grow our international traffic more quickly.”
Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility
Ironically, one of the largest projects currently underway at the airport isn’t really about airplanes per se. It’s an “intermodal facility,” offering a freight hub with a combination of available transportation (rail, highway and air). Add to that the direct access to shipping ports, and it becomes an “inland harbor.”
Orr was the visionary for the concept back in 1994. He describes that they had an FAA-mandated master plan coming up (a federally required plan), and rather than just meet the plan, they wanted to take a broader look at how the airport fit in the Charlotte region and how it could grow.
Orr commissioned strategic urban planner Michael Gallis to study the issue. “At the time, passenger traffic was soaring at the airport hub, but air cargo traffic was limited to freight coming to or from the local market. Charlotte freight was actually being trucked to international freight hubs in Atlanta and New York to be flown to world markets,” describes Gallis. As Gallis studied those larger freight hubs, he saw an opportunity for Charlotte to compete.
“The freight infrastructure was very fragmented in these other cities,” explains Gallis. “The airport, rail yards and truck terminals were not near each other, nor were they well connected. So we realized that the way to out-compete these other cities was to develop a new kind of freight hub—one where all the different transportation modes would be located at a single center. That concept gave rise to the idea of building a rail yard at the airport between the runways.”
The airport provides an attractive rail freight base not just because of the obvious proximity to air freight, but also for its easy access to Interstates 77 and 85. Those, in turn, link freight to three major Eastern seaboard ports: Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; and Jacksonville, Fla.
Freight arriving in containers at seaports like Charleston or Savannah can travel by rail to the intermodal yard and the containers can then be transferred to trucks so they can hit the roads to their final destination. This is sometimes referred to as an “inland harbor.”
While traditionally there isn’t a lot of direct freight transfer between a rail line and an airport, the hope is the rail yard will attract a cluster of truck terminals that can feed freight to either the intermodal yard or the airport. Because all three modes of transport will be located at the same place, the transfer times will be reduced, as will complexity and cost.
The idea made sense and took root. In 1998, Charlotte business executives began hatching plans for the freight center as part of a Charlotte Chamber initiative called Advantage Carolinas. Construction of an intermodal facility became an important part of the airport’s CLT 2015 expansion plans.
With a lot of foresight and frugality, Orr realized that when the airport began work on a third runway alongside I-485 several years ago and needed 10 million cubic yards of dirt to stabilize the land, the cheapest, most environmentally friendly place to get that dirt was right next to the runway.
“So after we moved all that dirt, we were left with a big flat graded area that just happened to be the same elevation as the main line of the Norfolk Southern railway that runs north of the airport. It all just fit together naturally,” Orr says matter-of-factly.
Charlotte is a key hub on the Norfolk Southern intermodal system and on their Crescent Corridor stretching from New Jersey to Memphis and New Orleans, so it was a natural fit for them as well. And thus the graded land started the footprint of the rail freight yard. Gallis calculates an estimated $20 million in savings created by Orr’s forethought on the project.
In spring 2012, the city of Charlotte and Norfolk Southern entered into a formal agreement for the $92 million regional intermodal freight hub between the two west-side runways, which will replace the existing, outdated 40-acre intermodal facility at North Davidson and North Brevard streets. Construction is presently underway, with operations commencing in late 2013 and completion expected in late 2014.
“With a major international airport here along with highway and rail, you have accessibility to all modes of transportation. It places us at the intersection of those rivers of commerce,” Orr points out.
“Charlotte Douglas has done something almost no airport has done, which is to lay the foundation for the future,” says Gallis. “The intermodal yard will be a centerpiece of completing a multimodal integration that does not exist anywhere in U.S. at a single facility.”
Charlotte will become more attractive because companies will be able to move goods without having trucks on city streets. Instead, cargo can move by air, by tractor-trailer on interstate highways or by rail to nearby ports, with all transfers at a single, security facility.
“It’s about creating an integrated global-trade hub that can move goods by any mode,” affirms Gallis. “It will transform Charlotte from a big airport to a global trade center…that’s a quantum leap.”
City officials estimate the 200-acre freight hub will generate $9 billion in economic impact, creating 5,000 jobs over the next 20 years. Mayor Anthony Foxx says the hub “places Charlotte even more in the manufacturing, distribution, transportation and economic growth business.”
Orr adds that the relocation from uptown will also relieve the center city of 500 tractor-trailer trips each day.
Chamber president Bob Morgan likens Orr to a master chess player: “Jerry has the next 50 years mapped out. When Jerry leaves—if Jerry ever leaves—his successor won’t need to be a visionary because the vision is already there.”
Nobody knows just when Jerry Orr will pack his bags, but for as long as he stays around, you can bet it’ll be good for Charlotte’s bottom line.
Although one might expect the initials in CFS Logistics to stand for owner Cathy Fisher’s name in some manner, they actually stand for Container Freight Station, which defines the type of business it is. CFS Logistics provides a wide range of services for its customers in the shipping community, from providing bonded storage space for cargo being imported and storage for freight being exported around the world to trucking that cargo to ports around the U.S.
It also provides support for its customers’ special projects ranging from printing labels to distributing product with inventory control, and shipping or receiving cargo according to customer requirements.
“Our goal is to provide the very best service possible to our customers and to continue to expand our services to meet our customers’ growing requirements within our ever changing industry,” explains Fisher.
Fisher, who has over 30 years experience in the warehouse and trucking industries, grew up in Charlotte. When she was 19 years old, she went to work for a Michigan-based company, Zantop International Airlines, which was one of the largest airlines in the commercial freight business during the 1980s.
Fisher started off in customer service with Zantop and soon advanced to the position of assistant manager. After working for DHL and USAir, she was employed by AAA Express, a trucking company, where she did billing, dispatch and customer service jobs before becoming a manager.
When AAA Express was sold to two brothers in Mobile, Ala., Fisher encountered what she says was the first and only gender discrimination of her career. She recollects that the brothers would begin weekly staff meetings with a greeting “to all our guys and that little gal in Charlotte.”
“They wanted me to go out selling,” says Fisher, “while I wanted to be in operations, which is the heart of the business.”
So, in 1997 Fisher decided to strike out on her own to create a new shipping and warehouse business in a building off Westinghouse Boulevard, taking the two biggest accounts from her former employer with her: Black and Decker Corporation and the largest NVOCC (Non Vessel Operating Common Carrier) company on the West Coast.
“We started in November 1997 and by March 1998 we held 97 percent of that former company’s business,” Fisher asserts. Such immediate growth necessitated moving to a much larger facility and more central location. In April 1998, the company relocated closer to the airport in West Pointe Business Park, off Interstate 85.
Just last year, the business relocated again, right in the heart of the Charlotte Airport Cargo Community, on Oak Lake Boulevard, just off Yorkmount Road. Fisher says the need to be even closer to the airport necessitated the move.
With its open, upscale appearance, the new facility doesn’t match any clichéd image of a “warehouse.” Although it is a remodel of an older building, it appears brand new and has startling “eye appeal.”
The 42,000-square-foot building includes a light and airy entryway with glassed-in office spaces, a large sunny conference room with a table that seats 10, a pleasant “break room” for employees, and a small gym complete with exercise machines and a personal trainer for use by both employees and customers.
“We wanted to create a good work environment for our employees,” says Chris Fisher, Cathy’s husband and director of operations for CFS. “We also needed to be closer to the airport and more convenient for our customers.”
The center of the new facility is the warehouse itself, complete with two huge fans that both have 10 12-foot blades to cool the storage area. The warehouse is equipped with 15 overhead doors and van ramp, as well as closed circuit cameras, monitored security protection and monitored fire protection with a sprinkler system.
Today, CFS Logistics continues flourishing, counting among its customers Samaritan’s Purse and Caterpillar. In addition to its new headquarters, it occupies two other facilities. Within the past four years, it has added 75,000 square feet of warehouse space, more than any of its competitors, and, at a time when a lot of companies have been downsizing or going out of business.
The company has also added two new operating divisions: a courier company and a trucking division. Errands by CFS, LLC, opened two years ago. It provides daily airport and customs courier services, including document processing.
“We run documents between customs and the airlines, getting documents to the broker forwarder,” explains Fisher. “We have three notaries on staff and can provide notary or chamber service to our customers, letters of credit and certificates of origin for cargo.”
Fisher is working with long-time friend and colleague Jerry Cooper to establish the new trucking division, called CFS Translogix, LLC. Cooper has 27 years of experience in the industry and heads up CFS’s local and regional transportation services.
“The new trucking division will complement CFS Logistics’ core business and provide an additional revenue stream,” states Cooper. “The transportation part of the business will help grow the bonded warehouse business; at the same time, bringing the trucking division up to the same level of customer service provided by the logistics division.”
Cooper, who has worked for an expedited carrier for the last 19 years and most recently acted as a consultant within the trucking and air cargo industry, has a thorough knowledge of the new federal regulations governing the transportation business. In February 2012, the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented new rules revising the hours of service safety requirements for commercial truck drivers.
“Trucking is a tough business and very competitive,” states Cooper. “The new hours of service rules are concerning to us since we believe it will exacerbate the current driver shortage. Still we know we have opportunities we can build on.”
In the past, most of CFS Logistics’ trucking has been within a 200 mile radius of Charlotte with daily trips to Greensboro and Raleigh Durham airports. It has also provided a daily line haul service to Atlanta. Cooper expects to expand the number of cities CFS services, first on a regional basis.
“Eventually, we will look to join with parties that have transportation networks that can expand our reach,” he says. “Ultimately, we plan to serve customers nationwide.”
CFS Logistics location at Charlotte Douglas Airport has been vital to the company’s growth and competitiveness over the past 15 years.
“We’ve benefited from the excellent management of the airport and we expect to continue that trend with the opening of the Charlotte Regional Intermodal Facility,” says Fisher.
The company has also benefits from its contract with U.S Customs as a Central Exam Site. CFS was first awarded a five-year contract in 2002 as a CES for Customs. This contract was renewed in 2007 and then again in 2013. As a CES, CFS works with Customs, Homeland Security’s Border Protection, and the Department of Agriculture to ensure that goods entering the country at Charlotte Douglas International Airport are compliant with all of the government’s rules and regulations.
The CES system was developed in 1986 because of significant increases in the volume of merchandise imported into the U.S., as well as the increase in the number of container freight stations, bonded warehouses, truck and rail terminals and other facilities which receive and hold imported cargo that need to be examined and cleared by Customs.
CFS Logistics has the facilities and the experience necessary to make the Customs exams as expeditious as possible so that the cargo can be quickly released for entry. This involves timely communication, as well as providing the necessary security and equipment.
Occasionally, a cargo will fail the inspection. Fisher tells the story of a moped which failed to meet U.S. emissions standards and was denied entry to the U.S. The importer abandoned it and, as a courtesy, Customs gave it to CFS Logistics to try to find an owner for it. Of course, this owner had to be outside of the U.S. It took 10 years, but eventually, through Samaritan’s Purse, a couple in Somalia was located and today they are enjoying ownership of the vehicle.
CFS Logistics often goes above and beyond in order to serve its import/export customers. When the Department of Agriculture denied entry to a shipment of Christmas trees intended for a retailer because of the type of bark, CFS employees removed the bark.
When a shipment of textiles were held up because they didn’t have the proper labels, CFS brought in employees with sewing machines to get the labeling completed. In one instance, a CFS employee identified an unlawful beetle in a shipment of wood and notified Customs. She received a special award for her efforts.
“Attention to detail is our hallmark and one of the primary reasons for our success,” asserts Fisher. “Customers know they can count on CFS Logistics to provide excellent service and unparalleled value.”
Over its almost 20 years of doing business, the CFS Logistics has been dedicated to serving its customers. It has grown to include three operating divisions and, depending on the services required, may use one, two or all three divisions to meet customers’ expectations.
“From the onset we are in constant communication with the customer,” says Fisher. “First, we evaluate their business and then we work together to build dependable supply chain solutions.”
Some customers use the services of CFS every day, some every week, and others, once a year. A lot of the company’s business is seasonal with every holiday bringing special shipments of cargo to be stored or transported, examined or distributed.
Father’s Day and the spring gardening season are busy times for tool companies. Easter brings candy and decorations. Back to school in the fall sees increased shipments of office supplies. And, of course, December is always busy with Christmas ornaments and gifts.
During the recent economic downturn, Fisher reports that import accounts were down, along with distributions. A lot of inventory just wasn’t selling. However, export accounts are currently at an all-time high and she is confident of the future.
She points out that CFS Logistics has never hired a full-time salesperson to grow the business; the majority of its growth has come from word of mouth.
“If our customers are satisfied then they’re going to be our best sales team,” Fisher says. “Our primary goal every day is to take care of the customer and our employees, which is the key to our success.”
The company’s devotion to customer service and the determination of its employees to get the job done right is evident. Cathy Fisher has provided the experience, dedication and drive to take her company to the forefront of the Charlotte airport shipping community. She has been able to connect talented hardworking employees with the technology and structure to build an efficient, effective and strategically focused company.
“I have a lot of respect for this woman and her business acumen,” states Cooper, who knows Fisher well. “She is very sharp.”
Mankind has always wanted to fly, to soar with the birds, to have the mile-high view. And while we haven’t physically evolved to fly, we’ve used our scientific genius to innovate machines that can—among them, the adventurous, useful helicopter.
The father and son team of Rocco and Nic Novelli, owners of Queen City Helicopter Corp., are working diligently to attract and train helicopter pilots and provide the helicopter tour experience to the public.
N.C. Helicopter, Inc. was originally established in 1978 as a flight school. When the Novellis purchased the company, they decided to add a subsidiary, Queen City Helicopter Corp., to offer flights for aerial photography, survey and scenic and entertainment tours as well. The two companies share space in Gaston County’s Bessemer City.
A General Overview
Situated on private property, N.C. Helicopter flight school students gain an advantage. “Most flight schools operate out of municipal airports and can’t offer the opportunity to take off and land near trees or in confined areas,” says Rocco, chief operating officer for both companies. “Our students get real-world experience.”
The company’s grounds are bordered by trees on two sides, and a lake and electrical wires on the fourth side. Located 15 minutes from Charlotte and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and surrounded by smaller airports in Gastonia, Shelby, Lincolnton and Concord, the property is optimally situated for students to learn about air space and communication frequencies.
The company is also just minutes away from Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, Crowders Mountain and Chimney Rock, giving it the perfect base for helicopter touring.
The flight school, designated as a part 61 school, is one of the few in the state that is approved by the Federal Aviation Agency. It is one of the very few that utilizes the R22 Robinson helicopter, which N.C. Helicopter does exclusively. These helicopters, the most popular in the world, require pilot certification in addition to licensure.
“Their controls are more difficult to manipulate; they have a semi-rigid rotor system,” explains Nic, company president. “If you fly a Robinson correctly, it is the safest helicopter out there. If you don’t, it is not very forgiving. If you can fly one of these, you can fly any helicopter.” The Robinson helicopter also has a reputation for being extremely fuel-efficient.
The school offers state-of-the-art facilities, including a simulation classroom and hangar. In addition, there is a three-bedroom, two-bath house on the premises for students to stay at no extra cost during the first 30 days of their flight lessons.
Nic is the pilot and certified training instructor for the company. Rocco oversees the business.
Flight students must be at least 16 years of age. There is no upper age limit, although everyone must pass a regulated medical exam conducted by a certified physician.
“Students come for different reasons. There are complete novices as well as some with previous training,” says Nic. “Many come to learn for pleasure and leisure pursuits; something they’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time or money before now,” says Rocco. “Younger students tend to come in preparation for a career in flying.”
Awareness of the school is driven by word of mouth as well as their website. Students come from all over, according to Nic and Rocco.
Flight school instruction is geared to the individual. The school doesn’t train for companies, but rather the individual who wants to apply for a job. “We train the person that has to walk in the door of a company as a pilot,” says Nic.
There are a variety of job possibilities for helicopter pilots. Transportation for individuals—everyone from corporate professionals to snowboarders—emergency rescue or relief efforts, long-lining (hoisting big equipment or other items to the tops of buildings or towers), immediate delivery services, scenic tours, the list goes on. The Novellis say the demand for helicopter pilots continues to increase.
“There are not as many coming out of the military now,” says Nic. “During the Vietnam era, helicopters were in great use, but not so much in Afghanistan and Iraq.” N.C. Helicopters has no affiliation with the military but does have some students with past military experience.
Pilot licensure initially requires a minimum of 40 hours of in-flight training. At an average of $275 per hour, training calls for a significant investment; an average of $11,000 to $12,000 is equivalent to the cost for a year at many colleges and universities.
“Students’ access to funding is the biggest challenge,” acknowledges Rocco. “Most people pay out of their own pocket. It is difficult and rare to get bank loans for flight school.”
There are some organizations of experienced pilots and aviation industry people who provide students with financing but the criteria for the loans is extremely high, according to Rocco. Women often have better luck because of an organization named Whirly-Girls which gives out scholarships and grants to women for flight school.
On Top of the World
Being at the controls is not everyone’s cup of tea. For those that seek out the Queen City helicopter service for quick transportation or a great scenic tour,they are well rewarded. Queen City Helicopter is set up to provide flight tours for aerial photos and real estate surveys, and transportation for events of all kinds including birthday or anniversary celebrations, Easter egg drops, festival rides, vineyard tours and tastings, and high school career days.
The company frequently tours over Charlotte, Crowders Mountain and Lake Norman. Gift certificates are popular as are corporate incentives and rewards. Recent tours include a flight over Charlotte with members of a visiting band, Emperor, to assist them in their production of a tribute video to Sandy Hook victims, and flights over Lake Norman to photograph power boat poker runs. The company is also working with the Charlotte-based security firm, Karl de la Guerra Associates to provide VIP and tactical training for pilots.
The Robinson helicopter can seat one to three passengers at a time. Tours are affordably priced and in many instances are less expensive than a zip-line experience. Cost is based on time, calculated by a Hobbs meter, versus distance. The helicopter can travel at speeds between 115 and 120 miles per hour. Helicopters can hold enough fuel for three hours of operation.
Regionally, the company’s helicopters can land for refueling at Wilson Air Terminal at Charlotte Douglas International Airport and the airports in Gastonia, Shelby and Lincolnton. The number of customers varies greatly depending on promotions, the weather and events taking place. There is generally more activity in the summertime.
In their final stages of its application for 135 certification, Queen City Helicopter Corp. will soon be certified to transport passengers from point A to point B, meaning that a passenger could book a flight from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for example. The Novellis anticipate significant increase in business from both business and individual traveler sectors as a result.
The company is hoping to participate as part of the grand opening event for the new Charlotte Knights Stadium. Ironically, Charlotte’s largest event of this past year, the Democratic National Convention, did not provide any work for the helicopter company—in fact, it actually brought business to a screeching halt. “They put a temporary flight restriction in place to protect the President and that affected a 30-mile radius around Charlotte. We couldn’t even start a helicopter engine,” says Rocco ruefully. “Technically, if you did go up, the government could send an F-16 or Black Hawk to shoot you down,” grimaces Nic. “We worked it so the helicopters were in the shop for required maintenance during that time, about a week.”
Conveniently, Queen City typically conducts flights in uncontrolled air space where no flight plan is needed. “You don’t have to talk with anyone if you don’t want to,” says Nic, although he quickly points out that he does maintain contact through the appropriate radio frequency for the class of airspace. When entering controlled airspace such as that around the Charlotte Douglas, one must be in communication with their control tower. What is and is not controlled airspace is based on volume of flights in the area.
The Novellis hail from a town on Long Island, N.Y., called Shoreham Wading River. Nic grew up and went to school there. His first exposure to aviation was in high school through an experiential learning program that allowed students to pursue various vocational and technical curriculums. He spent half of his school morning at the airport where he learned to fly airplanes. He would fly over Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty. Then, he went on a helicopter discovery flight and was hooked.
“That was it; I’ve never looked back,” says Nic.
Part of his motivation for owning a flight school was due to the fact that several of the flight schools he attended were in the process of going out of business.
“There are a lot of pilots trying to be businessmen,” says Rocco. “They don’t have the right skill set and end up not making it. We did a thorough feasibility study and also found out that no one else in the area was flying Robinson helicopters, so we decided to open our own business.”
Rocco is a former New York City police officer who ventured in real estate. He and Nic moved to North Carolina’s Piedmont in 2009.
Much of the plans for the company over the next five years have to do with marketing and promotion. “People don’t yet know we’re here,” says Rocco. “We need to get our name out there.”
The Novellis are working to connect with regional high schools and community colleges to become a resource for vocational and technical training, perhaps similar to what Nic experienced in Long Island. “There are enough potential students regionally to support the flight school,” says Rocco.
The tour side of the company is already contracted to provide tours for the upcoming American Legion World Series (baseball) which is held in Shelby, and also the annual Foothills Wine Festival in Morganton.
Both N.C. Helicopters and Queen City Helicopter Corp. are active in the various tourism offices and efforts of Mecklenburg, Gaston and surrounding counties. Nic handles the internal marketing graphics and has designed the company’s web site, brochures and business cards.
Budgeting and other financial planning can be difficult with a constantly shifting customer base but the Novellis say they anticipated this variable in their business plan. “I’m very happy with how we’ve progressed so far,” says Rocco. “We’re in a good place.”
Rocco points out that fuel costs are even more unpredictable. Fortunately, the company’s established prices incorporate fuel costs and it hasn’t been necessary to raise them in the past year, says Rocco.
“We give good value,” promises Rocco, who adds that flight schools are not very competitive with each other regarding cost. “You can’t really cut costs because maintenance and fuel are built into tuition fees.
“In order to distinguish your school from another you must provide a higher quality of service, project a strong image of safety, have state-of-the-art facilities, and maintain clean and modern aircraft. It’s a small industry but there is plenty of work out there for everybody if you provide the right level of service.”
Air travel delays are a fact of life. Bad weather is a frequent culprit, but delays can be caused by equipment problems as well. The most serious equipment problems prevent aircraft from flying, described by a term called AOG or “aircraft on ground.”
“For us, AOG has the same meaning and urgency as the term STAT does in a hospital,” explains Bill Polyi, president and CEO of Magellan Aviation Group. “When an aircraft is grounded there may be a couple of hundred passengers waiting in a terminal somewhere. That’s where we come in. One of our greatest strengths is being an AOG (same day service) company.”
Magellan Aviation Group is a global aftermarket supplier of aircraft parts and products and a specialist in aircraft engine leasing and trading. The group’s Magellan Aircraft Services operates out of 108,000 square feet in southwest Charlotte.
The company also operates Magellan Aviation Services out of 25,000 square feet in Shannon, Ireland, and has satellite offices in Florida, Peru, China, Singapore, Germany, Indonesia, Israel, and South Africa.
Aircraft on Ground Specialist and More
“We buy used aircraft and new and used aircraft parts and engines and redistribute them throughout the world to airlines and maintenance and repair organizations (MROs),” explains Polyi. “So if an airline is in an AOG situation, we can supply the needed part and get it to them quickly.”
Magellan employees staff their AOG service phone line 24/7 365 days a year.
“I received a phone call one Sunday morning from a Canadian airline customer of ours,” Polyi recalls. “They‘d found a defective part on an overnight check of an aircraft scheduled for a flight later that day. We had the part they needed but overnight courier service wasn’t an option, so I booked a flight to Montreal and hand carried the part to the maintenance manager. Mechanics installed it while passengers boarded the aircraft. The flight departed safely and on schedule.”
Closer to home, the company also supports many of the NASCAR teams’ flight operations.
Polyi describes, “On a regular basis, one of their maintenance crew will drive to our Charlotte location and pick up a part or we’ll hand deliver a part they need for their Embraer Brasilia turboprops or Bombardier CRJ regional jets so they can fly to their next race.”
But AOG services are only a part of what Magellan offers. Core services include parts trading and sales as well as engine and aircraft sales and leasing; they are also involved in consignments, joint ventures, asset management and can provide technical advisory services.
Magellan clients range from airlines like US Airways, Delta, Lufthansa, Air France, American Airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas, British Airways, DHL and Continental to MROs and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) like Standard Aero, MTU, SR Technics, Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell, GE, Boeing, EADS and Bombardier. Leasing and financial institutions like GECAS and CIT Group are also clients.
“A few years back we won an exceptional consignment contract over several companies that were significantly larger than us,” Polyi touts. “That consignment agreement made us the exclusive remarketing company for Bombardier’s surplus aircraft. Part of the reason we won the contract was the 20-plus year history we had with Bombardier.
“They knew that we would do a very good job of remarketing and liquidating those assets for them in many different ways because we had the logistics infrastructure to handle a dozen aircraft or more as well as the financial resources to manage a large inventory and the global marketing team to support our customers.
“The most important thing in our industry is relationships. Many of the acquisitions that we make, whether a purchase, lease or consignment, are done through those close relationships we’ve built over the years.”
And those relationships have been built over not just years, but decades. Magellan’s current management team has an average of 20 years’ aviation experience and has managed the sale or lease of over $2 billion worth of aviation assets.
The company’s roots date back over 30 years to New York where Bobby Fessler, who traded in a range of products—none of them aircraft parts—found some JT9D fan blades in an auction. Their resale was profitable and so Fessler acquired additional aircraft parts, eventually founding Air Ground Equipment Sales (AGES) in 1979.
When AGES was purchased by Volvo Group in 2000, Fessler and other AGES senior management and owners, including Polyi, began Magellan Aviation Group, with engine leasing being a core business.
“Airlines normally have to remove their engines between 5,000 and 10,000 hours, depending on the engine type and their operating environment,” explains Polyi, who started his career with Pratt & Whitney Canada and has 30 years of experience in commercial engine sales, leasing and management.
“Airlines can forecast for those removals but they can’t plan for everything. Something like bird ingestion or premature engine failure—an airline can’t plan for that,” he says. “That’s where we come in. We can loan an airline a short-term spare for unplanned engine removals.”
Typically, Magellan engine leases run three to six months, but a current industry trend is also spurring growth in the engine leasing business, lengthening lease terms.
“Airlines are moving away from owning all their assets,” according to Polyi. “Some airlines may lease as much as 50 percent of their assets. We now have engines on lease for up to eight years. Leasing engines long-term saves capital expenditure for the airline.”
The company had a modest inventory of only four engines when they started, but now boasts more than 100 engines in their pool, ranging in value from $1 million up to $10 million each depending on engine type and condition. They are looking to continue growing their engine pool with newer high-tech engines in the next three to four years.
“We have a wide range of engines from the 50-passenger turbo props like the ATR and the Dash 8s up to the Triple 7 (Boeing 777),” explains Polyi. “Engine sales and leasing makes up about one third of our business.”
Magellan’s focus is on the commercial airline market which covers large commercial aircraft, both narrow and wide body, regional jets and regional turbo props.
“We’re the leading company in the regional side,” Polyi says. “We had limited funds when we started the company so we weren’t able to buy $10 million or $20 million airplanes. We bought in the $1 million to $3 million range and those were the regional turbo props.
“We’ll continue to stay pretty focused on a few aircraft and engine types and just be the best in the industry for that segment.”
The company is primed for growth. In fact, growth has been a repeating theme throughout Magellan’s history and was a driving force in the company’s relocation to Charlotte in 2007.
“We were outgrowing our facility in Boca Raton,” Polyi says, “and we were looking for a place with a more reasonable cost of living and cost of warehousing. Our first thought was to move to northern Florida, but we didn’t limit the search to just there. We also considered Atlanta, Savannah, Raleigh and Charlotte. After doing research on all those areas, Charlotte came up as the city with the most benefits for a growing company.
“Our cost of warehousing went from $15 per square foot to $4. The cost of a new home was 50 percent less than in southern Florida. Here, there are professional sports teams, a great uptown, and at the same time, mountains a couple of hours to the west and the ocean a few hours to the east. Charlotte had all the big city advantages without the big city disadvantages. I thought Charlotte would be a good place to continue growing, but it has exceeded all my expectations.”
Magellan’s Charlotte facility serves their customers in North and South America. The Shannon facility in Ireland handles clients in Europe and Africa, but with over 500 customers in 75 countries, Magellan is expanding its presence in other key regions. Starting in 2006, the company has opened satellite offices in Peru, Germany, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Israel.
“We’ve really covered the Asian Pacific and Australian regions,” Polyi says. “We’re looking to the Middle East and Africa next. While China is the fastest growing country by number of aircraft, Africa is going to be one of the fastest growing aviation markets percentage-wise. The African economy is expanding so fleets there could double or triple in the near future. It’s also a good market for the used aircraft and engines that we offer.”
In 2011, Magellan’s goal of growth led them to search for a long-term strategic partner.
“We’ve grown this business organically,” Polyi explains. “We grew it on our personal savings and on our strong business relationships and the transactions and acquisitions we were able to make, and we’ve been successful. In 2007, we were a $25 million company. We finished 2012 at $110 million. I attribute that to the team we have here. They’re the best team in the industry.
“But once you get up to the $100 million level, it’s hard to reach the $200 million to $300 million level organically. That’s why, in June of 2012, we sold 50 percent of the company to Marubeni Corporation. Marubeni is a major Japanese trading company that dates back to the time of the Samurai. They’re one of the largest ‘green’ companies in the world and they’re widely diversified with divisions in industries from energy to food products to chemicals and forest products. We joined their transportation division.
“We selected Marubeni out of all potential partners because we thought they offered the best advantages, but they also selected us. We fit a need in their business. Their aerospace division had joint ventures with airlines, aircraft manufacturers, engine manufacturers and even MROs. What they didn’t have was an aftermarket supplier. Magellan fit perfectly into that opening in their organization.
Marubeni Corporation’s emphasis on environmental business also complements Magellan’s business philosophy. Magellan is a founding member of AFRA (Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association), an international association promoting efficient, environmentally sound and revenue-producing methods for aircraft disposal. AFRA members include every sector of the aviation industry and their goal is to recycle close to 100 percent of the materials from current end-of-life aircraft and the estimated 12,000 aircraft expected to retire within the next 20 years.
“Our sweet spot is purchasing aircraft that are between 10 to 15 years old,” Polyi states. “We typically expect to be able to remarket those parts for another 10 to 15 years. And we stay focused on new technology and current production aircraft and engines. This gives us what we call a ‘long tail’ on the cycle to sell those assets.”
Many retired aircraft are stored at desert locations in the U.S. Southwest. The dry climate of these “aircraft boneyards” prevents corrosion and preserves the planes. Disassembly of the aircraft also often takes place in desert locations like Tucson, Ariz.; Marana, Ariz. and Victorville, Calif. In the case of newer aircraft, purchasers can often pick and choose where the airline will deliver the plane.
“We recently bought two ex-Jetlite 737-700s and had them flown from India to California for disassembly. We also have a line of CRJs being disassembled in Tucson and just completed disassembly of several ATR72s in Myrtle Beach,” says Polyi. “Once the aircraft were torn down, we trucked the 1,000 to 1,500 parts—engines, landing gears, etc.—here to our warehouse for receiving and repair management prior to sale or lease.”
Magellan expanded their Charlotte warehouse last year and the generous space houses everything from nuts and bolts to aircraft engines.
“This is a growing industry,” says Polyi. “We’ve grown by providing comprehensive support and innovative solutions to our clients. Our industry experience, client relationships and new partnership with Marubeni Corporation sets us up for continued steady growth and a long and prosperous future.”
Americans invented the solar cell, wind turbine and lithium battery. Not a bad start in the highly competitive, alternative energy marketplace. While the U.S. earns points for genius, our impact on society has been tepid at best. For example: solar power. It is a free, renewable, clean and seemingly inexhaustible resource. Why isn’t the sun America’s primary source of power?
The poet T.S. Eliot knew the answer. “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act,” he said, “there falls a shadow.”
An enormous portion of the solar shadow is cost. A few years ago real estate agent Binnie Orrell investigated running his Charlotte home entirely on solar power. He received an estimate of $25,000 to install a single photovoltaic (PV) solar panel on the roof. “It was absurd,” comments Orrell.
“Prices for photovoltaic systems that generate electricity have dropped dramatically in the past few years,” says solar energy engineer Tommy Cleveland of the North Carolina Solar Center. “A quote today would be half of what it was three to four years ago.”
Part of the reason for the price reduction is the Chinese government. When they decided to subsidize solar panel production, other manufacturers like Bosch Solar in Mooresville, quickly dropped their prices.
Tommy Cleveland adds another solar fact of life: “It costs more to retrofit a house for solar than new construction.”
Making Solar Work
But it’s more than cost that deters homeowners and businesses from taking advantage of free energy. There are many other factors to consider before Americans will demand a house that transforms solar potential into solar power.
In fact, the Department of Energy has defined them as the ability to deliver on a set of 10 criteria: Architecture, Market Appeal, Engineering, Communications, Affordability, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment, Energy Balance.
That challenge to meet those criteria is the impetus behind their biennial Solar Decathlon competition, to design, build and operate the smartest solar home on the planet.
For the past 10 years teams from colleges and universities from the United States, Canada, Spain, Puerto Rico, Belgium, China, Germany and New Zealand have vied for trophies—one for each solar criteria—plus the mega trophy for the overall best-of-show house. Similar to their counterparts in the Olympics, these engineering, architecture and business students refer to themselves as “decathletes.”
This is the second time the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has been selected to compete in the Solar Decathlon. Their first solar house was built for the 2002 competition where the Charlotte decathletes finished 13th out of 14 teams.
“We made rookie errors,” says Benjamin Futrell, project manager for the 2013 Solar Decathlon. “We expect to do much better this time.”
The only other North Carolina team that has ever participated was Appalachian State University in 2011. They accumulated 832 points out of 1,000 and came in 11th out of 20 teams.
Solar Decathlon Director Richard King visited UNC Charlotte for the symbolic groundbreaking for Urban Eden, the school’s entry in the 2013 competition. King, who works in Washington, D.C., has great affection for UNC Charlotte. He views the 49ers as pioneers, joining the Solar Decathlon in its inaugural year at a time when King wondered if any university would accept his challenging and expensive invitation.
Of the 20 teams in the 2013 Solar Decathlon competition, six are repeat players including UNC Charlotte. With five appearances, Missouri University of Science and Technology from Rolla has the most Solar Decathlon experience. But the Rolla team has never finished in the top three. The toughest competitors are expected to come from four California schools. Santa Clara University has taken third place twice in its three appearances. The Broncos are itching for first in 2013.
The team of Southern California Institute of Architecture (known as Sci-ARC) and California Institute of Technology have been to two competitions and never finished in the top three, but they head Futrell’s list of teams to beat. Rounding out the West Coast roster are Stanford University and the University of Southern California, both rookies.
The California schools come to the competition from a solar friendly culture. California is the nation’s largest solar energy market by far and has effective state initiatives that promote the industry.
Solar Decathlon homes use state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels or modules to generate their own electricity. The panels coupled with energy-saving construction materials are enough to power lights, stove, entertainment system, heating and air conditioning, as well as a washer and dryer.
The goal is for each home to generate all the energy it needs during the 10-day competition. Solar engineers call this net metering and it garners points for the Energy Balance criteria.
The homes also use passive solar systems, typically for winter space-heating. They include collectors, absorbers, a thermal mass to store heat, ducts to move the heat, and controllers such as a roof overhang to reduce heat. Passive solar shuns all active features; there are no blowers or fans to circulate the air.
In between these two extremes are solar systems used only for heating hot water. This is a far more limited use of solar power than PV or passive. Chinamay be the world’s leader in solar water heaters, producing the most efficient, inexpensive and widely-adopted units.
Contrary to earlier competitions, the 2013 Solar Decathlon homes are not stand-alone solar systems. They are designed to be connected to the Village Grid, a mini-electrical system paid for by the Department of Energy and set up just for the decathlon.
That was not the case in the first three decathlons. For 2002, 2005 and 2007, the homes included battery packs to store electricity for nighttime use. These homes were independent of the utility company and truly “off the grid.”
That arrangement changed for 2009 and thereafter because, says King, “Ninety-nine percent of solar homes built today are tied to the grid.”
Grid-tied homes have become popular. Even with state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels and a save-the-environment outlook, solar enthusiasts want the grid as a nighttime backup. The grid also helps when the home creates more energy than it needs. Equipped with a bidirectional meter, consumers get credit for electricity they put on the grid, i.e. when the meter runs backwards. Like the rest of us, when the meter runs forward, they pay for the energy they take off the grid.
In a perfect world and with a smart-sized house, the result would be net metering. This perfect state is what earns decathletes 100 points for Energy Balance.
All homes in the decathlon have something else in common: a target audience. Each team identifies a group in its locale that could most benefit from a solar house. Choosing the target audience helps frame and focus the design.
For the Czech team, its inhabitants are a 50+ years older couple looking for a weekend escape to the country. Team Texas designed its home for the modern desert dweller. Team Alberta envisioned modular housing for mining teams in remote areas of Canada. The schools from the District of Columbia are designing a home for returning disabled veterans.
UNC Charlotte’s team has two Charlotte couples in mind: “empty nesters” and a two-income professional couple with no children or DINKS, double income—no kids. They imagine Urban Eden as an infill house on one of Charlotte’s vacant lots, in older neighborhoods or in redevelopment areas. That’s the urban part. A peaceful outdoor garden that connects to the indoor space serves as its Eden.
The Secret Weapon
A few teams have what they tout as a secret weapon—a design component that raises the bar, advances the field and wins points. For Santa Clara, it’s bamboo. The entire structure of their Radiant House will be made from this sustainable plant. The UNC Charlotte house has a double-barreled secret weapon built right into its walls.
“This is likely going to be the first geopolymer cement concrete house ever constructed,” boasts Dr. Brett Tempest of UNC Charlotte’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. This alternative form of concrete is made with fly ash, a waste product created when coal is burned. When hardened it has a similar mechanical characteristics to the widely used Portland cement, an ingredient in concrete.
“Manufacturing Portland cement accounts for approximately 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions,” says Tempest. “Geopolymer completely replaces the need for Portland cement in the concrete for the house and that decreases the carbon associated with traditional concrete manufacturing by 90 percent. This new material has uniformity, consistency and durability.”
Additionally it repurposes fly ash, a byproduct of coal power production. If fly ash were not used as a new building material, this residue would end up in a landfill.
“Replacing Portland cement with geopolymers is really just a plug-and-play thing. It’s not like you have to do any major conceptual or technical changes to the way you implement the concerete. We just solved a major problem in the world by implementing this one thing,” says Clark Snell, the student project manager for Urban Eden.
The second part of Urban Eden’s one-two punch is derived from a network of capillary tubes embedded into the fly ash concrete. “This blue plastic mesh allows us to control the heat that is built up in the walls of the house,” explains Futrell. Using a pump, the heated water is transported from the walls to the roof where it is dissipated into the night air.
In a traditional passive solar system, a thermal mass, such as water or bricks, cools on its own at night. The combination of tubing, water pump and roof membrane is the real secret weapon. “It revolutionizes passive solar heating and cooling,” says Snell.
Making It Possible
Although it is only one of the 10 Solar Decathlon criteria, student builders work hard to keep the total construction cost of their homes at or under $250,000. That is the magic number for the affordability criteria and it’s a new upper limit for the 2013 competition. This year, teams lose points by going over $250,000.
“If the house costs over $600,000, no points are awarded for affordability,” says King, adding, “It is easier to be innovative, but harder to be cost effective.”
Affordability is a juried competition. Construction experts estimate the cost of each component as well as total construction expense.
UNC Charlotte expects that the entire project from focus groups and student stipends to building, transporting and reassembling the home in Irvine, Calif., will be in the neighborhood of $1.2 million. The Department of Energy gave each 2013 team $100,000 and UNC Charlotte contributed another $375,000. That leaves a sizable chunk for the team’s sponsors.
Ingersoll Rand, Bosch Solar, Electrolux, Edifice, Intus Windows and SteelFab made up the shortfall with cash and in-kind donations. Electrolux will be supplying the washer and dryer while the refrigerator comes from Blomberg, a German manufacturer with multiple minimum energy consumption awards. For Urban Eden’s sliding roof, Bosch Solar will donate a complete array of 255-watt photovoltaic monocrystalline solar panels. Each of the 36 German-manufactured panels retails for $300.
Construction of Urban Eden began in mid-February inside the massive EPIC Building at the Charlotte Research Institute. As the weather warms and Urban Eden expands, it will be brought outside. When complete it will be disassembled and shipped to Orange County Great Park, where it will be reassembled as part of the Solar Decathlon village.
The California site is another first for the 2013 Decathlon. In previous years the village was constructed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. This year it’s halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego on the site of the former El Toro Air Station. As the original 49ers said, “California, here we come!”
The competition runs from October 3 to 13 and is open to the public for eight of its 10 days. The overall winner is announced during closing ceremonies.
The Solar Decathlon serves to bring the best of education and industry together for the common goal of sustainability, inspiring innovation and efficiency and well as engendering camaraderie and health competition. Its byproducts spur scientists, production specialists, grid engineers, municipal planners, and countless others to focus on using nature’s free energy inexpensively and efficiently.
Together, academia and business acumen combine to bring new discoveries and innovation to the commercial marketplace. It is precisely this type of synergy that creates wealth and opportunity, including job creation, helping us to compete in the global marketplace.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of Urban Eden will occur after it returns to the UNC Charlotte campus for public viewing. Perhaps a couple of empty nesters or DINKS will see it and decide to replicate it on a Charlotte vacant lot. If they invest $250,000 in their new home, in the course of the next 30 years they’ll save an average of $72,000 in utility bills. Some of that time, their electrical meter will run forward and they will pay for electricity. But on sunny days, their meter will run backwards to the future.
In the fall of 2001, Phrantceena Thate Halres was running a successful recruiting and staffing business in Raleigh. Typical of human resources firms, Halres offered a wide range of staffing services for administrative, accounting, professional, legal, and technical positions. Then came the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Halres didn’t know it right away, but that tragic event would permanently change the direction of her business.
A graduate of Wingate University, Halres had been providing staffing services since 1986 to a number of agencies of state government, as well as to companies around the Research Triangle. Her firm, Aelmings Human Resources Corporation, also advised clients on how to implement programs to recruit and train a diverse workforce.
But shortly after the 9/11 attacks, her telephone rang. It was one of her clients, Duke Energy. The new realities of a post-9/11 world meant increased security requirements at the nation’s nuclear power plants, and Duke needed help staffing those brand new security needs. The result was the formation of Total Protection Services Carolinas, LLC (TPS), a minority and woman-owned staffing firm dedicated to providing safety and security services to the nuclear power industry.
Safety and Security Services
After the call from Duke Energy, Halres started providing services to Duke in 2002. But with Duke Energy as her primary client, she soon realized a move would be necessary. Commutes to meetings at Duke’s Charlotte headquarters and to nuclear plant sites in South Carolina were proving to be logistical challenges from a Raleigh base. So in 2008, she moved the business to Charlotte. After stints in Ballantyne and Dilworth, TPS has now settled into a new home on Fairview Road near SouthPark.
In addition to Duke, other major clients now include Southern Company and Shaw Power Group. In all, TPS staffs around a dozen facilities and focuses on Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The company provides what they call high-threat/close proximity safety and security services, primarily for nuclear power plants. The company is now expanding into other related markets such as coal-based energy generation plants, new plant construction sites (such as Duke’s new Lee Nuclear Station in Cherokee County, S.C.), and their latest focus, government nuclear lab facilities.
While the services provided are still primarily staffing-based services, Halres says it’s a very different business than providing accountants or administrative assistants. Most of their security specialists come from the U.S. military, law enforcement agencies and government security services. Many have special operations backgrounds.
“It’s certainly a very different world than what I had been dealing with, but our staffing skill sets still transferred,” admits Halres. “It was just different because nuclear security is so regulated. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) governs a lot of it, and there are specific fit-for-duty requirements, BMI index requirements, and many other things.”
In this male-dominated profession, TPS is working hard to recruit more women into the security field. But since women tend to have smaller hands and weigh less, some of the weapons present issue with both size and recoil. Nevertheless, TPS has been successful in working a limited number of women into their workforce.
Each client defines the skill sets needed for each position based on the NRC regulations and their own internal requirements. For example, there are several layers of security at a nuclear plant, ranging from the outside perimeter to deeper within the more highly restricted “protected areas” inside the plant itself. Each layer has different requirements and different skill sets.
“Usually at the perimeter points you have the officers who greet visitors, so they need to be friendly and efficient, but firm,” explains Halres. “It is behavior-based security. It requires being alert while still getting people in and out in a timely manner. That skill set is a little less intensive, but it’s very mentally engaging.”
As you move further into each facility though, the required skill sets change dramatically and the security techniques use both seen and unseen protection strategies.
“The deeper, more sensitive, highly-protected areas of the facility are where you will find our more highly qualified personnel,” she continues. “We have a lot of ex-military, special operations types with very specialized skill sets—even some 007 type of stuff. We also have to ensure that these officers can demonstrate proficiency with whatever weapons of choice our clients choose to employ.”
TPS can staff their own security force at a client site or they can provide hiring services for a client’s in-house force. But often, TPS will augment an existing in-house force, as they do for Duke Energy. When they supplement this in-house security, the TPS force becomes a qualified feeder pool of trained security professionals. This allows the client to “try before they buy.”
In a typical environment, the TPS force may represent about 20 percent of the total security at the plant. TPS hires and trains each officer to the client’s requirements, usually right there at the client site. That way, the client doesn’t have to advertise for the position and doesn’t have to devote valuable management time to provide the specialized training that TPS offers.
Then, as attrition occurs within the client’s proprietary in-house force due to retirements, transfers or military call-ups, the client can select already-trained professionals from the TPS force. TPS then hires and trains replacements and the cycle starts all over again. The client always has a pool of properly trained professionals to pull from.
Building a Quality Workforce
“Perhaps the thing that troubles me the most about this business is the workforce I know to be out there protecting many of our nuclear plants in this country,” says Halres. “We took over the security at one plant where a large security company had been doing it for a number of years. They had not performed well and when we took it over we found out that half the workforce didn’t have high school diplomas. How can you protect a nuclear plant if you can’t read and write? We need to upgrade the skills of this profession.”
To address this skills shortage, TPS has launched a new security training academy initiative. While TPS has been training to client requirements at each client site on a 24/7 basis to accommodate various work shifts, this new initiative will focus on creating a pool of qualified security workers within a given region.
The first academy is now in the initial planning stages and will be located in southern Mississippi near Gulfport. TPS hopes to develop the academy in conjunction with a lignite coal power plant being built by Southern Company. The project has the support of the Department of Energy, the Obama Administration and Southern Company.
Instead of just providing custom training for clients, the academy will become a resource for the entire community, providing the Gulf Coast with a well-trained workforce ready to be hired by the region’s broader energy industry. The academy will not only benefit Southern Company’s new lignite coal plant, it will also benefit the Gulf region’s numerous chemical plants, as well as Entergy, the second largest nuclear power generator in the nation.
And with Gulfport’s proximity to offshore Gulf of Mexico oil platforms, one would imagine that industry could also benefit from a workforce of trained security professionals.
The facility TPS hopes to build will be, to some extent, modeled after the U.S.-funded King Abdullah Special Operations Training Center (KASOTC) in Jordan. That facility was designed to help train Iraqi and other regional security forces to protect their own key facilities in that dangerous part of the world.
While the Mississippi center will not need to go to the extremes that the Jordan facility does, it has been used as an example of what the academy might look like.
“We have acquired a lot of knowledge and skills in our company within the nuclear security space,” states Halres. “There is such a big need for training and skills development. These jobs are here now, and only going to increase in the future. The big gap is the workforce. So the question is how to prepare the workforce to get those good jobs.”
The academy will focus on the “soft” skills needed to provide protection to critical national infrastructure, instead of the tactical and weapons skills many of the applicants already have from their experience in the armed forces or law enforcement. This will be behavior-based situational-based training where the students have to think, and instructors will teach it with experience gained in special operations and similar fields.
“After 9/11, you really have to think,” explains Halres. “Security professionals must be very alert and aware of their surroundings and they must learn certain behaviors that help them make the right decisions. Some of the military folks that come in from Afghanistan are literally trained to kill, so you have to dial those folks back a bit. They have to make a mental shift; we make it clear to them that they may sit in one place and stare at the same wall for an entire shift, except when they go on break. Then we ask them, ‘Is this job right for you?’”
Halres says one of the community resources they also hope to leverage is the older senior workforce. These are the folks who retire from their security job, but who are not really ready to leave the workforce. They still want to work, so TPS will take them in to help train the new staff.
“Turnover in our industry is about 46 percent overall and that’s pretty sad,” concedes Halres. “But our turnover at TPS is only about 2 percent. So as an industry, we need a fundamental change in how we recruit, hire and train.”
Giving Back to the Community
TPS is planning to open a second academy location in Charlotte to help bolster the workforce that feeds their sizable Carolinas site base. But Halres has even bigger plans for that facility with a recently conceived initiative to be offered through the auspices of a non-profit organization she also leads, The Coach Tate Foundation.
The Foundation was established in 2010, in memory of her father, Johnny “Coach” Tate of Burke County, N.C. The primary mission of the Foundation is to provide scholarships, leadership development and character building for student athletes in Burke and surrounding counties, but she also sees another way the Foundation can give back to the community.
“I want to create a program here in Charlotte for families to teach some of the same situational awareness and behavioral skills that we will teach in our regular security training academy,” explains Halres.
“I want people to feel they can be safe and protect their family, but not have to feel like they need to go out and buy guns and bullets. How do you react? What do you do when you see a gun?
“You don’t run and scream. There are certain things that you do that are not outwardly expressed, but you are quiet and you maneuver and you conquer a situation.
“We need a better way,” Halres acknowledges. “I’ve learned a lot in the nuclear industry about how to protect these facilities, so I would be remiss not to share that knowledge in a safe and limited way to help our greater community.”
When Carole McLeod’s husband of 29 years, Mans, was diagnosed with stage four brain cancer in July 2011, her world stopped revolving. She had just left a leadership position with a major waste services company 45 days earlier and was in final-stage negotiations to purchase a small waste hauling business of her own.
“The deal was going to close by the end of July,” she recalls. “And when my husband’s diagnosis came out, I had to call and say, ‘Guys, I can’t do this right now.’”
Successes and Trials
McLeod, a native Carolinian, grew up in Greensboro, the daughter of a highway patrolman. He saw plenty of totaled cars in his tenure as a cop, so when he retired, he started a vehicle wrecking company. Over time, he expanded the company and added a profitable salvage yard into the mix.
“Garbage is in my blood,” laughs McLeod. “I inherited his common sense,” McLeod says. “I learned to see an opportunity and grab it.”
Upon graduation from Appalachian State University with a degree in business, McLeod started out in sales. “I knew what I liked and what I was good at,” she says. She sold everything from accounting systems to postage meters.
Then, after eight years with a major solid waste removal company and a brief stint at a chemical company, McLeod partnered with an old business associate to start her own waste disposal company, New South Waste, in 1997.
“You knock on doors,” Weller told her. “I’ll drive.”
The timing—and leadership—were right, and the company grew quickly, doing $1.3 million in business its first year. As a matter of fact, she tripled her business plan during the second year of operation.
In June 2001, NAWBO recognized McLeod as its “Rising Star of the Year” for growing her business from one truck and one driver to 15 trucks and 20 employees in just four years. Crediting much of their success to “real quick” service and competitive pricing, it was not surprising that every major waste company in the area was vying to purchase McLeod’s business, and in 2005, she sold it for a tidy profit.
McLeod took a five-year hiatus to honor her non-compete agreement, and spent it enjoying a well-earned break.
But she wasn’t done with the industry. She came back for a brief stint at another southeast regional waste company in 2010. As their new district manager, she was responsible for everything related to the Charlotte market, from reviewing bidding procedures and managing accounts, to selecting an operations site and getting the right people and equipment on board.
“We did it, we entered the market successfully and created a lot of opportunity,” says McLeod. But McLeod’s entrepreneurial blood wouldn’t let her settle. Working for someone else was simply not what she was cut out for.
So in June 2011, she announced her resignation and set out to purchase a waste disposal business of her own. And that’s when Mans’ devastating diagnosis was announced.
The next few months were a blur for the McLeod’s as they sought treatment from Carolinas Medical and then Duke University, and their young adult children—Will and Anna—dealt with the implications of his prognosis.
McLeod took a few months to regroup, but she didn’t let her personal tragedy keep her down for long. She called on the family’s heritage for an old Scottish saying that kept her going: “Hold fast.”
“This means so many things,” she says. “It’s about being patient, holding on to the present moment, and to me, it’s holding fast to the people you really care about.”
So she held fast, and once treatments had begun for her husband and they’d settled into a routine, it occurred to her that his hiatus from working at Wells Fargo might be a blessing in disguise.
“We decided we were going to start this company,” she recalls. “We were going to work together while he went through treatment.”
So McLeod called up the little company she wanted to buy, MacLeod Construction (the similarity in name is a coincidence), and asked if their offer to sell still stood. It did.
“Everybody kept saying that we needed to think about retiring,” she says. “But we didn’t want to do that. We had obligations, and we weren’t going to just stop and retire.”
McLeod got in touch with a former employee, Eric Voner, from her first company and asked if he was interested in driving for her new company, Advantage Waste Recycling & Disposal, Inc. They met over dinner to talk business and discovered they had another significant thing in common: Voner’s wife was fighting a serious diagnosis of breast cancer.
“We just looked at each other,” McLeod says. “Who would have thought?”
With a common mission and a common battle, the two went full force into the business of taking care of waste—and each other. “He’s my right-hand man,” says McLeod. “He has done everything in this business, run it when I couldn’t, and been the best helper I could have hoped for.”
In less than a year of business, Advantage Waste Recycling grew to seven employees and over a million dollars in revenue, and was turning a profit by January 2013. McLeod credits the people around her for her success.
“My husband never doubted that I would be successful,” she says. “He believed in me.” And so did everyone she asked to come work for her. Kailie Alvas, now office manager for Advantage Waste Recycling, happily left a position at a more established company because she wanted to be a part of what McLeod was building. The company’s outside sales representative Marcy Nichol also worked with McLeod at another company and knew right away she wanted to join the new company.
“Everybody wants to be a part of something that grows,” says McLeod. “Our country and especially our industry have just been through a horrible period with layoffs and downsizing. People want to be a part of something positive, to have an opportunity to excel, to do more than they’ve ever been given to do before. To make a difference.”
More Tribulation and More Blessings
That’s also why Casey Simonds, owner of Simonds Sanitation, decided he wanted to sell his little company to McLeod at the end of 2012. His had father died a few years earlier, and he had built the little Gaston County company from nothing and was proud of what he had accomplished. Most of the large waste service companies wanted to purchase his business, but he didn’t want to do that. He chose McLeod instead.
McLeod eagerly began negotiations to acquire Simonds Sanitation by the end of November 2012.
And that’s when tragedy struck another devastating blow.
In October, Mans’ health took a sudden and devastating turn for the worse. For a second time, McLeod had to call up the company she wanted to purchase and ask for more time. Once again, time was granted.
For two months, McLeod and her family held fast to each other, as Mans began his final journey. Their 21-year-old son came home from college mid-semester to be with them. McLeod handed Will the reins of the company and said, “Here, do this.”
And he did. Voner, Alvas, Nichol, and the rest of the crew kept the wheels turning and the customers satisfied at Advantage Waste Recycling as the McLeod family stood vigil. In December 2012, Mans passed away.
Though her loss is still devastatingly fresh for her, McLeod is determined that her journey will not be one of sadness alone, or of defeat.
“I’ve got six employees who stood by me when I had to be out,” she says. “I’m going to make sure this company succeeds for them, because they took that leap of faith to come work for me. I’m doing it for them.”
In February 2013, knowing that her husband wanted it for her, she moved forward and completed the purchase of Simonds Sanitation, ensuring a strong foothold for the company in Gaston County. She considers herself lucky.
“People look at me funny when I say I’ve been blessed,” she admits. “But my husband would say I’ve been blessed, too. I’ve been blessed with people helping and promoting the business, and blessed with everything that’s happened around me.”
“Doing It for Them”
McLeod is determined to give as much as she has received. “Doing it for them” is one of her secrets to success. She has always taken an interest in mentoring young entrepreneurs. Her alma mater Appalachian State has benefited from her commitment via an endowment that helps aspiring entrepreneurs prepare for their careers.
In honor of Voner’s wife, who is still fighting breast cancer, Advantage Waste Recycling includes pink dumpsters among their offerings. The website prominently displays the Susan G. Komen logo and the company supports several cancer foundations.
In fact, the very structure of the business is based on giving back. It’s about maintaining a clean environment, both for the businesses and communities that they serve, and for the people who live in those environments.
McLeod says she’s pleased to see the entire industry moving toward cleaner, more sustainable ways of managing waste. She points to several major brands—Target and Walmart among them—as leaders in the environmentally friendly waste management fight, who began insisting to vendors that they recycle their waste. That demand moved the entire waste management industry strongly into recycling.
It’s been a tough transition for some companies, who have traditionally relied heavily on high profit margins from landfills to keep their business going. But for McLeod, it’s exciting. Advantage Waste Recycling already provides recycling pick-up and delivery to area recycling centers. By the end of 2013, McLeod expects to be providing the actual recycling service as well for some customers.
Most of Advantage Waste Recycling’s customers are contractors and commercial businesses that rent their dumpsters and contract for waste removal. So far, in their first 10 months of operation, the company’s revenue is approximately $1 million. This year, McLeod intends to also go after municipal contracts in some of Charlotte’s surrounding areas such as Gastonia and Belmont, and to expand gradually.
“It’s not about being the biggest,” she says. “It’s about growing a company that takes care of its employees and its community. It’s just a nice group of people that have come together to say, ‘We can do this.’”
She points out that when you have good employees and you take care of them, they take care of the customers and vendors. She says her team members are always getting just a little bit extra done, and making sure everything gets done right, even when it’s difficult. They’re able to provide faster, more reliable service than many others thanks to this.
McLeod’s quick to add that she has no interest in promoting herself to the world. “I don’t have to do this anymore. I could retire. But maybe my story will help somebody,” she says. Then, for the first time in the conversation, she tears up.
“Life is tough out there. Things are tough. Maybe my story will help somebody start something, do something. It’s hard, but they can do it.”
People tell McLeod that she is an inspiration. But she says she never set out to be that.
“I’m just trying to help these people who have committed to me; to help them get where they want to go,” she says. “All I’ve ever done is just take one step at a time, and hold fast.”
Regarded not only as the finest modern architect but also a master builder, Frank Lloyd Wright was known to design everything that would be used in a building down to the lighting fixtures and the plates on the dinner table.
While the professionals at Clark Nexsen tend to leave the tableware decisions to the building owners, they are committed to the master builder philosophy through holistic, integrated design. This is reflected in the firm’s diverse staff which includes architects, engineers, interior designers and planners.
“This is my greatest sense of accomplishment; that we work with the whole building, the whole project. I see us as master builders,” says Peter Aranyi, managing principal of the Charlotte office.
Founded in 1920 in Lynchburg, Va., Clark Nexsen has become a full-service, integrated design firm headquartered in Norfolk, Va., with offices in Richmond and Roanoke, Va.; Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C.; Washington, DC; Atlanta, Macon and Brunswick, Ga.
Clark Nexsen has worked on projects in 46 states and 42 countries. It is recognized as one of the top 50 architectural firms in the nation.
One Big Family
While each of Clark Nexsen’s offices has its own culture, none is a separate profit center; the company runs as a whole.
“We’ve grown up together as one big family,” says Aranyi. “One reason this works so well is that the company is employee-owned. There are close to 100 stockholders in the company, which is run by a board of directors.” Aranyi sits on the board.
“We needed to have a broad base of stockholders to sustain the business over time,” he explains. The firm attributes its success to personalized service and diversity.
Charlotte is one of the largest offices and was started in 1994 with a merger between Clark Nexsen and Charlotte-based Gunn-Hardaway. Aranyi, who previously worked in the Norfolk office, came to Charlotte to head up the office 12 years ago. He also oversees the Roanoke office.
The overall firm specializes in higher education, commercial, offices, government, recreational, manufacturing, health care, and land planning projects. The Charlotte office’s primary focus is higher education projects, especially student life buildings such as housing, dining, academic buildings and student success centers.
Clark Nexsen operates out of 15,000 square feet of space in uptown Charlotte; its third location since opening here. “We previously had offices on Church Street and Morehead Street, and finally now on Elizabeth Avenue. We designed and upfitted our office space to promote staff collaboration,” says Aranyi. “Our Elizabeth office has become home.”
Company-wide, Clark Nexsen has over 500 employees; 54 of them are in Charlotte which includes 21 architects and 25 engineers.
Clark Nexsen’s clients and projects in Charlotte are equally diverse. Higher education projects are active at UNC Charlotte, UNC Chapel Hill, Winston-Salem State University, Duke University, Clemson, University of Virginia and Penn State.
“UNC at Charlotte has been a wonderful client,” says Aranyi. In Chapel Hill, the firm is designing a major student housing project that will replace Odom Village, built during WWII for returning soldiers. The firm has just recently developed a 10-year master plan for the redesign of 26 residence halls at Penn State University.
Since 2002, the firm has designed space for 20,000 beds for higher education housing; an average of 2,000 per year. Over the years, Clark Nexsen has designed many schools for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools as well.
The firm also enjoys significant military work, a consequence attributed to the company’s founders—two military men—one a captain, the other an admiral. Both NATO and the U.S. Navy have been clients, along with dozens of other Department of Defense agencies such as the U.S. Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.
The Charlotte office designed two dining facilities for the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in California which are just wrapping up construction. These facilities are designed to achieve LEED Gold and have received a design award from the local Charlotte AIA chapter. The firm is also under contract with the U.S. Navy on a worldwide energy contract, looking at ways to conserve energy across the country.
Private business clients include Family Dollar Stores and Duke Energy. “One of our interesting niches is indoor firing ranges,” says Aranyi. “We are working on new firing ranges for the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department up in Asheville and are also doing a master plan for Union County.”
Sustaining the Community
Clark Nexsen’s success has driven it to give back, especially in mentoring students in the field. The Charlotte office is currently working with students at UNC Charlotte on the Solar Decathlon competition. Sponsored by the Department of Energy, this national program invites college campuses to compete in the design, build and operation of a solar-powered, smart home.
Its goal is to train the next generation of leaders in sustainable architecture, engineering and business by having them deliver innovative technologies using environmentally conscious, energy-efficient and marketable methods.
“We provide support to the students, giving them advice so they can do a better job,” says Aranyi. “We do it to contribute to the field,” he says, adding, “Students become great employees.”
Work began on the design of the home in October 2011 and construction started in February of this year. The competition will take place in California in October. The Norfolk office is similarly engaged this year with students at Old Dominion University, and previously worked with students at Virginia Tech when they won 5th place in the national completion.
As with any business, there are challenges. “Mine is time,” says Aranyi. “We travel extensively. Our work is diverse and spread out geographically. It’s hard to be in all the places I need to be but I try to get home in the evening to spend time with the family.”
“We’re constantly challenged—in a good way—to keep up with fast-moving technology and advances in the industry,” says Aranyi. “I tell my junior staff that what I see now is the stuff of comic books from the 1960s; we’re there, working in three dimensions and seeing projects as we never could before.”
The firm’s animation programs now use video game engines to model how a building functions with people in it and demonstrate to owners the experience of their projects before they are complete.
The firm is actively engaged in research to stay abreast of developments. “Buildings we design will typically be in place for 50 to 100 years. We are working on flexible design solutions for technologies that are not even in place yet. For instance, in the future, landline phones will be obsolete. Engineering will be required around new systems of communication. We’re making educated guesses about what will be needed for technologies that are not even discovered yet,” says Aranyi.
Committed to Growth
At Clark Nexsen, the junior staff helps the senior staff understand and employ new technology. The senior staff teaches the junior staff the business of integrated design and the communication skills and social graces involved with face-to-face meetings and picking up the phone and talking with a client, according to Aranyi. “Everyone brings value to the table,” says Aranyi.
Aranyi says Clark Nexsen weathered the recession better than most, a fact that he attributes to the foresight in 1994 to diversify.
“When I first came to Clark Nexsen, all of our work was military-related, but the Cold War ended and we saw the writing on the wall. That’s when we got into the higher education market,” explains Aranyi. While a few jobs were lost company-wide, the firm actually added offices during the recent recession years. With an 80 percent repeat business rate, the firm has continued to provide full design services.
Now, uncertainty over military spending is again affecting the firm and is one of Aranyi’s frustrations. He explains that the federal government has not yet disclosed their 2013/2014 projects. Normally, these are communicated a year in advance. “That our elected government cannot work together to keep the country running is demoralizing to companies like ours,” laments Aranyi.
Aranyi is a second generation architect; his father completed his architectural studies at NC State University and opened a business in Virginia Beach, becoming a key player in the solar field and named Energy Man of the Year in 1984 by the Department of Energy. The junior Aranyi worked in his father’s office as a teenager and initially, rejected architecture as a career choice.
“It was a kind of rebellion; I threatened to join the Air Force,” remembers Aranyi. But he found that he was intrigued and went on to study architecture at Hampton University in Virginia. He became a registered architect in record time because he worked during school and earned credit towards the three-year internship requirement. Aranyi lives in Charlotte with his wife, who is an artist, and twin sons. His daughter is enrolled at NC State University in graphic design.
Committed to professional learning and personal growth, Aranyi applied to and was accepted in the 20th class of the Leadership North Carolina program.
“I’m learning a great deal about North Carolina. I had been so focused on my career and the industry, I failed to realize the impact of social issues in our state—economic, health care and education issues,” says Aranyi. “Now my interests are much broader and I understand that as a leader in North Carolina, I have to be involved in these things. There’s a lot at stake right now.”
Active in the community, Clark Nexsen is involved with several charitable and educational organizations including Hands On Charlotte, Habitat for Humanity, the Dove’s Nest and Classroom Central.
They are once again participating in the American Institute of Architect’s program “Canstruction” in which participants build sculpture structures out of food cans, then donate the food to the Second Harvest Food Bank. The firm has also been active in the ACE Mentor program, working with area students who have interest in the architecture and engineering fields, and has just kicked off an Explorer program for architecture.
The firm will continue expanding its business, according to Aranyi. “We’re not comfortable sitting back and saying ‘We did it, we’re done.’ We will probably open an office on the west coast and continue looking west of the Mississippi.”
A remarkable trait of the firm is its workplace culture. It’s a friendly environment, a pleasant atmosphere where even the most junior staffers are encouraged to share their ideas.
“I value everyone’s opinion,” says Aranyi. “Any success that I have is because of all the people who work here.” The firm encourages the exchange of ideas “around the coffee maker.”
The firm also encourages staff and their families to get together at monthly events such as hockey or baseball games, outdoor cookouts or poker nights. “We have a Fun Committee to make sure we have some down time,” asserts Aranyi.
Aranyi holds several titles within the firm—senior vice president, operations director, managing principal, and board member. His current business card simply reads “Principal.”
“I’m waiting for the box to be empty,” he says with a smile. “I didn’t want to spend money for a title. When people ask what I do, I say, ‘I’m an architect.’”