Jay Mesinger is one of the most highly regarded people in the industry. As founder, president and CEO of Mesinger Jet Sales, he runs one of the most successful family businesses in aviation with his wife and two sons.
SCHEDULING A MEETING with Jay Mesinger in a public area on the sidelines of a major show probably isn’t the best idea if you are running low on time. He knows absolutely everybody, and absolutely everybody wants to come over and talk to him.
So when we do meet, in a passageway between a convention centre and a hotel, it doesn’t take long for us to get used to stopping and starting our conversation over and over and again.
“Hello Rockstar!” shouts an immaculately dressed lady as she comes across to talk to him. “I need to get my daily hug,” says another apologetically, as she comes over for a quick chat.
It becomes very clear, very quickly, that Jay Mesinger has built up a lot of love and respect during his 45 years in the industry.
Although he always had a keen interest in aviation and had learnt to fly single-engine piston aircraft during high school, his first job after earning a degree in business from the university of Austin, Texas, was in the beer industry. Realising that Mesinger knew about aircraft, the owner of the beer company, who was also his godfather, took Mesinger along to a Piper dealership with him when he wanted to buy a plane. Whilst there, they learnt that the dealership was struggling and about to go out of business.
“It had filed for bankruptcy and it was going out of business. So instead of buying the airplane, we bought the dealership,” says Mesinger. “It had been in business in Houston for a long, long time. And Houston was booming in those days, there were very favourable lease-back tax considerations for aircraft, and the oil business was really booming. It (the company) was just poorly managed and undercapitalised.”
Mesinger says that his godfather said the same thing to him when he took him to the dealer originally, “You know all about planes, you go run the business.” A year after taking it over, Mesinger had turned around its fortunes and it had become the biggest Piper dealer in the US. It only took another six months for it to become the biggest Piper dealer in the world.
Three years in, he was given a choice. Stay at the Piper dealer or go back into the beer industry. The choice was simple, and soon Mesinger’s godfather handed over control of the dealership, along with a line of credit.
The company grew quickly, along with the industry. Although it was an authorised Piper dealer, it was also a charter company, a small FBO and a small maintenance centre. Its remit also meant that it could sell aircraft other than those built by Piper, which helped the company retain its base of customers as – once they had grown out of piston aircraft – Mesinger and his team were able to help them with the acquisition of turboprop and turbine aircraft.
Mesinger says that Mesinger Jet Sales came as an evolution from the original company, largely due to the introduction of product-liability insurance. This forced aircraft manufacturers, not only Piper, to either stop, or slow down their manufacturing completely. Those sales that were made were done in-house, getting rid of dealers in the process.
“In those days (US) Congress said that the liability for building an airplane like that goes on forever,” said Mesinger. “What that meant was that if some kids opened up a barn door and underneath the hay was an old Piper Cub, and they managed to get it started, flew it and ended up killing themselves, Piper’s liability would last forever.”
Mesinger says that after a lot of lobbying, Congress eventually stepped in and changed the liability length to 18 years. Once that happened, airplanes began being built in large numbers again. That gave Mesinger the catalyst to reboot the company. After shedding the charter and maintenance side of the business, the dealership that once specialised in Piper aircraft, was born again as Mesinger Jet Sales.
That was 1982. In the 37 years that have passed since then, the company and its founder have become among the most-respected names in the industry. Mesinger credits part of the success to being in the right place at the right time. But in later years, he credits a lot of the company’s success to his family.
“Jay and I had always talked about business and so I said, ‘Let’s start working together.’”
When the company started, it had just a handful of employees, but as it grew, so did its employee roster.
But it was a move of the company from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Boulder, Colorado, that would see the transition into a family-run business.
The first to join was Jay’s wife, Sandra, who officially joined the company as its Chief Financial Officer in 1993. Sandra had grown weary of her role as a public accountant, so the move to Boulder gave her the catalyst she needed to move away from it. “We had moved from Santa Fe to Boulder and I thought ‘I just don’t want to be in public accounting any more’. Jay and I had always talked about business and so I said ‘Let’s start working together’.”
The transition into a family business for Sandra was relatively pain-free as many of her skills were easily transferred to her new role.
“The work I do here really complements being an accountant, we work on budgets for clients, and valuations, and modelling of different types of expenses – fixed, variable and capital costs," says Sandra.
A young Jay Mesinger
Sandra and Jay Mesinger at CJI London 2019
Team, Mesinger Jet Sales
The next to join the family business was Josh, the first of two sons. Josh joined straight from college, having studied business marketing. During holidays from college, Josh would work for the family business, which gave him a solid understanding of how the business was run.
Josh joined the family business in 2000 and is now the vice president. He is a member of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and has twice co-chaired the association’s Leadership Conferences.
Josh says that, as a family, the Mesingers are passionate about what they do. But no matter what, they don’t let business come in the way of family gatherings. This sentiment is echoed by Sandra, who says that: “One of the things we pride ourselves on is no matter what is going on in the office, when our whole family gets together, we are really a strong family. We travel together, we don’t let whatever is going on come between us.” It would be another 10 years until the next member of the Mesinger family would join the company.
Adam Mesinger had originally embarked on a career in the film and television business. Having studied at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Adam moved to Los Angeles for eight years, before that family calling brought him home. He is now the director of business development, where he often works alongside his mother on pricing strategies.
"Having worked outside of a family business for almost a decade prior to joining Mesinger Jet Sales, I can say that when one works like ours does, there is no comparison in terms of the respect for everyone's ideas, trust in each other's abilities and the separation of work and personal life that allows us to maintain great family bonds outside of the office no matter how stressful a work day can be."
As well as two sons, there are also two daughters. Although Jay says that at one point he was hoping that they would come and join the family business, both chose different career paths. With four members of the same family working together, naturally tensions can sometimes run high. But each of the family members recognises that there is a clear distinction between work life and home life and is careful not to bring work into family gatherings, although they all admit that it is never easy.
“We have two daughters who are both very successful in their own rights,” says Jay, “and, so, they will say to us at a Thanksgiving or a family gathering ‘Hey, could we not talk about airplanes?’ And that will normally last for maybe two or three minutes before it will creep back in. I think everybody is kind of used to it now, they grew up on the conversations at dinner tables and at breakfast tables about airplanes.”
Despite choosing to work outside the family, Jay says that he has taken them to trade shows to try and pique their interest. With one of the daughters becoming a tax attorney and the other an interior designer, both have careers that could be linked back to aviation one day. But Jay doesn’t see that happening any time soon. “They are both so ensconced in what they do, that they wouldn’t leave their established careers at this point.” Working with your family can have its upsides, but when it comes to downsides, Jay says that if there are any, they haven’t found any. “I love what I do, and I love being able to do it with my family,” he says.
“Today Mesinger Jet Sales stands at the top of an industry that is more capable of serving an industry that is more desirous than ever in helping it’s constituents make huge financial decisions that will impact their respective bottom lines and draw attention by shareholders and boards,” says Jay. “These processes in place today have never been more demanding and critical.”