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Business Aviation Insider

July/August 2013, International Issue of Business Aviation Insider

Berry Companies’ Airplane Builds Business, Helps Customers Build Theirs

Founded in 1957 and headquartered in Wichita, KS, Berry Companies Inc. is a leader in selling, renting and supporting name-brand construction and materials handling equipment throughout the Midwest. With 29 locations in six states – Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming – it’s easy to understand why the company has always relied on business aviation.

President and CEO Walter Berry, who usually pilots the company’s six-seat Cessna Citation Mustang, declared, “Our airplane is an integral part of our management structure. The airplane definitely affects how we run our business. It makes us more efficient.”

Walter’s father, chairman and co-founder Fred Berry, Jr., who has been flying since the 1940s and has owned 20 different airplanes, explained that the company aircraft often is utilized to transport customers to job sites so they can see what the construction equipment can do. Typically, a Berry Companies salesman accompanies three or four people from a customer’s company on such trips.

Being able to get customers to and from a site quickly is vital, explained Fred Berry. “Customers will give you one day, but not two days [to demonstrate equipment]. We can fly 400 to 600 miles, spend three or four hours on the ground and be back that night, so having an airplane is a big advantage.”

Airplane Is a Management Tool

“The other primary use of the airplane is for communication within the company,” said Fred Berry. “People ask how we can manage so many farflung locations. I am convinced that the reason our approach works is a combination of our philosophy of delegating leadership, as well as authority, and being close to local managers personally, knowing and trusting each other.”

Being able to fly people from the home office in Wichita to meetings at the company’s eight different divisions “gives us face time with people who make things happen,” continued Fred Berry. He says it also helps management avoid the ivory tower syndrome.

Passengers on such trips usually include up to five financial, sales, human resources, information technology or technical people.

“One of the things I couldn’t do without an airplane is go around to all our locations with our human resource executive once a year,” said Walter Berry. “We have group meetings with all our employees and talk about health insurance, company [financial] performance and what that means to the profit-sharing plan, and other important subjects.”

Everyone looks forward to these meetings, said Walter, because it enables employees and management to be open with each other. “It’s been really helpful. Employees value this communication; it’s part of our culture. It’s what helps us be successful.”

Each summer Walter conducts 35 employee meetings during a 45-day period. On one three-day trip, Walter Berry flew to Garden City, KS in the morning, conducted a meeting at Grand Junction, CO at lunchtime, held another meeting in Cheyenne, WY during the late afternoon, and finally flew on to Denver to spend the night. The next day, he conducted meetings in Denver and Windsor, CO. The following day he went to Pueblo and Colorado Springs, CO. Obviously, such a trip could not be done in such a short time without a business aircraft.

The Mustang also is used once or twice a year to take people on a day trip to Gwinner, ND, where the well-known Bobcat line of compact excavators, tractors, loaders and utility vehicles are built. Although the town has fewer than 1,000 residents, nearby Gwinner-Roger Melroe Field Airport (GWR) makes access easy for business airplanes.

Last, but certainly not least, the Berry Companies’ airplanes have been instrumental in the expansion of the company through acquisitions. Berry Companies’ Chairman and Co-founder Fred Berry at the company’s headquarters in Wichita, KS. Frequently, the chance to make such deals occurs with little notice.

“When these opportunities come along, the airplane is very helpful, because there’s a short time horizon to get the deals done,” explained Walter Berry. “So having an airplane enables us to react quicker and meet sellers face-to-face. That definitely has been an advantage.”

Some companies sell their aircraft or cut back on flying during hard times, but Walter Berry believes that would be counterproductive for his firm. “Typically, [acquisition] opportunities come our way more often in downturns, so we need to be prepared to act.” Besides, he added, during slow periods Berry managers in other locations often need more support, “and we need to be there to help them or otherwise we jeopardize a portion of our business.”

Stepping Up to a More Capable Aircraft

During its history Berry Companies has acquired a series of progressively more capable airplanes to meet its changing travel needs. For example, when Berry expanded southward to Houston in 1999, the company decided to replace its single-piston-engine airplane with a single-engine turboprop, which the company operated for 200 hours annually for a decade.

In 2011, with an engine overhaul due on its turboprop, Berry Companies opted to purchase a Mustang, which has provided greater travel capabilities and flexibility, such as the ability to fly above inclement weather.

Although Berry Companies considered getting a new turboprop, the clincher for buying the Cessna light jet was the ability to get all training and service right in Wichita. “We really like the idea of having a product built here in Kansas,” said Walter Berry. The Cessna service facility in Wichita performs all maintenance on Berry Companies’ airplane. All Walter has to do is fly it across town from its home base at Wichita’s Colonel James Jabara Airport (AAO).

Walter Berry pilots the Mustang for approximately 150 of the 200 hours it is flown each year. But there are times when he is unavailable or wants to sit in the back of the airplane “to get a lot more face time with a customer than I would otherwise. That’s a great opportunity for me to get a customer one-on-one.” On such occasions, Berry Companies uses one of the many qualified contract pilots available in Wichita.

In terms of keeping his piloting skills sharp, Walter Berry practices “quite a bit” and takes simulator training once a year at the FlightSafety International facility in Wichita. He prides himself on being able to fly with precision, anticipate and plan for contingencies, and “do things with intent.” He contends that making prudent decisions when facing severe weather or “get-homeitis” are “much easier if I think about what my options are ahead of time. It’s a better mindset.”

Customer Relationships and Quality of Life

New technologies continue to make it easier to communicate, but Walter Berry likes to build relationships the old-fashioned way.

“There are more ways to interact [with customers] than ever before, but we feel there is an advantage to being face-to-face. If you are buying a company and you want to see what you are buying, and the sellers want to know whom they are selling to, you have to have a face-to-face meeting.”

Finally, the Berry Companies managers see their airplane as a quality-of-life asset. “We value family and employees’ relationships with their families,” said Walter Berry. “We really like to be back home the same day, if possible. We ask people to work hard, but we have certainly kept people happier and kept them with us longer because we have an airplane.”