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September/October 2013, Winter Flying Issue of Business Aviation Insider
Airplane Helps Small Firm Achieve Big Things
How to collaborate effectively is one of the primary challenges for any professional services firm that needs to work closely with geographically dispersed clients on an ongoing basis. If a series of face-to-face meetings is crucial to the success of a project and the nurturing of a business relationship, how can a smaller company efficiently service clients scattered all across the country?
R. Wayne Estopinal, president of TEG Architects – an architectural, engineering and interior design firm headquartered in Jeffersonville, IN, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY – says the answer is a business aircraft.
"One reason we have the airplane is the collaborative nature of our practice," said Estopinal, whose key employees spend a total of 400 hours per year traveling aboard a Cessna Citation CJ2+ based at Jeffersonville's Clark Regional Airport (JVY).
"Our entire practice is built around ‘efficient design plus productive care.’ That is our strategy for how we plan and design healthcare facilities," explained Estopinal, who said TEG’s goal is to create facilities that minimize staffing, achieve better patient outcomes, and reduce wear and tear on staff.
"The airplane helps us reduce wear and tear on us and helps us get there and collaborate with our clients for better outcomes than if we were emailing or talking over a Skype connection," continued Estopinal. "When we visit a client, we try and physically experience the problems these hospitals are experiencing. Collaborating with them on site makes a world of difference. The solutions are better, and we can sense if we are going down the right path.
"At the end of the day, the client knows we are going to take care of their problems."
At any given time, TEG Architects has approximately 50 people working on as many as 100 projects. Eighty-five percent of the firm's business is healthcare-related, from a simple renovation to a new hospital worth a couple hundred million dollars, such as Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette, LA.
The other 15 percent of TEG’s work involves designing other complex buildings, such as the University of Louisville’s new soccer stadium, the first collegiate Division I exclusive soccer facility in the United States certified to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver standards.
Collaborating with clients on such intricate projects requires TEG people to make numerous visits to customer offices and project sites. "We are involved in the planning and design of a project for six to 12 months, but it might take two-and-a-half years for construction to be completed, so throughout that process we are sending our construction administration personnel and project architects to the sites," said Estopinal.
"The total time we are involved in a project could be three to three-and-a-half years. We may make 50 trips to a site over that period of time."
The Economics of Flying
Estopinal has been a business aviation user ever since a series of commercial flight cancellations forced him to miss several important meetings with hospital administrators. However, not all of TEG’s trips involve flying the company airplane. "Generally, if we can drive there in a couple of hours, we don’t use the aircraft," he explained.
Initially, Estopinal chartered a Cessna 421, but within a year his company bought a King Air C90. Several years later, when TEG’s travel requirements increased, the company stepped up to a King Air 200, followed by a previously owned Cessna Citation II. As that light jet aged, the number of maintenance challenges increased, which led TEG to order a new CJ2+ in 2007.
With the economy weakening, Estopinal decided to defer delivery of the CJ2+. But after looking again at the financial numbers, he realized that it would be better to start flying the new airplane. "I finally said, ‘we have to take delivery because the efficiency of the new CJ2+ would literally pay the debt service on the airplane.’ In 2008, at the height of economic downturn, I took delivery of a new airplane, and I questioned that [move at the time], but it’s been the right decision. It’s been great for our company."
Today, TEG uses the CJ2+ to visit clients located throughout the Southeast and Midwest. On average, the jet carries four passengers, but it is not unusual for a mission to involve transporting a half dozen people, with the airplane making multiple stops to drop passengers at different locations, many of which have little or no airline service.
Attracting New Clients
TEG also uses the airplane to garner new business. "We take prospective clients to visit completed projects and meet with our existing clients, who are wonderful about letting our prospective clients know the kind of work we do," explained Estopinal.
"The quality of the aircraft and the complete professionalism of our flight operation sets prospective clients at ease," continued Estopinal. "It’s great to put three or four guests and two or three of our staff on the airplane. While flying to visit a hospital we can talk about our planning and design process, how we relate to construction partners, etc. By the time we get there, everybody is briefed. We have lunch after the hospital tour and have them home by 4 p.m." The airplane also helps TEG people "get back to our families and be a part of their lives."
Part of TEG’s pitch to new clients is that the company airplane enables the firm to be more responsive, with the ability to be on site quicker than competitors. "We are really a small company that is serving some big companies, and that’s why we need to get there and see them," he said.
Perhaps most important, the airplane not only helps TEG compete effectively with larger rivals, but it also enables the design firm to bring top-notch design services to smaller communities.
"The aircraft allows us to bring highlevel, national-perspective healthcare planning and design to even small rural hospitals," said Estopinal. "The healthcare they are providing is no less important than it is to patients in a major city. So it’s important to patients, physicians and staff in rural areas that they get as good a planning and design consulting service as they can. The aircraft definitely helps us do that."
The Owner-Pilot in the Flight Department
Besides the CJ2+, TEG Architects uses a Cirrus SR22 to fly shorter company missions. President Wayne Estopinal is a private pilot who has not yet had time to get his instrument rating, so he flies the single-engine light airplane using the company’s two full-time aviators – Chief Pilot Paul Lucas and Captain Shaun Gerber – as copilots. Estopinal calls them "consummate professionals. We are lucky to have them, and flying with them helps my proficiency greatly."