Originally published January 12, 2015 on The Industry Cosign
There aren’t too many black professionals in the world of aviation, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t any at all. While some have dreams of being flown in a private jet, Anthony Thurston had a vision of owning a private jet company. Mission accomplished.
Now, changing the way people think when it relates to how business is done is another task that Thurston has taken on. The Industry Cosign spoke with Thurston about his private jet company, the reason he chose the aviation industry, and why social innovation is vital in today’s business world.
What led you in the direction of aviation?
I had always had a general interest in aviation and years ago, I took a step of faith, left my job as a hospital administrator, began my journey as a private aviation businessman. I had originally started in the area of private helicopter charter, but that later turned into a vision for creating a private jet company that was serious about changing the world and giving clients the best service in the industry.
Tell us about Dream Flights International and your reasons for starting the company.
When I looked across the business aviation landscape, there were two things I wanted to do that are tightly related. I wanted to create an organization that was relentlessly dedicated to changing the world and I also wanted to change the way business was conducted from an integrity standpoint.
First, changing the world is a big deal for us. And you can’t do that without adopting the business practices that enable our team to follow our heartfelt dedication to social innovation. It’s part of our corporate DNA. As part of our business planning, we strategically commit a portion of our earnings to a number of strategic philanthropic partners.
Second, we changed the standard practice of how business is conducted particularly in terms of being more transparent about the often hidden costs our competitors don’t explain well to their clients. Increasing the value of the corporation is paramount, and we’ve accomplished that by creating the most flexible jet card program in the world, the Dream Flights Plus Card.
Dream Flights expunges a specific gap in the private jet industry, the gap between providing outstanding customer service and the ability to do business with signature integrity. All this coupled with an undying commitment to humanity.
Although we charter jet on-demand from any point of origin, our Dream Flights Plus Card program is the most flexible and fiscal sound means of flying privately. Member purchase bulk hours of flight-time in increments of 25, 50, or 100+ hours coupled with chauffeured ground transportation with all taxes, fees, fuel surcharges, and gratuities included. We utilize a network of 4000 private jets that adhere to safety requirements that are higher than those of the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration.]
What separates your business from similar companies like yours?
Our motto is “Fly the world, change the world.” Our corporate DNA is social innovation which we define as the strategic use of our time, talents, and treasures towards the increase of civil society. Unlike other companies, we start with the proposition that everything we do has to better the world around us. What follows are the business practices and quality of service that enable us to increase our giving.
What type of clientele do you cater to?
We cater to small businesses, mid- and large-cap corporations—or companies with a market capitalization between $2 million and more than $10 billion—athletes, entertainers, and high net worth individuals around the world.
What is it that drives you in your everyday business dealings?
It’s what I like to call “the struggle.” Let me explain. First there aren’t very many people in the private aviation industry who look like me (laughs). Juxtaposed to this is the deeply ingrained mentality among some African Americans that –often without knowing it- believe that African American businesses are inferior to white-owned businesses.
I’m glad to say that there’s been a recent resurgence in the African American community to frequent African American businesses. However, I’ve observed that ultra-affluent African Americans aren’t frequenting African American businesses in the high-end market space. If we really are serious about a renaissance of a Black Wall Street, and truly keeping a greater percentage of our disposable income circulating within the black community, spending across the entire socio-economic spectrum, top to bottom, needs to happen. It’s important to create that “economic feedback loop” into the African American community while fostering a healthy mindset about global issues.
I think a lot about the next generation – especially about raising the expectations of our young ones in terms of what they are able to accomplish. The sky’s not the limit, the stars are. I like to tell young people to stop being simply consumers and be business owners. There’s a diversity of avenues toward wealth outside being, say, a rap artist or world-class athlete. Successful rappers and ball players are uniquely gifted people. And what the world needs are equally gifted finance and business folks, physicians, legal experts, scientists, government leaders, journalists, and educators.
And it’s not just about making more money. Remember for Dream Flights, it’s about changing the world. It’s about creating the ability to control assets that increases our giving. The only way to do that is to own your own business and run it very well.
Could you explain your commitment to social innovation?
Every single time clients use our services – whether Private Jet, Chauffeured Ground Transportation, or Executive Protection Services – a pre-determined portion of our sales is donated to foundations and charities like Athletes vs. Cancer, Tough Angels, The Defender Foundation, and Ethno Cares. More information about these organizations can be found on the Social Innovation page on our Website, DreamFlightsIntl.com.
What advice/suggestion would you give to people who strive to be successful in their business dealings?
You can ask members of my team. As Christians, we take our faith pretty seriously and our business success has been because we put God first in every decision, giving Him all the praise, honor, and glory.
Never, never, never compromise your integrity to make a dollar. Never. As you get more successful more folks are going to want to throw money at you, but all money is not good money. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal if it doesn’t feel right. Because if there is no peace (in the decision) … God is not there.
Don’t concern yourself with those who cannot see your vision. Eagles don’t concern themselves with the opinions of chickens.
Are there any plans to add to your portfolio as far as business?
In the fall, Dream Flights International is hosting a series of by-invitation only wealth management symposiums that educate ultra-affluent businessmen and women on the benefits of flying privately, while introducing them to investment opportunities across different vertical markets. Interested parties should connect with us via our website.
We’re really excited to announce we’ll be opening an office in Dubai later this year, deepening our reach into the GCC region and the broader Middle Eastern market.
We’re also continuing to raise capital for our umbrella asset management corporation Somnium, Inc., to support acquisitions in multiple market segments beyond aviation.