Throughout his 30 years in the industry, Vice President of Business Aviation Phil Stang has seen it all and done even more.
That’s why I was so gratified when Phil agreed to sit down with to share his business aviation insider’s view.
Here you’ll find his very keen insights into the inner workings of flight department leadership—especially as it relates to incentivizing people on his team to become stronger leaders and build a better functioning department.
My Interview with Business Aviation Insider, Phil Stang
Jim: Prior to leading CSC Transport (the flight department for Cablevision), what was your background in aviation?
Phil: I started out as an A&P (airframe and powerplant) mechanic and first officer for a local charter operator in 1985. After several years of additional schooling and flight time, I found myself in the right seat of a GIII for Warner Communications.
That department later became Time Warner and I spent 11 terrific years there as a pilot. I then left Time Warner for a chief pilot position at Lehman Brothers.
Jim: What do you find is most rewarding about your role as a leader?
Phil:I really enjoy the challenge of getting the difficult job done and being part of an organization that takes care of its employees, while providing are warding work environment.
Jim: What about some of the most vexing challenges your face as a department leader?
Phil: For me, that would be working with limited resources and managing challenging people. The challenging people I come across often feel that they have to make their point or have the last word. They tend to fight the ‘flow’ and are resistant to change or the simple fact that things are done differently here.
I have also found that those who have a big self-image are more difficult to lead. They often have a harder time working well with others under certain circumstances.
Sometimes this requires making a difficult decision and parting ways with those who do not want to ‘get on the bus.’ This is not to say that people shouldn’t voice their opinion or seek ways to improve upon what we do.
I am all for that and encourage it, but there is a time and place for everything.
Jim: How often do you meet with your direct reports, indirect reports and aviation reporting executive?
Phil:My direct reports and I have a standing biweekly meeting to discuss what is going on within the department. Individual meetings happen as needed and group meetings are scheduled every quarter.
The most difficult part is scheduling them so that as many folks can attend as possible. We attempt to have two or three ‘all-hands-on-deck’ department meetings two or three times per year.
I meet with my reporting executive about once a month with random discussions scattered in between.
Jim: How has your culture changed since you joined the team, and how did you lead that change?
Phil:I think we have become a much more safety-focused organization, with a better understanding of how we fit into the overall success of the company.
One area that has helped us tremendously is the business planning and finance position. When I first arrived, we had no real support in this area.
A finance director from corporate would handle aviation on a part-time basis, which left us with huge informational gaps around costs and metrics. Today we have a full-time director who handles all of the business planning and finance needs of the department.
This role sits within the organizational structure of the department and directly supports the operation.
Jim: What do you think it really takes to develop existing talent?
Phil: That is a great question. I think that it takes commitment from the corporation and the individual. There has to be an underlying desire to develop and learn more along the way.
I also think that a leader must have a good sense of his or her ego and really know who they are and where they want to go.
Jim: What competencies do you look for in people during the hiring process?
Phil: Passion for what they do is one of those key ingredients for anyone’s success. With that, they need to be self-starters who are capable of figuring out what needs to be done.
I have found that I can’t be there for everyone all of the time so those who understand what their role is can solve problems and get things done without needing my input on everything.
Of course, they need to know when to stop and ask a question.
Jim: How do you ‘onboard‘ new hires so they’re set up for success?
Phil: This is an area we have struggled with at times. I think a really well-defined process, with certain people being responsible to make sure that new hires have all of the information and training needed to perform their job, is very important.
Jim: What is your biggest objective when it comes to building and developing your team?
Phil: I think for this year and several more, my objective will be to reshape this department with employees who can grow and mature along with the department fo rthe next 10-20 years.
Jim: Please explain the mentoring opportunities within your organization.
Phil: We do not have an official mentorship program at this time. Our recent focus has been to hire younger individuals who have the desire to be mentored and grow within our organization.
As we hire new people, we’re looking for individuals who can hopefully grow and build upon their talents. I would say that, informally, the leadership team leads by example and is laying the foundation for some of the newer folks to step into roles of greater responsibility.
Jim: Do you offer professional or personal mentoring outside the organization?
Phil: Yes—for those interested, the company offers many such mentorship opportunities. There is a suite of training opportunities that are available both online and in person. I personally have gained tremendous insight from working with the reporting executives and Gray Stone Advisors over the last three years.
Jim: What advice do you have for anyone who wishes to lead a business aviation department?
Phil:Be prepared to work hard, with long hours at times. The flying business usually never stops. Take time to know your team and what their strengths and weaknesses are, while also knowing your own. Know your executive leadership team and what they are looking for from the aviation department.
Jim: What advice would you have given yourself before taking on your current role?
Phil: Focus on people and process. Without the right people running the organization, and without the correct processes, mistakes and problems are more likely to occur. It would be a very rare situation to find a department manager who has an opportunity to build a department from the start. So you may end up with individuals that you likely would not have selected yourself. It then requires getting these certain individuals to buy into your vision and philosophy, which isn’t always easily accomplished.
Jim: What other insights do you have for your peers or aspiring leaders?
Phil:I believe people need to have a voice and get the scheduled time off. They need to be compensated appropriately and feel that they are.
After these needs are met a manager must be seen as being fair and honest, while keeping the best interest of the employees and company balanced as best possible.
Always remember that you are providing a service to your travelers and, at this level,they expect nothing but the best!
Have you had any instructive experiences as a leader developing a team within your own aviation organization? If so, please share them with us in the comments section below.