Very few of us can say that there is not one thing we would like to change if given the chance, but Chris Buchholz is one of these people. Blessed with a loving family, a job he loves and (he attests) great co-workers, he encourages people to follow his secret to happiness. "Learn to follow your heart, both in personal matters and in business," he says.
As chief executive of Hongkong Jet, Buchholz has the gargantuan task of creating an airline from a tiny team, just a few months ago, into an international "total-solution" business aviation provider, with world-class safety and service standards in a few years' time.
Buchholz came to the industry in a roundabout way. As a fresh graduate, he joined UBS, working as an investment banker in Hong Kong. "I knew nothing about banking, but UBS offered quite a lot of training." He then decided to return to school, studying financial engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where his true interest bloomed. "When I went to the US, I decided to learn how to fly," he says.
He returned to America for more training, and qualified as both a commercial and jet pilot which, he says, makes it easier for him to understand the industry.
Buchholz has already spent many years in Asia and says it's his goal to build the best business jet company in the Asia-Pacific region. He is putting together a team with a multicultural understanding, which has grown from seven people to 40 within the three months since Buchholz came aboard. "The challenge is finding the right people, to have the right chemistry," he says.
In his previous job with business jet company Metrojet, he hired over 250 people.
Hongkong Jet staff are expected to be client driven and passionate about service, and also to know that safety comes first. He also wants employees who are good team players, and who raise their hands when they notice problems.
There is much technical training involved, as well as in-depth soft-skills and safety training. "You have to lead people in a non-punitive safety-reporting environment, and encourage staff to speak up when they see risk, so that improvements can be made."
What truly makes him happy is a demanding customer's smile at the end of a successful trip, and seeing his staff grow. "Equip people to succeed and rejoice in their success. Give them the best tools, support and training and let them fly. Lead by example," Buchholz adds.
Part of the HNA Group, the firm has strong financial backing from its entrepreneurial parent company which has high ambitions for Hongkong Jet. "We are very lucky that there is a strong group behind us. We can set up very quickly and hire the best people. In a great part, it is thanks to the group that we can grow so quickly," Buchholz says.
Hongkong Jet has received its first new ultra-long range Gulfstream G550 aircraft, and several dozen aircraft will follow in the next five years, including aircraft under management.
Having received the Air Operators Certificate, Hongkong Jet is now able to fly its own aircraft, those of its clients, and help owners to charter out their jets when they are not using them, to reduce the cost of ownership. Buchholz also wants to start up maintenance in the next few months.