Clay Lacy Aviation’s Key to Sky-High Success

Brian Kirkdoffer, Clay Lacy Aviation's CEO, on the lessons, mentorship, and inspiration aviation pioneer Clay Lacy bestowed upon him

January 5, 2017

Brian Kirkdoffer has traveled all around the world several times. He has met business titans, world leaders, and A-list celebrities. The Seattle-area native never would have lived a life many can barely comprehend in their wildest dreams if it weren’t for a good relationship with his flight instructor when he was just a teen.

The 50 year old is now the president and CEO of Clay Lacy Aviation in Los Angeles. Growing up near Seattle, Kirkdoffer was surrounded by flight. His dad was a pilot. His mother flew for more than 50 years. He was surrounded by neighbors who worked at Boeing. It’s safe to say flying is in his blood. Kirkdoffer started flying when he was 14, and it quickly became a passion.

Three months before his graduation from the University of Washington, as he was planning to make a move east to work on Wall Street, a family friend, Clay Lacy, who helped teach Kirkdoffer how to fly, offered him another job opportunity that combined his interests in business and flying. “Come fly for me. You’ll get a chance to fly all over the world,” Kirkdoffer recalled as part of the pitch. Co-piloting Learjets and working in business development for the company that had 25 employees at the time was intriguing enough for Kirkdoffer and he signed on. “It was just a great, fun company,” he said.

Among his most notable accomplishments, Clay Lacy revolutionized air-to-air cinematography with Astrovision, a system of periscopes mounted to the top and bottom of an airplane’s fuselage

Enhanced Role

Originally anticipating he would stay with the company for just two years, Kirkdoffer is now closing in on 27 years and recently became majority owner of the company, which employs 400 people. He rose through the ranks from that dream entry-level job opportunity to director of marketing, general manager, and vice president.

Kirkdoffer’s career trajectory follows the successful evolution of Clay Lacy Aviation from the first providers of charter jet flights west of the Mississippi into an asset management and logistics company that today manages more than $1B in assets and provides everything from the pilots, interiors, and avionics to customers across the country and around the world. Kirkdoffer says their private aircraft operation is the most cost-effective in the world – and their portfolio continues to grow. The company is in the ideal position to acquire, merge or even add more assets. “The secret to our success is we offer value throughout each of our service liens and the synergy for the client is unmastched. The value we can give to an aircraft owner is better than anyone else,” Kirkdoffer says.

“We’re gonna do whatever it takes to make you happy. We’re just hoping you tell a friend or two.”

Close Relationship

Those changes to the business might never have happened if it weren’t for the close relationship Kirkdoffer had with Lacy, who gave him a chance to begin managing their clients’ aircraft. “You can do it but I don’t want to have any calls from owners or any issues,” Kirkdoffer says he was told. And he never had to share any concerns as the program, quite literally, took off.

Brian Kirkdoffer

Kirkdoffer says Lacy instilled strong values of integrity and customer service in him. Their company’s flight mission is for their customers to feel like they are on a magic carpet ride, providing exceptional service as all the hard work of the travel happens behind the scenes. Positive feedback keeps him energized, and Kirkdoffer says he loves exceeding client expectations. “We’re gonna do whatever it takes to make you happy. We’re just hoping you tell a friend or two,” Kirkdoffer says.

Kirkdoffer and his core team have grown together in a family-like atmosphere that likes to promote passionate people from within. Receptionists have been promoted to run charter departments and mechanics have been elevated to pilot the planes. Kirkdoffer is most proud of a mechanic who was the first recipient of the Clay Lacy scholarship who now works as a pilot, after 22 years with the company.

Clay Lacy with actor and UNICEF’s first ambassador-at-large, Danny Kaye. Kaye would receive the French Legion of Honor in 1986 for his years of work with UNICEF

Expanding Empire

Headquartered at a new $15M facility and the longest single tenant at Van Nuys Airport, Clay Lacy Aviation is also in New York, Seattle, and 12 other locations across the country. Each year, the company logs 10,000 aircraft movements and fly an average of 20,000 hours.

Kirkdoffer is pleased with the focus and attention that new Los Angeles World Airports CEO Deborah Flint has on Van Nuys Airport where there are more private jets than anywhere in the world, he says. An airport that remains in high demand for business and leisure travelers, the Van Nuys Airport is a place where Kirkdoffer has met many luminaries, from presidents to titans of industry and religious leaders. “The most interesting people in the world come through corporate aviation at some point. It’s fun to be involved,” he says.

Innovation is key for Clay Lacy Aviation to grow, says Kirkdoffer. “We’re willing to take a risk from a financial and brand standpoint, that doesn’t risk safety.” In fact, the company was the first of its kind to put wireless internet in their aircraft. Kirkdoffer says historical lows for fuel and financing prove that there’s never been a better time to own a corporate jet. “The asset values and the prices of the airplanes have never been lower. Manufacturers have overproduced. Now they’re cutting production and giving great
discounts.”

Clay Lacy Aviation

Clay Lacy Aviation

Clay Lacy
Founder, Clay Lacy Aviation

Age
84

Residence
Los Angeles

12
Age at which Clay Lacy began flying

41.5
Years of incident-free flying during his career as a pilot for United Airlines (retired 1992)

300+
Types of different aircraft he has flown

29
World speed records set

50,000+
Flight hours logged

Brian Kirkdoffer
President & CEO, Clay Lacy Aviation

Age
50

Residence
Los Angeles

Family
2 children

Clay Lacy Aviation

HQ
Van Nuys

Founded
1968

Employees
400+

# of Planes in Fleet
87

# of Cities Serviced
Clay Lacy Aviation fly globally but have offices or aircraft physically located in 14 cities

2015 Revenue
$135M

Size of Van Nuys HQ
21.65 acres; 200,000 square feet of hangar space; 125,000 square feet of office space

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