About a year and a half ago, a few weeks after I learned that American was not renewing my consulting contract, I tucked a fortune from a Chinese cookie into my wallet. It read “Good things come to those who wait. Be patient.” I kept it, and from time to time, it would peek out from behind my driver’s license. The tiny sheet is now rumpled, and I think I can throw it in the wastebasket, because the fortune has come to pass.
On March 1, I started a new job with Intelligent Avionics, a startup company based in the UK, that is building AURA, a next-generation inflight entertainment (IFE) system for airlines and private jets. My role as VP, The Americas, is sales in the Western Hemisphere, and I’ll also help build the AURA brand worldwide.
It will be a classic David vs. Goliath battle. We have slingshots, and are up against two entrenched incumbents, Panasonic and Thales, that have 90% of the market, But AURA is far, far better, for four major reasons: 1) ultra lightweight, to save fuel and reduce CO2 emissions; 2) more reliable (it has no heavy, failure-prone server, but intelligence – like a netbook – in each seat unit); 3) lower ownership cost across system life; and 4) it will deliver happier passengers (by not failing mid-flight, and by being easy and intuitive to use). There are at least eight more reasons, but I’ll save the selling for later!
As millions of Americans know, being out of work is really, really hard. Even for someone like me with skills, experience, and a network, finding a job has been a challenge. I’m not a whiner, but age discrimination reared its ugly (and stealthy) head in three or four cases. A pox on them! I am enormously grateful that my new boss, Martin Cunnison, understood that someone with my skills and experience might be useful to his new enterprise. He is a prince!
Dollars – pounds converted to greenbacks, in this case – are welcome, but having work is much more than a paycheck, and without a job you understand what you miss – daily, clearly, and often painfully. As I have written in many contexts on this blog, humans have a profound need to belong, and I now belong to Intelligent Avionics (just peeked at new business cards in my pocket and gave thanks to God and to Martin). Being on a team, even a team that spreads across the world from Texas to Europe to Australia, and that has never been in the same place (that will happen next week) is just a wonderful thing. Woo hoo!
The new gig is also satisfying because deep down I am a second-generation salesman. My dad sold women’s gloves and accessories across the Upper Midwest for decades, and though he was not well rewarded, he was good at it. He taught me at least three things to carry forward in selling AURA. First, and most important, you can’t sell what you don’t believe or trust. Second, numbers are important. Third, it’s not just about quantities and costs and markups, but about relating to your prospects and your customers in a human and authentic way.
There are a few more things to like and for which to give thanks. Because it’s a small company, all of us get to do a lot of different things, and variety is always good. Small also means no bureaucracy, and that is such a delightful contrast from two decades with a large company that stocked a lot of red tape. Working in high-tech is pretty cool – there’s a lot to learn about the technical aspects of the devices and installation on aircraft, but that’s part of the fun. Tangibility is cool, too. I had a few airline sales jobs in the 1980s and though they were good, you never really got to hold the product in your hand, or, for that matter, have some real input into how to improve it. Lastly, of course, I will be selling into an industry, the business of getting people together quickly, safely, and reliably, that I know and love.
So in coming posts, you’ll learn a little more about our AURA and how we’re faring in the marketplace. Next stop, April 2-8, is Hamburg, and AURA’s launch at the big Aircraft Interiors Expo. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you’re curious, take a look at our website, www.aurainflight.com.