Commentary: James B. Taylor III – 1921-2003

 - January 10, 2008, 10:22 AM

He might have shared the name of a great singer-songwriter, but in business aviation circles there was ever only one James Taylor–James B. Taylor III, business jet marketer for 40 years, who died on January 17 at Bridgeport Hospital in Connecticut at the age of 81. A common theme in remembrances of this quiet but powerful giant in the business of selling business jets is the word “gentleman.” Apart from selling a lot of airplanes, he mentored many captains of industry–Bill Boisture, Richard Emery, Pete Ginocchio, Dave Hurley, Roger McMullin and Bryan Moss. For four decades, Jim Taylor led the sales and marketing programs of several business jet manufacturers, fueled by a passion for the point-to-point, random-access transportation that is business aviation.

Taylor’s father, a Naval aviator who was killed while flight-testing a Navy fighter in 1942, did not live to see his son follow in his footsteps and become a Navy test pilot, flight instructor and carrier-based fighter pilot. In 1946, after a brief stint flying a DC-3, Taylor was appointed v-p of sales for Mallard Air Service, a distributor for the North American Navion.

Although Taylor’s next job took him away from aviation as a profession, it did establish his appreciation for the value of airplanes in maximizing a company’s use of time. Between 1948 and 1962, Taylor tripled sales, profits and customer contacts for the Upressit Metal Cap Corp. He did this by marketing factory-direct, and he kept in touch with the market by flying the company Beech Bonanza far and wide to further Upressit’s business.

AIN founding editor Jim Holahan remembers Taylor telling him once that his mother knew Juan Trippe’s wife, and one day Mrs. Taylor was talking to Mrs. Trippe about her aviator son. One thing led to another, and in 1963 Taylor joined Pan Am as v-p of its new business jets division. In these days of AMR/American Airlines’ (since dissolved) partnership with Bombardier in Flexjet, UAL/United’s (since collapsed) Avolar business aviation project and speculation that Delta might take a role in Flexjet, it’s easy to forget that way back in 1963 Pan Am was the first airline to show any interest in business aviation as a side venture. After evaluating the North American Sabreliner, Lockheed JetStar and de Havilland 125 (Hawker), Pan Am chose to market the Dassault Mystère 20 in the Western Hemisphere. Taylor solicited input from potential buyers, and the improvements that were incorporated as a result made the airplane more marketable. Among Taylor’s input was changing the airplane’s name to Falcon.

Taylor’s successes at Pan Am did not go unnoticed, and in 1969 he was appointed v-p and general manager of Cessna’s commercial jet marketing division, which was embarking on the Fanjet 500. As he had at Dassault, Taylor promptly rechristened the project, in this case naming it Citation after horse racing’s 1946 Triple Crown winner. But his bigger mission at Cessna was to convince chairman Dwane Wallace that the company should sell its new jet factory-direct, rather than through the established dealership network that was accustomed to selling airplanes to pilots. Taylor argued that large capital investments such as a jet airplane should be sold to upper management, as well as to pilots. The other major thrust of Taylor’s strategy was to remove the customer-service function from manufacturing and transfer it to marketing. By the time the first Citation was delivered, Cessna had three factory-owned service centers–one in Wichita and one on each coast.

Cessna chairman Russ Meyer told AIN, “There is no question that Jim played an important role in directing the marketing efforts when the original Citation was announced. Decisions that were made in terms of both factory-direct marketing and customer support through Citation Service Centers gave us the foundation we needed ultimately to earn our industry leadership. Changing the name from Fanjet 500 to Citation was a brilliant choice. Most important to me personally is that Jim and I shared a commitment to this industry and were good friends for more than 35 years.”

Another factor in the airplane’s success was Taylor’s decision to sell the Citation as a complete package, another industry first. Each purchase included a fully equipped Citation, training for two pilots and two mechanics and one year of computerized maintenance scheduling.

 In 1976, with the Citation established en route to its current invincible position, Taylor joined Canadair to work his magic on the LearStar 600 project, which became known as the Challenger. Tasked with selling 50 Challengers in six months or the program would be canceled, Taylor formed a sales team (including Dave Hurley, now CEO of PrivatAir, and Bill Juvonen of the Harwood Coleman Co.) that sold 110 before the prototype had flown. Taylor gave current Gulfstream president Bill Boisture his start in aviation marketing at Canadair: “Business aviation had few if any stronger advocates,” Boisture told AIN. “His work for the customer shaped what is available to the customer now. Jim taught us that what we were really selling was time, and control over it and use of it. He was a persistent mentor and friend.”

Taylor took the helm of ailing Gates Learjet in 1985. His mandate was to transform the company into a saleable property within two years. In 1988, after sale of the company to Integrated Resources, he left Learjet (owned by Bombardier since 1990), formed his own consultancy company in Southport, Conn., and served on the boards of several aircraft manufacturers and associations until his death. Taylor’s honors include the NBAA Award for Meritorious Service to Aviation; NAA Elder Statesman of Aviation; Gathering of Eagles Man of the Year; and nomination for the National Aviation Hall of Fame (along with his father). His survivors include his wife of 55 years, Margaret; sons James B. IV, Ray and Thorne; and daughter Jayne.