NetJets lost some of its creative energy in July when Marquis Jet founder and former CEO Kenny Dichter resigned as vice chairman of the company. NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway company, bought Marquis Jet last November, as part of the NetJets 10-year business plan under then-chairman and CEO David Sokol. Dichter plans to “serve in an advisory capacity,” to NetJets for the next year, “focusing on branding, product development and owner engagement.”
Dichter’s entrepreneurial efforts saw early success when he started an on-campus retail store selling college-related T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He and partner Jesse Itzler later founded Alphabet City, a sports-compilation CD company that they sold to SFX Entertainment in 1998.
Dichter and Itzler conceived Marquis Jet as a pure jet card provider, but they needed a partner to provide the lift for their customers and found one in NetJets founder and then-chairman Richard Santulli. “Richard was a pioneer,” Dichter told AIN in an earlier interview, “as much of a pioneer as Orville and Wilbur Wright, in that he built this amazing infrastructure that could handle hundreds and hundreds of airplanes and thousands of owners. It took us a good year to a year-and-a-half to understand the system at its fullest. And once we understood exactly what NetJets had to offer and what differentiated NetJets from the rest of the market, that was the beginning of the explosive growth of our business.”
Marquis Jet sold its first jet card on June 1, 2001 and by 2007 had grown into a $700 million per year business with 3,500 customers, selling business jet flying in 25-hour increments. Buyers were paying for a “pre-paid lease of a specific aircraft,” according to Marquis Jet. All flights were conducted as Part 135 charters. During his 2007 interview with AIN, Dichter predicted that Marquis Jet would grow into a billion-dollar business by 2010.
On Nov. 4, 2010, NetJets announced that it had purchased Marquis Jet, which at the time owned 65 aircraft in the NetJets fleet. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed, but at the time NetJets said that year-over-year sales for both NetJets and Marquis Jet were up 8 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
Asked about Dichter’s contributions to NetJets, Santulli told AIN, “Kenny built a great company in Marquis Jet. He is one of the most creative and clever marketing people I’ve ever met. He’s a really bright guy, started with nothing and built the first real jet card business in the industry. It was brilliant and did a great job. It’s sad to see him go. He had something, kind of like if you watch the film The Natural. He was the natural in the aviation business. He’s a special guy.”
In announcing his departure from NetJets, Dichter said, “The last eleven years have been a truly extraordinary journey. While the sale of Marquis Jet to NetJets in 2010 was the pinnacle of this journey, at heart I am and always will be an entrepreneur, and there is no better time for me to return to my roots and focus on building the next game-changer.”