When Your Dreams Take Flight

“The industry’s most comprehensive “tip to tail” serviced provider for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), CEO of Mag Aerospace (MAG) sits down with LeadersNest to talk to us about how it all started.”

Written by:  Heather Louise Finch, Founder of LeadersNest™ Produced by: LeadersNest™ Featured:         

LeadersNest:   We’re sitting here today with Joe Fluet, the CEO of MAG Aerospace.  Joe, I would like to know, if you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how did you start MAG?

Joe:  Well, sure.  I grew up in Boca Raton, Florida but I don’t – I haven’t been there in years and years and years.  I joined the military right out of college and I was a special operations aviator for many years.  After that, I went to law school, became a lawyer.  And I practiced law for a few years.  9/11 happened and I spent a little over a year in Afghanistan, creating the first Afghan Special Operations Aviation Unit.  I got back to America after that in 2005, spent a couple more years practicing law.  And then in 2009, I simultaneously started a law firm and started MAG Aerospace.

LeadersNest:   That’s a big one!  Going from the military to jumping into a company.  What made you think that you could do this?

Joe:  I really loved what I did in the military.  I loved making a difference in national security, protecting people who can protect themselves and I worked with a lot of contractors.  Being in special operations, I worked with a lot of contractors all over the world.  And then to be honest, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw from contractors. I saw some contractors that really were doing it right.  They had their hearts in the right place, they cared about what they were doing, they were mission first and mission focused and customer centric.  I just believed that I could do it the right way.  I could do it in a way that would make our military, DOD, and government customers happy.  And I think that’s turned out to be the case.

LeadersNest:  I’ve met several veterans as well who have gone on to start their own government contracting agency, what do you think is the most common reason for people failing or just giving up on this process and what advice would you have for these people?

Joe:  Right. I think doing work for the U.S. government or any government, and we currently do work for intergovernmental; NATO, the UN, also for friendly foreign governments all over the world, doing any kind of government work is a very, very long sales cycle. It’s not like I’m standing on the street corner selling lemonade where someone walks in, I asked them if they want a glass of lemonade and then five minutes and thirty seconds they decide what they want.  It takes 12, 24, 36 months sometimes for these contracts to mature. I think you have to be patient.  You also have to understand that the process of entrepreneurship of growing a company is trying things, most of which don’t work.  So you have to be willing to fail, you have to be willing to try things understanding that a lot of your efforts will fail.  But you only have to be right once.  I can misfire nine times, but If I’m willing to stick with it, all I’ve got to do is hit the ball out of the park one time and I’ll succeed.

LeadersNest:  Nine times like a cat, right?

Joe:  Exactly.  Fortunately, at MAG we’ve got more than nine lives.

LeadersNest:  So what hurdles that you personally face and how are you able to overcome them?

Joe:  Our primary hurdles were finding talent.  MAG is a services company, so we sell – we do aerial surveillance and what we sell is the information, I mean, I’d like to stand in the information business.  So, my job is to provide information data that our customers need in order to make good decisions.   I can’t do that without top notch type pilots.  And that’s – or top-notch talent rather.  So that talent consists of pilots, it consists of operators to operate the high-tech sensors we use, post mission processors to take the data and crunch and make it usable for our customers.  If I don’t have good talent, I’m completely out of business. I like to say that in MAG, people are our product.  I would say that my biggest challenge is finding that .0001% person because I wouldn’t want to hire anyone at MAG who isn’t absolutely the best in the business

LeadersNest:  I’ve heard that you give your employees rather little drones or anything just key figure I guess?

Joe:  Most of our employees don’t have their own drones that we give them.  Some of them do.  We have an entire unmanned division that flies UAV’s all over the world, some small ones and some really large and complex drones.  Some of our people who do that they do fly drones on their own in the side.  But if anyone is interested in applying to MAG I have full disclosure right now, you will not get a free drone as part of your requirement at MAG.

LeadersNest:  What do you think are some of the roadblocks to watch out for when starting a business, because you not only have MAG but also own the law firm as well.  So what advice would you give to upcoming entrepreneurs who are also people who’ve already been in business for a while?

Joe:  Sure, don’t skimp on compliance.  And I always tell people that – or my team that we can survive losing a contract, we can survive a personnel issue, God forbid, we have an aircraft issue, a major compliance problem can sink a company.  And we’ve seen it so many times.  Everything for – in the government contract space from Blackwater and Triple Canopy and some of these other companies, all the way over to – in the private sector, Arthur Andersen and Enron and AOL.  If you don’t put an emphasis on building the infrastructure you need to comply with the statutes, the regulations and everything else that govern what you do, you are playing with fire every day.  So, don’t skimp on compliance.  It’s expensive and its time consuming and it’s an easy thing to ignore but don’t do that.

LeadersNest:  That sounds great.  So, going back to the EY, entrepreneur of the year, could you tell me about that whole process?  Especially from the event from June when you’re in corner and winning and then out to California and then winning at the National Phil.  Tell me what that’s like, because I know you’ve won several awards.  Excuse me, MAG Aerospace has won several awards from Best Foreign Companies to a Feature 50 Growing Company.  So, tell me what is that like and that experience that you had with that?

Joe:  Well, it’s actually a funny story.  I showed up to there the regional award ceremony and I didn’t notice at the time but there are actually consultants who help people win this award.  And apparently, it’s that level of prestige but I had – frankly, I had no idea.  And one of the consultants saw that I was a nominee and she came up to me to introduce herself and she said this is what she does, this is how people win and she’s actually had several winners and she kind of laid her resume down for it.  And said okay, and she started asking me about what I’d done during the process and I – one of these I thought it was my first year applying and she said, and I quote, “You have no chance.  You have no chance of winning.”  This was the original award.

LeadersNest:  I think just very confident.

Joe:  Yeah.  Well, it’s so – I said – so she – I laughed, and I said okay.  And she goes, but you should hire me, and I can help you win next year and I said all right, well, I’ll think about and everything.  So, I go to dinner, I’m sitting there with my wife having dinner and since I didn’t think I was going to win, I was going – I was leaning heavily on the Scotch at dinner when my name got called and I actually went up and when I gave my acceptance speech I thanked – I thanked everyone who is involved – and I don’t actually remember the woman’s name now but let’s say it’s Jane Doe.  And I said, and Jane Doe, thank you for your faith in me this evening.  And three people really laughed, she laughed, my wife laughed, and I laughed.  And no one else in the room really understood the inside joke there.  So –

LeadersNest:  I should pull her in for a podcast.  So, if – it’s now like after the fact –

Joe:  If she would like, you should – you should definitely have her come sit down for your podcast.  Let me see if I can find her.  I’m sure I have my contacts.  It was similar with the National Award.  And a lot of people say this, I mean everybody likes to say this, I honestly didn’t think I was going to win.  But it really isn’t about me.  The honor really rests with not just the other team members and executives at MAG, but our 1,200 employees who are all over the world making the world safer, doing a really, really challenging job in remote non-permissive often dangerous environments.  They deserve all the credit.  I’m just the guy who stands in front of all of them.  And I don’t I don’t deserve the award, it really is their award.

LeadersNest:  Yeah. What really resonated the most is when I actually saw a clip of their acceptance speech in California with you winning the award.  And the words that you expressed especially with your wife and to all the other entrepreneurs in the room dealing with their spouse or significant other, that was beautiful.  Could you elaborate or tell that sort of list more about that and what you said?

Joe:  Yeah.  You shouldn’t underestimate if you’re going to go into business for yourself the impact it’s going to have on your spouse or your significant other.  It is very, very challenging.  It’s like bringing another child into your family or even more so.  And I recognize that it’s not just the sacrifice those spouses make but in particular, in the early days, but for me it’s been until this day, you lean so heavily on that spouse for advice on what you do whether on the next steps what do you do.  They’re your constant sounding board.  And I wouldn’t a mess if I didn’t recognize her.  And while I was standing up there I realized that they all should be recognized.  And so, to fill in the little bit the gaps of what you said, I did.  I asked – there were about 2,000 people in the room and I asked the spouses to stand up.  And we gave them all around of applause.  And it was actually pretty funny, because Seth Myers was hosting the event, the talk show host.  And as I finished up, he stood up then goes, okay, now everyone else who didn’t recognize their spouse is going to go home and be in trouble.  You don’t see that in the clip on the website, but it was pretty funny.

LeadersNest:  A way to set the bar.

Joe:  Exactly.

LeadersNest:  So, and we’re going to wrap this up but if you could give some advice to you another CEO who’s out there, who’s applying for an award or who’s applying for the next big bid or contract on and there faces a Jane Doe, what advice that you give to them when it comes to facing thing that big obligation?

Joe:  I’d say listen to everybody.  I’ve succeeded because I’ve listened to people.  I don’t always take everyone’s advice, but I always take time to listen to people.  Everyone who works for me is smarter than I am and so I listen to them, I take their advice.  Don’t think that everything and go into it understanding your own gaps and listen to everyone, seek out everyone’s advice who will tell you anything.  You’ll – you’re guaranteed succeed if it’s more than one person’s brain working on it.

LeadersNest:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for your time.

Joe:  Thank you, Heather.  Anytime.

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