CEO Mark Van Tine Charts the Future for Jeppesen

CEO Mark Van Tine Charts the Future for Jeppesen

By S. Clayton Moore

Mark Van Tine is responsible for reorganizing Jeppesen to face the electronic future of charting.

Mark Van Tine is responsible for reorganizing Jeppesen to face the electronic future of charting.

Many company leaders end up involved in aviation, whether it’s simply flying from meeting to meeting or owning their own planes to increase their efficiency. Not a lot of pilots end up supporting the entire aviation industry. Jeppesen CEO Mark Van Tine says that he’s simply been fortunate. However, it’s his vision that is blazing a new path for the 71-year-old aviation service company.

A subsidiary of Boeing, Jeppesen has nearly always been present through all facets of a pilot’s life. The company provides 80 percent of the airline industry’s charting and navigation documents and a comparable percentage for the general aviation pilots out there. Today, the company’s products include pilot training materials, support materials and flight operations information in both printed and electronic form, as well as a suite of marine services.

A number of factors have come together at this critical time in the company’s history. Jeppesen has been buoyed, particularly financially, by its acquisition by Boeing in October 2000. At the end of 2002, Jeppesen CEO Horst Bergmann retired, boosting Van Tine to the top seat and helping to assure a smooth transition. A major reorganization in 2003 helped Jeppesen to head towards an electronic frontier, get closer to its customers, and form a new strategic concept, “DARE to be on board.”

It’s a major step for a forward-thinking industry leader who remains very aware of the challenges he faces and the responsibility on his shoulders. Bringing Jeppesen to the end of its first century of business, Mark Van Tine is keeping in mind its rich aviation heritage while taking the charting company to new heights of technology and global management.

Captain Jepp

It’s impossible to talk about this company without touching on its legendary founder, Captain Elrey B. Jeppesen. Young “Jepp” took a ride with a barnstormer in 1921 at the age of 14 and launched a passion for aviation that continues today in the men and women of his company.

By 20, Jeppesen had earned his pilot’s license and after stints barnstorming, flight instructing, wing walking and conducting aerial surveys, he signed on with Boeing Air Transport as an air mail pilot. As he flew his route between Cheyenne and Salt Lake, he began to make detailed sketches of his path across America. By the 1930s, Captain Jeppesen’s little black book had grown into his early Airway Manual Service.

“I invented something to prevent me getting killed,” Jeppesen once said.

That small American business has grown into a worldwide network of flight information services including flight planning, weather information and electronic data systems as well as pilot training and pilot supports. Based at the Inverness Business Park in Arapahoe County, Colorado, and employing over 1,800 employees in 11 offices around the globe, Jeppesen continues to live up to its founder’s heritage.

Mark Van Tine remembers riding out to Denver International Airport with Jepp and his wife Nadine. The occasion was the dedication of a statue in the terminal named after the pioneering aviator. The statue, created by sculptor George W. Lundeen, is a companion to one in front of Jeppesen’s headquarters.

“It was a really snowy night and the airport wasn’t even open at that point,” Van Tine remembered. “The city plowed Pena Boulevard just so these two buses of dignitaries could get to DIA. On that bus trip, I got him spooled up on some of these incredible stories and you could watch the man get 30 years younger as he told them. It was quite a moment.”

Captain Jepp, an enshrinee of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, passed away in 1991; his wife Nadine died in 1996. Much of his original collection, including his “black book,” now resides in the Museum of Flight in Seattle. A second display containing several items illustrating the pilot’s long and illustrious career resides at DIA.

Between Jeppesen’s move to Denver in 1941 and the present day, the company continued to expand under the guidance of its founder and subsequent CEOs. It also acquired more than a dozen companies between World War II and its acquisition by Boeing in 2000.

A left turn into leadership

One of the companies that Jeppesen acquired was Lockheed DataPlan, a leading flight planning and weather services company in San Francisco where Mark Van Tine, a young aviation enthusiast, was firmly entrenched.

Hooked on heights at a young age—Van Tine says he was the kid who “jumped off the roof using a sheet as a parachute—he studied electrical engineering at the University of California at Davis before transferring to the aviation program at San Jose State University.

“I was a private pilot and I wanted to work less in the theoretical and more in the hands-on,” Van Tine explained.

Graduating in 1980, he hired on with DataPlan in 1981, when it had just 36 employees. Convinced by a friend that worked there and enthusiastic about the work, he called the company twice a day for six months until they offered him a job. He worked his way up through flight planning and got tired of waking the programmers at 3 a.m. to fix the system, so he taught himself the ropes.

“I made a little bit of a left turn into information technology,” Van Tine chuckled.

Not bad for a fellow who flunked the only computer course he ever took in college. By 1985, he had become the data center manager. Horst Bergmann and another company came to look at the company in 1989. It wasn’t the biggest shakeup the company had coming.

“These two companies were bidding on us when we had the 1989 earthquake in the Bay Area. Horst Bergmann was at Candlestick Park and got to see our disaster recovery plan in action. The other company got on the first plane out of town. I’m convinced that earthquake was fortuitous because it didn’t really bother Horst in the slightest,” Van Tine remembered.

His leadership skill was recognized early. He became managing director of DataPlan from 1991 until 1995, when he relocated to Denver to oversee Jeppesen’s worldwide flight information development, printing and distribution operations, as well as its information technology systems.

Boeing’s purchase brought a significant change not only in the backing behind Jeppesen, but also in its direction. Since 1961, the Times-Mirror Corporation had owned Jeppesen. Jeppesen played a major financial role in the publishing company, but its owners were very conservative about their expectations for the company’s growth.

“When Boeing bought us in October of 2000, there were about four people working on research and development,” Van Tine said. “Today, as you walk down these hallways, there are about 70 people dedicated fulltime. Boeing’s view of the world from a long-term perspective and its investments in the right kind of technology has enabled us to create a different momentum. We have spectacular people here and a breadth of ideas about where this company needs to go. Now we are able to put money in those ideas.”

Van Tine was chief information officer from 1998 to 2002, until he was appointed CEO in January 2003, with Bergmann’s retirement.

DARE To Be On Board

It’s not easy taking the reins of a company that pulled in $350 million in revenue last year, on top of freezing prices because of September 11. One of Van Tine’s first moves was to shepherd the company through a major restructuring.

Captain Elrey Jeppesen started the company bearing his name in Salt Lake City in the 1930s.

Captain Elrey Jeppesen started the company bearing his name in Salt Lake City in the 1930s.

“What I did then, with help from Horst Bergmann, was to rebuild the company around our markets,” Van Tine said. “The old model meant one size fit all. It used to be that when we got a new customer, we just let the printing press run a little longer, but things have changed. The needs today of the general aviation pilot are much different from business aviation and different again from the needs of commercial aviation.”

The primary units are business and general aviation, run by Kevin Collins; commercial aviation, run by Thomas Wede from Jeppesen’s Frankfort facility; government and military services, led by Dominic Custodio; and marine services, led by Tim Sukle. A left-side supporting organization is advanced business development, led by Greg Bowlin, who also helps guide corporate strategy.

“I’m absolutely blessed to have a capable and strong senior leadership team and all the incredible people below that level. You can do anything with great people,” Van Tine said.

Together, he and the leadership team have also come up with a comprehensive organizational and marketing strategy dubbed “DARE to be on board.”

The D in Dare is critical and stands for “digital transformation,” as Jeppesen begins not only providing products and services in a digital format—the so-called “paperless cockpit”—but also changing all their internal processes to a digital base. One of the most prominent product examples is Jeppesen’s Electronic Flight Bag, integrating information, software and hardware for essential navigation, security and economy. It’s not a simple change.

“We’re starting to see a larger spectrum of users that are prepared for and want electronic services,” Van Tine said. “Aviation professionals want the specific information they need and not the large regions we have traditionally provided in the past. However, we’re still going to have people who want and need paper. They want the electronic systems but also want the security of having paper. We see the same thing on the regulatory side from the FAA and JAA. That’s a big challenge.”

A stands for “aggregation of information,” through which Jeppesen hopes to provide more volatile information that the company hasn’t traditionally provided, such as weather, turbulence and icing forecasts.

R stands for “real-time,” a significant change in the way that Jeppesen has done business. The company has traditionally provided updates to its charts on a 28-day or 56-day cycle, depending on the intensity of a change. Real-time changes to Jeppesen’s aviation database will allow its products to become less reactive and more in line with planning.

“If you think about what happens in aviation today, whether it’s weather or traffic, the pilot and the airline have to react to that disruption,” Van Tine explained. “If you can predict that disruption, the tools we have become a basis for doing much more than modeling. You can start to make decisions before a disruption. The amount of money and time and pain that can be saved is significant.”

The E in DARE stands for “embedded,” and speaks to Jeppesen’s neutral role in the aviation industry. Despite its role as an arm of Boeing, the company supports over 475 airlines worldwide, including Airbus and NetJets, among its 850,000 global users.

“We want our applications in every airplane flying, in every avionics system and in the ground-based systems,” Van Tine said. “We don’t care what kind of airplanes our customers fly, because they want solutions that will work across their mixed fleets. It’s a training issue and a safety issue and an efficiency issue.”

Boeing’s struggle for dominance in the industry doesn’t effect Jeppesen’s commitment to its clients.

“Boeing has been good in understanding that many of the airlines we serve are Airbus customers,” Van Tine said. “We say this to Boeing and we say it to Airbus: it’s not about the airframe. They realize that there is a wall because of our services and our parent company. Among our entire base of airline customers there are very strong competitors and we have always taken a very careful position in protecting their strategies and plans.”

You can’t automate judgment

Jeppesen is investing in technology across the board. In addition to developing electronic applications such as JeppView and FliteDeck, which provide charts to users in an electronic form; FlightStar and FliteMap, which produce graphically detailed flight plans; and the Electronic Flight Bag, the company has also invested in its paper products.

Jeppesen’s updates to its Airway Manual Services and other charting tools are produced on Friday for distribution every Monday. Van Tine likes to joke that he can sit in his office and hear binders clicking across the globe on Tuesday morning.

It’s much easier for Jeppesen to produce those changes now due to new Hewlett Packard Indigo printing presses introduced both in Centennial, Colo., and in the company’s European headquarters in Frankfort. The high-speed, five-color printers produce 8,000 images per hour at 136 pages a minute. That efficiency gives Jeppesen the ability to print jobs of different sizes on a similar, more customized basis. At the same time, JeppView allows customers who don’t want to deal with paper to print locally.

However, Van Tine is still driving the company towards more technology.

“The ability to do mass tailoring and customization without losing those economies of scale is what keeps the price down,” he said. “The printers are spectacular, but if you think about the effort that’s invested in updating paper manuals, you can see why we feel so strongly about moving away from that effort. Not only does it take human involvement out of the process, but it also allows us to talk more in terms of real-time. The information in the chart, the flight plan, and the flight management database will all be generated from the same common database someday. That’s where we’re going.”

Jeppesen is also investing in other ventures including marine—Van Tine says the ocean is just an upside-down sky—and a wider portfolio of services including training and a 24-hour dispatch center based at its Centennial headquarters. Activities such as dispatch training that clients have traditionally done in-house they can now outsource. Jeppesen Academy offers professionally developed classes for flight crew members, dispatchers, flight operations and maintenance personnel in locations as distant as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and China. It has also teamed in providing training services with Alteon, another Boeing subsidiary.

Van Tine is still hands-on about aviation. In January, he personally demonstrated a live update of the JeppView database using a wireless Internet connection while in flight over the North Atlantic. Last October, after he flew in a glass cockpit Cirrus with one of Jeppesen’s flight management systems in it, he mandated that the entire senior leadership team take a flight in the aircraft. He has also committed $75,000 to the company’s employee-run flying club, which has selected a Diamond Star DA-40 for their flying.

“The leadership of the flying club recognizes the importance of having our products and services available to our employees,” Van Tine said. “The use of technology in this office is important. It’s where we’re heading. I grew up using Jeppesen products. I use them and I expect our people to use them.”

However, he stresses that all roads lead to safety first and then innovation.

“As much as you can automate certain segments of the charting process, we want to give our aviation professionals focus,” he said. “You can’t automate judgment and the expertise that comes from years and years of flying. We don’t want pilots or dispatchers focused on the mechanics of the process. We automate the mundane components and then let our experts look at the important information.”

He said the role they can play is to find ways for Jeppesen customers to run more efficiently and reduce their costs through the technology they are providing.

This statue in front of Jeppesen’s headquarters, created by sculptor George W. Lundeen, is a companion to one at the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport.

This statue in front of Jeppesen’s headquarters, created by sculptor George W. Lundeen, is a companion to one at the Jeppesen Terminal at Denver International Airport.

“Our customers aren’t asking us to simply provide content anymore,” he said. “They’re asking us for the tools that allow them to make smarter decisions and we’re building those tools for them.”

A lifetime of flying

Jeppesen is still committed to having customers for a lifetime.

“It starts with the 12-year-old kid on a computer at home flying Microsoft Flight Simulator,” Van Tine said. “The software uses our database and they are exposed to our brand at that time. Many of those young people go on to become students and private pilots. As they progress through their career, many move on to become commercial pilots and go on to the airlines. Even the A340 or 747 pilot retires and continues to remain our customer as a private pilot. Most of their adult life, we have relationships with those pilots and professionals and provide service and support to them.”

In fact, many of the staff still come out of flight schools around the area as well as from a cooperative effort with Metro State University’s highly regarded aviation program. Jeppesen’s people also take the time to establish real relationships with their customers.

“Aviation is a very small community. It takes a long time to build trust and just a moment to lose it,” Van Tine explained. “We have friends and colleagues that we associate with from airline to airline and flight department to flight department. They know they can count on us. Much of our new business comes from people that we have had relationships with for years.”

Meanwhile, Mark Van Tine, who dreamt of flying as a child years ago, is getting current with his private pilot’s license again. He’s also put down a deposit on some land near a small airpark in Parker, Colo. He plans to put a plane in a hangar on the airpark, and jokes that he and his wife will have the biggest garage ever.

“I fly a lot because of my job, but it’s a passion. I’m getting current again for the recreation of it, but also because I want to make sure that my experiences duplicate that of our customers,” Van Tine said.

He also spends time with CEOs from other leading aviation companies as the head of the International Affairs Committee of the General Aviation Manufacturer’s Association. During the organization’s annual meeting, he rides motorcycles with other company leaders including Jim Schuster from Raytheon, Chuck Suma from Piper Aircraft and Phil Boyer from AOPA.

“Spending time with this group of industry leaders is helping me learn and mature as a company leader. The activities that GAMA undertakes are really progressive and good for the industry,” he said.

Van Tine and the rest of the employees pass the bronze statue of Jeppesen outside the headquarters every morning. A plaque in front displays one of Captain Jepp’s quotes: “I didn’t create the charts to get famous. I did it to stay alive.” It reminds the new CEO of the legacy he follows and the leadership he works to live up to.

“We’re so proud of the heritage that Captain Jepp left,” Van Tine said. “It’s something we hold dear and that we talk about a lot. We’re very diligent in keeping that legacy alive. For him, this whole business was first and foremost about safety. We know that today our products and services impact literally millions of people in airplanes around the world. That trust is something that we never lose sight of. I think if Jepp were alive, he would be pleased with the direction we’re taking.”

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