a personal memoir
Superior performance sold the Learjets
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
Learjet's highly successful sales/demo crew. (L–R) Salesman Alex Kvassay with Demo Pilots Tom O'Meara and Jim Bir.
I have often been credited with selling a number of Learjets overseas, but I must admit that the sale was often clinched not by superior salesmanship but by the spectacular performance of the Learjet.
Added to this was the superior performance of my 2 demonstration pilots—Jim Bir, a US Marine Corps fighter pilot in Korea, and Tom O'Meara, a USAF F111 pilot in Vietnam. Without these 2 airmen, my sales pitch might have been hollow. I myself was a pilot of rather limited capabilities.
Here are a couple of examples. Roland Fraissinet was a French business leader and a French Air Force reserve pilot, and also the owner of a de Havilland DH125. In 1971 we flew to Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera in a Learjet 25 to pick him up and fly him home to Geneva. LTT (Saint-Tropez, France) had a relatively short unpaved runway, facing a good-size hill on one end.
Just before departure for Geneva, Fraissinet announced, "We cannot leave now—the wind has changed and we would have to take off into the mountain." To which O'Meara answered, "That's fine, but we're going anyway and you are going to fly it." On breaking ground Fraissinet asked which way to turn. O'Meara instructed him, "Straight over the mountain." Then, pulling 1 engine back to idle, he added, "And you're going to do it on 1 engine."
We climbed over the mountain with plenty of clearance. Fraissinet turned back to me where I was kneeling between the 2 pilots and said, "I must have one of these."
Following up on this later, he asked his legal department to review our purchase contract, which they marked up with many rather insignificant changes.
I told Fraissinet, "If I present this to our corporate attorney, he'll make more changes on the changes and we'll never arrive at a contract. But why do we need a contract? I tell you the price, and when the aircraft is ready you send Pierre Allain to Wichita to pick it up. When Allain informs you the aircraft is all right, you wire transfer the money. We're old friends—let's just shake hands on the deal." And Fraissinet said, "That's fine with me."
Our accounting department kept bugging me for the contract on the Fraissinet airplane. They simply couldn't comprehend my procedures—but there never was a contract.
Another potential customer, Richard Gruner, owner of a large German publishing company, owned an older model Beech King Air. In 1971, he came to Wichita to buy a later model. He was his own pilot.
Gruner spent only the first of his 3 days in Wichita at Beech. I invited him over to Learjet. After 1 hour in the Learjet 24 with Jim Bir, he was so impressed he never went back to Beech, even though Olive Ann Beech, the Beech family, and Export Mgr Michael Neuburger had the Gruners tied up for dinner every evening.
I told Gruner (whom I'd known from my Beechcraft days) that Beech had the better entertainment, but we had the better aircraft. He fully agreed.
On Saturday morning, before we flew them to Mexico City, Richard Gruner was concerned how to tell the Beech people that he'd bought the Learjet. He took the easy way out. He handed the phone to his wife Flora—a prominent German fashion model—and said, "You tell Mr Neuburger."
At the delivery, I asked Gruner about his insurance on the aircraft. He answered, "I don't have any. If I crash it and I get killed, I don't care about it. If I survive, I shall crawl to the nearest phone, call you and order another Learjet."
A demonstration of the Learjet's superior performance was the deciding factor in many sales, although cabin size was often a disadvantage. Cessna VP Jim Taylor called the Learjet an "executive mailing tube." To which Bill Lear answered, "You can't stand up in a Rolls-Royce either."
One more quick example. During demonstrations to the Peruvian Air Force, Jim Bir demonstrated single-engine go-arounds (with 1 engine at idle) at CUZ (Cuzco, Peru)—runway elevation about 11,000 ft.
The resulting order—2 Learjet 35s.
Demonstrating to CSE Intl Managing Dir Lord Waterpark at OXF (Oxford, England) in 1971, Bir, seeing the relatively short runway, announced, "This looks like a good place to show you a no-flaps takeoff." Lord Waterpark grabbed his seat.
I must emphasize that all these maneuvers were strictly within the performance envelope of the Learjet. We always recognized that endangering—or scaring or killing—a prospective customer is not the way to a successful sale.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 85, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Libya, North Korea and Cuba.