a personal memoir
My job with Don Duncan selling bizjets
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
Duncan Aviation of LNK (Lincoln NE) was started as a Beechcraft distributorship by Donald Duncan and Bob Graf in the 1950s. While I knew both of them at Beech, my closer relationship with them started when I joined Learjet. By then, both Duncan (Nebraska) and Graf (Florida) were domestic Learjet distributors.
Donald Duncan (L) and Bob Graf were fabulous aircraft salesmen and their businesses thrived until Bill Lear sold Learjet to the Gates Rubber Company in 1967. The newly created Gates Aviation in Denver CO took over all domestic marketing and canceled all existing US distributorships, among them Duncan and Graf. But this did not slow down Duncan in any way. He continued buying new and used Learjets with the same enthusiasm.
Under his leadership, the company sold some 450 Learjets, most of these sales being made by Donald Duncan himself. While we were both working in the Learjet business, Duncan and I became close friends.
When I left Learjet, Donald Duncan asked me to join his company. At first I hesitated, and had talks with Tom Gillespie at Piper before I joined Canadair with Bill Lear for a while. Finally, though, I sat down with Donald, his son Robert and their partner Harry Barr. This discussion led to the creation of Management Jets Worldwide, a separate but sister company to Duncan Aviation.
We took in 2 European partners—Alec Couvelaire in France and Per Alkaersig in Denmark—and started working the overseas markets together.
I was stationed at Euralair, Couvelaire's facility at LBG (le Bourget, Paris, France) for 5 years, working in Europe and the Middle East. In those days the popular Learjet 35s were hard to get and delivery delays were a year or so.
Duncan happened to have a new 35 available. An old customer of mine, André Bos, who owned Technal in Toulouse (and had bought a used Learjet 24 from me when I was still working for Lear), came to me wanting to buy a new 35. I told him we had one available and promptly called Duncan. He said, "I just sold it, but we have a very good late model Falcon 10 to offer."
Bos was enraged. "I came here to buy a Learjet," he yelled and walked out. Next morning, my friend Jacques Cabanes, Bos's pilot, called me. "When can I go to Lincoln and see this Falcon 10?" he asked. I told him, "Today."
André Bos bought the Falcon 10 but wanted some modifications to install sideways-facing seats. For this, we needed parts from the Dassault factory, which were delayed. When Bos and Cabanes came to Lincoln to take delivery, the aircraft was not ready.
Bos was again enraged, since he'd already scheduled a trip around South America in his new aircraft.
Donald Duncan walked Bos to his window and pointed to a parked Learjet 24. "Take this one," he said, "and when you return we hope to have your Falcon ready. Your pilots are already qualified on the Lear 24."
I don't know of any aircraft factory or dealer who would lend—at no charge—a jet to a customer for a 2-week trip around South America because of a late delivery which was in no way their fault.
In the end, the customer was very satisfied with us—but not with Dassault, the manufacturer of the Falcon. In turn, the factory was more than a little upset that we had sold a Falcon to a French customer. On arrival in France with an FAA certificate of airworthiness for export, Dassault insisted that Bureau Véritas would have to inspect and recertify the aircraft in France.
When Bos received the invoice from Europe Falcon Service for $125,000, he was once again enraged—but this time at his French compatriots.
By then, the Gates Learjet people were refusing to sell new airplanes to Duncan. I arranged to buy 2 Learjet 35s in the name of a fictional Kuwaiti customer, Sheikh Yassavk. The airplanes were picked up by Donald Duncan himself, to the great consternation of the factory people. They never actually figured out that Yassavk not only didn't exist but was Kvassay spelled backwards.
In the interim, my younger son Tony Kvassay also worked for Duncan as a Learjet pilot. He worked on various target-towing contracts for the US Navy and flew for the Royal Saudi Air Force in Learjets leased by Management Jets Worldwide to Northrop, which provided them to the Saudi military.
After Donald Duncan's untimely death in 1981 at age 58, Robert took over the business and expanded it to the sizeable and highly successful company it is today. While Donald Duncan was a fantastic salesman, Robert's strength was as manager, organizer and builder of the business. His many ideas—electronics shops around the country, spare parts depots, expanding maintenance and modifications activities, buying another company in Michigan, and so on—recreated Duncan Aviation into one of the leading FBOs in the US.
Their sales activities continue but are no longer the driving force of the business.
After 5 years of shuttling between Wichita, Lincoln and Paris several times a month, I retired as the president and only employee of the company, and we closed the profitable corporation.
Ever since Robert Duncan retired in 2008, his son Todd—the 3rd generation of Duncans—has been running the business. And a 2nd-generation Kvassay, my son Douglas, has been a Duncan employee for 20 years.
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.