a personal memoir
Danish Learjet customer and dinner at a distant Bunny Club
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
Learjet customer Arne Bybjerg (L) with Learjet Denmark Dealer Per Alkaersig and Bybjerg's new Learjet 24 in 1972.
Scandinavia was a good market for business jets. Among our early customers were Ole Kirk Christiansen, the inventor of Lego toys, and ASEA, the largest electrical company in Sweden.
There was also an elevator factory and a TV factory in Finland (which is, of course, not part of Scandinavia), and a few others that I can no longer remember. This was a long time ago, and I am sure the Scandinavian market has grown substantially since then.
One of our Danish customers was Arne Bybjerg, who was originally a hard-luck Danish engineer—at least, this is how he described himself. He wanted to make his fortune in the rubber plantations of Malaysia, but this did not work out. He went home to Copenhagen and started a TV equipment retail store, which went bankrupt.
Bybjerg had a friend—a Danish barber named Niels Christian Jørgensen—who had invented what he called the "Carmen Curler." Bybjerg had no idea what a Carmen Curler was—it's an electrically heated hair curler—and the barber had no idea what to do next with his newly invented gadget. Bybjerg arranged to buy the production and marketing rights of this invention from his friend using the savings—some $7000—from his Malaysian venture.
Bybjerg's hard luck had apparently just ended. The first large order came from the US company Clairol—a subsidiary of Bristol Myers—for 500,000 units. This guaranteed to Bybjerg $10 million in cash and $25 million in future royalties.
Unidentified Playboy bunny attends hair curler king Bybjerg at post-delivery dinner.
Soon thereafter, they were producing thousands of these Carmen Curlers per day in the Kalundborg factory, which soon employed 1800 workers. Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) DC8 freighters were carrying the products to New York as fast as they could make them. (Some elderly ladies may remember the Carmen Curler by Clairol—it was very popular in the US.)
Obviously, it was time for him to buy a Learjet. Bybjerg visited the factory with our dealer in Denmark—Per Alkaersig, a former SAS captain—and ordered a Learjet 24.
By the time the aircraft was ready for delivery, Bybjerg had sold his business to the Bristol Myers Company in New York City, so he called and asked us to deliver the aircraft to him in New York.
With Alkaersig, we flew the Learjet 24 to New York City, and met Bybjerg in the Bristol Myers head office just as he was being handed a check for $22 million. This was in the early 1960s and, if you can remember, this was big money at that time.
So here I was trying to collect a paltry million and a half as the final payment for the Lear 24, and here was Bybjerg with a check for $22 million. The only thing we could do was walk across the street to Citi Bank, where he opened an account, deposited his check and wrote a check to Learjet for the balance due on his aircraft.
So far, so good—the transaction was completed. Then Bybjerg announced that he wanted to go and have dinner at the Bunny Club at Lake Geneva. I was not that familiar with Bunny Clubs and had no idea where Lake Geneva was—but I stupidly assumed it must be somewhere in upstate New York. I made some inquiries and found out that Lake Geneva was in Wisconsin.
I told Bybjerg that the place where he wanted to eat dinner was nowhere near New York City—it was in the state of Wisconsin. "That's okay," he said. "That's why we have an airplane. We shall fly there for dinner."
I learned long ago that the customer is always right—so off we went to the Bunny Club for dinner. Good reason to buy a Learjet.
After this, I lost contact with Bybjerg, but I was told that he lost most of his fortune by investing in some newfangled wonder drug, and moved to a ranch in Australia.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 86, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.