Financial services company flies G550 and G450 in support of clients and associates in more than 100 countries.
By Brent Bundy
Phoenix Police Officer-Pilot (ret)
AS350, AW119, Cessna 210/182/172
Thousands of financial institutions, and millions of businesses and consumers, including more than 100 million digital banking customers, employ Fiserv’s offerings every day.
Building the company into the powerhouse it is today didn’t merely benefit from the use of corporate aircraft – it required it.
Building the business
In the 1970s, when data processing was still in its infancy, 2 forward-thinking businessmen recognized its potential and joined forces.
George Dalton found his calling to the field of financial transactions before serving in the US military during World War II.
Afterwards, he attended Northwestern University briefly before taking a position with Bell & Howell in its fledgling data processing division. He later accepted a similar job with Marine Bank, a post he held for 12 years. Dalton then moved on to Midland National Bank and soon expanded its processing department quickly.
This would lead to his heading up the newly formed First Data Processing in 1982. Meanwhile, Leslie Muma was following a similar career path. He earned a master’s degree in business administration and worked in data processing positions with Freedom Savings and Loan Association before his promotion to president of its ancillary operation, Sunshine State Systems.
Muma and Dalton had met in the 1970s and maintained contact over the years. By the early 1980s, they began to consider the consolidation of their respective businesses, and established Fiserv in 1984.
Over the ensuing decades, the company grew through acquisitions, expanding across the US and overseas, to become a global financial services technology leader.
In 2019, Fiserv acquired First Data. Today, the company is helping clients in more than 100 countries to deliver differentiated experiences for their customers as the world embraces digital transformation with unprecedented speed.
Fiserv now employs more than 40,000 associates worldwide, and has been recognized as one of the “World’s Most Admired Companies” by Fortune magazine for 8 consecutive years.
Adding the aircraft
In 1995, First Data opened its flight department with a Learjet 25 and 2 pilots. As part of a merger with First Financial, 2 Astra jets were obtained, which were sold in 1996. The following year, the Learjet 25 was substituted for a more capable Learjet 60.
And by July 2000, another Learjet 60 was added, both of which were operated out of APA (Centennial, Denver CO). Between 2002 and 2005, the flight department flew the 2 Learjet 60s and a newly acquired Bombardier Challenger 604, until downsizing to just the Challenger.
In 2009, when another corporate acquisition added a Learjet 60 back into the fleet, the Bombardier was relocated to PDK (DeKalb–Peachtree, Atlanta GA).
The aviation operation remained at PDK until 2014, when it moved to its current base at MMU (Morristown NJ), close to the company’s executive presence in New York.
The current fleet came together when a Gulfstream G450 replaced the Challenger, and a Gulfstream G550 replaced the Learjet 60. The frequency of travel and the amount of time spent in the air by Fiserv’s internal customers means that inflight connectivity is a requirement.
For their needs, they turn to the onboard systems and services provided by ARINCDirect from Collins Aerospace. The Wi-Fi system is used regularly to maintain contact with worldwide offices and to conduct time-sensitive business while airborne.
Leading the team
Shortly before the flight department moved to MMU, Senior VP of Flight Operations Don Menard took the helm. The Rhode Island native never contemplated becoming a pilot when he attended the country’s oldest private military school – Norwich University – and accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the US Army.
“I was training toward a medical career until a mentor sat me down and recommended that I consider flying for the military,” remembers Menard. “I looked into it and the next thing you know, the Army taught me to fly helicopters.”
For the first half of Menard’s 30-year military career, he flew Bell UH-1 “Hueys” in a medevac capacity, eventually becoming commander of a reserve detachment in New York. In 1993, he transitioned out of a flying role and into healthcare administration for the US Army Medical Service Corps.
It was during his move to reserve duty that Menard first delved into corporate flying. “Four of the guys in my reserve unit were full-time pilots with IBM’s flight department. They told me the company was looking for a dual-rated pilot, so I applied and was offered the position,” Menard recalls.
Menard would spend the next 18 years with IBM, flying the company’s Learjet 55, Dassault Falcon 2000, and Sikorsky S-76B helicopter. During that time, he would be promoted from line pilot up to manager of aviation safety and security. “In the early 2000s, safety was coming to the forefront, and we were early adopters,” he adds.
Menard’s team was one of the first in business aviation to implement a safety management system (SMS). In 2006, Menard left IBM for a position as director of CSC Transport. For the next 3 years, he ran the operation of 2 Sikorsky S-76s, a variety of Gulfstream jets, and a first-class-configured Boeing 737.
Supporting several business interests under the CSC Transport banner ensured full utilization of the fleet. “We put 1100–1200 hours per year on our 2 S-76s, sometimes flying up to 18 legs per day,” remarks Menard. Seeking a change, he left CSC Transport in 2009 and was later offered the director of flight operations position with Seattle WA-based Vulcan Aviation.
Menard would spend 19 months coordinating the extensive collection of aircraft that Vulcan owned before a brief stint in contracting and consulting.
First Data reached out to Menard in January 2014 to head the flight department, a role he retained when Milwaukee-based Fiserv acquired First Data in July 2019.
Menard is quick to point out that management truly values the work his group provides. “These aircraft are viewed as business tools, and we support the company’s executives with aviation transportation as a means to optimize their time and productivity.
We are their time machines,” he says. Domestic destinations make up over 80% of the 750 hours flown per year, split between the Gulfstream G550 and G450 jets. The global pandemic of 2020 caused a significant reduction in flying, yet the Fiserv group was agile in supporting the business.
“We were able to use our planes to fly personal protective equipment (PPE) to locations around the country, and, when needed, to fly essential personnel to fortify sites critical to our success during the pandemic. That would not have been possible without these aircraft,” Menard explains.
Meeting the team
In addition to Menard, 6 other pilots make up the flight crew. One of those is Pilot and Safety Manager Tom Hill. Hill earned a degree in criminal justice and history before settling on a career path.
A close friend suggested he look into aviation. “I went on a couple of flights with her and was initially terrified!” he remembers. But his trepidation soon passed, and he joined the aviation program at Mercer County Community College in 1986. Two years later he had earned his ratings, and he has never looked back.
After building hours as a flight instructor, Hill found his first professional flying job with Crown Airways, flying de Havilland Canada Twin Otters in and out of PIT (Intl, Pittsburgh PA). He stayed with Crown for 18 months before moving over to Henson Airlines, precursor to Piedmont Airlines, where he flew DHC Dash 8s for the next 8 years. This was followed by a short stint with TWA in 2000 in MD-80s.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, Hill made his way to the charter world. He spent 5 years with Million Air Charter (now Meridian), flying Citation Excels, Learjet 45s, and Gulfstream IVs.
He then moved to the AIG insurance company, with a fleet of Gulfstream V, Bombardier Global, and Dassault Falcon 900 and 2000 EASys business jets.
With the company’s worldwide footprint, Hill gained valuable international flight experience. In 2015, he moved to Valiant Pharmaceutical to fly its G650 and G550 for the next 2 years. Hill finally brought his depth of experience to Fiserv in 2017.
When he arrived, not only did his previous type ratings prove beneficial, but so did his safety management assignments. “I had held the safety position at some of my other jobs, so it was a natural fit for me to step into that role here,” he explains. “Everyone with Fiserv is very forward-thinking and focused on safety.”
The team uses an SMS program through Business Aviation Safety Consortium (BASC), which adheres closely to ICAO requirements. Quarterly safety meetings are held along with weekly phone or in-person gatherings. “This is a great group to work with,” says Hill. “They’ll do anything for you.
It’s also a great company to work for, as was evident over the past year during the pandemic.” He adds, “These are the easiest executives in the world to fly for. They prioritize safety, they never push us, and there’s no drama. Teamwork comes naturally here.”
Other members of the cadre include Pilot Mike Colavita, who joined Fiserv at the beginning of 2021. Initially earning his A&P from Teterboro School of Aeronautics, he then went down the pilot pathway. Prior to Fiserv, he earned experience with Citigroup, Honeywell, and Allergan’s flight departments.
Pilot Clemente Díaz hails from Spain and began his career as a ramp supervisor for UPS. He also moved to flying for a career when he had his first SIC initial in Learjets in 1998. His experience includes the director position at Allergan before its closing.
Pilot Derrick Davis stepped into his role directly from the US Army’s VIP Aviation Unit. He brought with him combat flight experience as an AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot, along with VIP operations flying Gulfstreams for the Secretary of the Army and senior Army staff. Pilot Dave Telo joined Fiserv in 2017, with 25 years of perspective under his belt, including Part 91 and 135 time.
He previously held positions with Panorama Flight Service, AirBourne, and Jet Aviation. Rounding out the team is Captain Bryan Thomson, who came on board in 2016. After graduating from Western Michigan University with a degree in aviation flight science, he earned his ratings and spent time as a CFI in ABE (Lehigh Valley, Allentown PA).
In 2013, he and some friends opened a charter operation. “That was great experience for me because it taught me a lot about leadership and the inner workings of flight department operations,” he explains. “As this is my first corporate position, the group here has really helped me understand the Fiserv culture.”
The quality of life afforded by a close-knit team and appreciative executives makes flying for Fiserv everything Thomson hoped for. He has also taken on the role of training and technology lead. “This is a dream job,” he enthuses. “I never want to leave.” Keeping the planes airworthy falls to Director of Maintenance (DOM) Manuel Teques.
Teques joined the US Army after high school and became an AH-64 Apache crew chief. “My dad was a cook for United Airlines, and I just always loved airplanes,” he remembers. During his nearly 8 years in the Army, Teques held posts around the world and also obtained his A&P certification.
His final assignment was in Savannah GA, and upon his discharge he went to work for Gulfstream, where he would spend the next 5 years. Teques moved back to New Jersey in 2003 and took a position with Continental Airlines on the maintenance planning side. In his 2 years there he also finished his bachelor’s degree in professional avionics.
The year 2005 found Teques moving on to Jet Aviation at TEB (Teterboro NJ). Another 2 years passed, and he joined AIG’s flight department, at the same time Hill was there. After an enjoyable 7 years with AIG, Teques was told about First Data moving to MMU and needing a DOM.
He signed on in 2014 and has enjoyed his time immensely. “We have such a great group here,” says Teques. “The Gulfstreams are very reliable and easy to work on, and we have amazing support from the top on down.” Rounding out the maintenance team is Technician Matthew Luogameno, an Air Force veteran who is dual-trained in airplane and helicopter work.
Teques and Luogameno handle most of the labor, up to 48-month inspections, and some 3000-hr work. When outside assistance is needed, they turn to the OEM and private MROs. Luogameno is full of praise for Menard and the flight department.
“This is such a great team here, led by Don. He is a true leader, not just a boss.” Keeping things running smoothly in the office is Flight Operations Manager Michelle Spearman. While in college, she found herself at JFK (John F Kennedy, New York NY) working for start-up airline Air South.
“The great thing about that job was that it was my introduction to aviation, and I was trained for everything,” says Spearman. She then moved on to American Airlines and Virgin Atlantic before making her way to CSC Transport in 2001, which is where she met Menard.
Spearman stayed with CSC for more than 15 years before rejoining Menard at Fiserv in 2017. She explains her current duties as “sticking my nose into everything!” And that description seems accurate, as she has a hand in flight and crew scheduling, coordinating aircraft availability and maintenance, billing, vendor relations, fuel-shopping, and anything else that the aviation team needs.
If that weren’t enough, Spearman is also chairwoman of the executive committee for Morristown Airport Customs Association, leading the drive to improve and expand the customs footprint.
Recognized for her leadership, Spearman was invited to participate in the Fiserv Leading Women Program. “This company is great for fostering growth from within,” she says. “I have been truly blessed over the years with the positions I’ve held, but especially here with Fiserv and with Don. He is a great mentor and an excellent example of what this company represents.”
For the future
As Fiserv continues to innovate to help clients meet its customers’ rapidly evolving expectations for elevated payments and financial services experiences, Menard and his team are looking ahead eagerly. “My goal is to continue to improve our flight department for the future,” he explains. To that end, he anticipates renewing the fleet, including a new Gulfstream G600 in 2022.
“I want to provide Fiserv with the best people and equipment to achieve their business goals today and into the future,” he adds. Fiserv has a stated aspiration – to move money and information in a way that moves the world. There is little doubt about the contribution that business aviation, as exemplified by Menard and his team, is making toward that objective and the company’s phenomenal success.
Brent Bundy served as a police officer with the Phoenix Police Dept for 29 years. He flew with the PHX Air Support Unit for 19 years, and is a helicopter pilot with nearly 4000 hrs of flight time. He has flown Airbus AS350B3s for the helicopter side of Phoenix PD’s air unit, and Cessna 172, 182s and 210s for the fixed-wing side.