Going Direct: WSJ Tackles Execs Who Are Pilots


Did the financial news icon get this one right or make the usual mistakes?

The venerable Wall Street Journal is a publication that sometimes gets it right with aviation and sometimes gets it really, really wrong. This time the subject was a dicey one: how to think about CEOs who fly light planes.

As it turned out, the piece, a short item written by Kelsey Gee, hit aiming point with the mains. Chirp, chirp. The piece, which is only available via subscription, reports on a study by JingJing Zhang of McGill University that surveyed more than 1,200 heads of companies and came to the conclusion that leaders who have a pilot’s license are more innovative in business, their companies spend more on R&D and they are more likely to take risks in business, some of which pay off big.

While referring to the CEOs as “thrill seekers,” the author still seemed to understand the link between risk and reward that we pilots know in our bones. The key, we know, is to find ways to cut our personal risk while getting all the reward out of the activity that we can. And by and large, we seem to be improving in that regard, with the accident rate for GA showing a steady and substantial improvement over the past decade.

Gee did point out that the subject is a controversial one. Some companies even have policies in place prohibiting members of the leadership team from engaging in what they deem risky activities, including, in some instances, flying their own planes. The author pointed to several flying CEOs who are well known in the aviation world, including the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, the late Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame, and software mogul Larry Ellison of Oracle.

And while Gee did also mention the death in a plane crash of Micron Technology’s Steven Appleton, the point wasn’t made that Appleton’s crash was in a high-performance Experimental plane, a turboprop-powered Lancair IV-TP, that has a high accident rate even compared with other experimental types. This is only to say that Appleton assumed a greater level of risk than most GA pilots do, which is something that Appleton surely knew. The oversight by Gee is not a egregious one, but should be pointed out.

Flying is an activity that attracts the best and brightest, those who dream big and dare to follow those dreams. This is something we pilots take as gospel. It’s nice when a mainstream media outlet, especially one as respected as The Wall Street Journal, points it out for all to read.

If you want more commentary on all things aviation, go to our Going Direct blog archive.


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