Jon Martin – the reluctant CEO – leaves Hongkong Jet to Denzil White


Hongkong Jet's senior management team: Rachan Cheerachin, engineering support manager; Harold Hu, director of business development; Alex Mak, director of quality and safety; Sarah Kalmeta, manager, client relations and operations; Denzil White, chief executive officer; Jon Martin, former chief executive officer; Yan Shen, chief financial officer; Peter Cawthorne, director of engineering; and Michael Westlake , safety and compliance officer

If you ask Jon Martin, the outgoing CEO of Hongkong jet, what his job is, he will say, ‘Pilot’. He flew 747s and 777s for Cathay Pacific Airways for 20 years, rising to become a training captain. In 2008, he switched to business jets, flying G550s, GIVs and G450s. In 2011 he joined Hongkong Jet as a lead captain on a G550.

Martin enjoyed working at Hongkong Jet and was happy to become director of flight operations one year later. But then things started going wrong at the company.

Hongkong Jet launched in 2009, at a time when China’s business jet market was growing quickly. Its major shareholder was HNA Group, a large Chinese conglomerate, which owns shopping malls, hotels, ships and airlines. As well as owning two Hong Kong based airlines, it is also the major shareholder in Deer Jet, China’s largest business jet owner. Some Deer Jet customers wanted to operate – and register – aircraft from Hong Kong, so launching a business jet operator in Hong Kong made sense.

Business went pretty well. By 2012, Hongkong Jet was managing 10 aircraft and offering charter. But, although it had a strong management team, it was losing money.

And then – for various reasons – the company suddenly lost its entire senior management team in mid-2013. The CEO was poached by a Chinese leasing company and others left for other opportunities. HNA Group was openly concerned about its Chinese subsidiary when other investors – who had been close to signing – changed their minds. Morale was low and other staff were looking for new jobs elsewhere.

“I had never been a CEO, and never really wanted to be one.”

It was then that Martin was asked to run the company. “I had never been a CEO, and never really wanted to be one. I was a pilot and not an expert on tax and balance sheets – but we did have good people that were experts on these things,” says Martin. “What Hongkong Jet needed was a committed leader, willing to lead the troops into battle.”

Less than three years later, the company is profitable again. The fleet has grown from eight aircraft in 2012 to more than 20 aircraft today and staff turnover is very low (especially for Hong Kong).

It is also growing fast. In the last month, Hongkong Jet has added a Lineage 1000, a BBJ and a G450. (Martin is especially pleased when one of the owners returned after leaving three years earlier).

“Being part of the team that turned Hongkong Jet around was extremely stressful,” says Martin. “But I am immensely proud of the company it now is. I am also very proud that we did not cut any corners. As a pilot I never cut corners. I always had enough fuel and a plan and it was the same with Hongkong Jet. We always did the right thing when operating aircraft or dealing with customers.”

One former colleague adds: “Jon may have single-handedly saved Hongkong Jet and he deserves real credit for that.”

The next chapter for Hongkong Jet

With the company in much better shape now, Martin is leaving. The new CEO is Denzil White, a co-founder of ExecuJet and an extremely experienced aircraft operator. White joined in November 2014 and is stepping up from COO.

“There is no way I could have left without Denzil taking over”

“There is no way I could have left without Denzil taking over,” says Martin. “He is absolutely the right person to take on Hongkong Jet. He has 20 years’ experience in business aviation and running companies and he is completely the right person to lead the business on.”

White is confident that Hongkong Jet can keep growing. “There are a lot of opportunities for us,” says White. “But we are not setting ourselves the target of having 150 jets in the next 12 months. We want to be the highest quality operator in Hong Kong, not necessarily the biggest.”

Martin, who is staying in Hong Kong, is looking forward to watching it grow.