Wheels Up turns customer into CFO
When Eric Jacobs took a call from a headhunter asking him if he would consider joining Wheels Up, the business aviation membership company, as CFO he immediately said he was interested. Jacobs was already a member of its 8760-starter programme and about to switch to full membership. He already liked Wheels Up and thought the role sounded interesting. After a month on the job he is not regretting his decision.
“I am genuinely having more fun at work than I have ever had. Business aviation is super exciting with a level of complexity and sophistication that makes it fascinating,” he says.
The call came at a good time. Jacobs had left Dealertrack Technologies, a company he had worked at for 16 years (and advised as outside counsel for several years before following its sale to Cox Automotive — the owner of Kelley Blue Book, Autotrader, and Manheim). After two years at Cox, where he was in charge of corporate and business development, he was ready for a new challenge. Dealertrack is a software service company that helps make car dealers more efficient. It grew from sales of $250 million to more than $1 billion in seven years whilst Jacobs was its CFO.
Wheels Up would not be the choice of some traditional CFOs. It is growing members and flight hours fast, but it is also spending a lot of cash – both on aircraft, systems and marketing. Some CFOs would see this growth – led by its passionate founder Kenny Dichter – as risky. Jacobs disagrees.
“I would not want it any other way,” he says, “I have a different perspective of speed. I want to be part of a team that sits in a room with a fast-moving CEO like Kenny, makes decisions, and goes for it. I want to be part of a fast-growing, innovative company and help it execute its plan.”
Jacobs has also been involved in acquiring many companies – 30 when he was at Dealertrack – and he sees opportunities for Wheels Up. “Business aviation is clearly fragmented and, over time, there may be acquisitions that make sense to us,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities.”
Jacobs is one of the few people who have held the roles of general counsel (he was an associate at O’Melveney & Myers) and CFO (he is a also a qualified CPA and worked at KPMG) and during much of his almost 30-year career he has been involved in raising capital – including many IPOs.
It is no secret that Wheels Up is considering an IPO. And no coincidence that it has hired Jacobs.