While most people now know him as Avión’s founder, Ken Austin’s professional career actually includes a stint as a successful private aviation pioneer. Austin was a co-founder of Marquis Jet Partners, a private jet company which was sold to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway owned Net Jets back in 2010. However, he’s always been a beverage guy at the core, having spent time working with such companies as Seagram and Ernest and Julio Gallo. During a recent interview, I asked him what his thoughts were about brand management, career transition and his favorite way to enjoy tequila. Here’s what he had to say.
MT: Which skills from your aviation career have been most transferrable to your work in the spirits industry?
KA: There are many transferable skills that have come from many experiences in my career. Firstly, understanding your customer and what their needs, goals and objectives are is critically important. In the jet business listening to customers’ needs was a 101 basic, and at Avión we must do the same. I also learned that taking risk and differentiating your brand and yourself, as well as having huge confidence in what you are selling, is the recipe that must be followed. Additionally, I became a much bigger thinker which helps to set benchmarks that are stretches, but easily accomplished based on thinking big.
MT: What are the toughest parts of brand management, in general?
KA: The tougher parts of brand management are quite similar to any other executive position. I point to decision speed, creating customer interest and making every dollar count as top priorities.
MT: Do you have a favorite way to enjoy the tequila brand you’ve built?
KA: I drink Avión on the rocks usually, or just with a touch of fresh lime juice. Our two-year-aged Avión Añejo is very special and I usually drink it neat in a brandy snifter, or maybe adding one ice cube.
MT: What is your best advice for young executives trying to climb the corporate ladder in a beverage company?
KA: Keep climbing and treat the business like you own it. Hold yourself to a level of accountability others would never expect. Never give up, and while you may need to be political and manage up at times, don’t be afraid to be different and work to make a true difference versus being part of the status quo.
MT: Which do you consider the best ways to balance a career with a rewarding lifestyle?
KA: Make your career and other parts of your life like a delicious margarita. Balancing the ingredients is important, and if you go to an extreme with any of the ingredients it could be too sour or too strong. These days, people go the extra mile both at work and in their personal time, but in this overworked society, having a healthy balance with hobbies, family and friends is critical. To keep going after a grueling day at work, whether it be a dinner or helping the kids with their homework, is difficult but everything about what I do is extremely rewarding and that’s what motivates me. To me, the best feeling is being able to go even a few hours and wipe the world of work from my mind.
Ken Austin is a graduate of The Birmingham University School of Management, with an Executive MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He currently lives in New York with his family.
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