Conquering the Insurance Market from Rural America

With a private jet, you don’t need to be based in a metropolitan area to run a successful business. Fabrizio Poli interviews Mark Leavitt about how his company’s HondaJet has enabled business to thrive from rural America...

Fabrizio Poli  |  05th September 2022
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Fabrizio Poli
Fabrizio Poli

Fabrizio Poli is Senior Consultant at Orville Aviation. He is also an Airline Transport Pilot. Mr. Poli...

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HondaJet photographed flying above the clouds

Discover how a private jet is enabling one insurance company to conquer its market from a rural location within the US, and the competitive advantages that offers...

Mark Leavitt (pictured left) is the Vice Chairman of his family insurance business, the Leavitt Group, based in the small town of Cedar City in Southern Utah. The Leavitt Group was founded by Mark’s father, Dixie back in 1952. Since then, the company has grown into one of the largest independent insurance brokers in the United States.

Since 1989, consolidated revenues have climbed from $8m to $320m. Throughout this period of growth, agency profitability ratios have remained well above industry averages. Today the Leavitt Group has over 185 locations in 28 states and is the 14th largest privately held insurance broker in the US.

Mark grew up with a passion for airplanes. When he returned from serving a two-year Mission for his Church in Bolivia, Mark’s plan was to get his pilot’s licence. He then got married and became involved in the family business, but eventually also earned his wings in 1983.

He bought a 1961 Cessna 182 initially, before flying a Cessna C340 for business in 1998. Leavitt Group also bought a Beechcraft King Air A100 and clocked-up over 700 hours annually. Then they moved on to an Eclipse 500 twin.

After working for over 25 years in Cedar City, Mark knows the dusty stretch of Interstate 15 to Las Vegas well. Two airline flights leave Cedar City for Salt Lake City daily, so it was often quicker to drive three hours to Las Vegas and catch a flight from McCarran International.

As a pilot, he makes the trip to Las Vegas less often now, but still goes every other year to attend NBAA-BACE. “I’m a consummate tire kicker. I love to see the newest equipment,” Mark says. “I’d watched the HondaJet for years, and every time I went to NBAA-BACE, I’d talk to Honda’s salespeople.”

At the 2015 NBAA-BACE the HondaJet representatives told Mark the aircraft would receive certification during the show. He immediately asked how he could buy one and was put in touch with the local Salt Lake City dealer.

The dealer agreed to sell the very first retail delivery HondaJet to the Leavitt Group, if Leavitt agreed to lease it back to them for demo flights.

Mark agreed, and – fast forward a few years – the arrangement with the dealership has worked out very well, with Keystone Aviation also doing all the maintenance on the airplane.

The Leavitt Group simultaneously sold the Eclipse 500 to a company it shares a hangar with – a Cedar City business which manufactures agricultural equipment. When the HondaJet is out on a demo flight, or otherwise unavailable, the hangar partner agrees to lease the Eclipse back to the Leavitt Group.

Through a series of dry leases, the Leavitt Group, the dealer, and the agriculture business all maximize their aircraft uptime.

 Finding a Comfortable Fit

According to Leavitt, the HondaJet didn’t have much competition. “We previously had purchased an Eclipse and loved almost everything about it,” he says. “It just wasn’t big enough to be comfortable for the people we were transporting.

“The Honda was a great fit: technologically advanced, fast, efficient, and beautiful. When people ask me the difference between flying the Eclipse and the Honda, I would say it’s three times more fun for the pilot, but ten times more fun for the passengers – it is just so comfortable.”

The situational awareness provided by the Garmin glass-panel avionics is part of what gives Leavitt and full-time pilot Cole Orton assurance when flying the HondaJet single-pilot.

The aircraft’s all-weather performance is a critical factor, too, especially in Utah’s winters. (When the weather is challenging enough to increase the workload in the cockpit, however, Leavitt and Orton fly together.)

The Leavitt Group flies its teams all over the US, transporting key people and executives from its locations in 28 states. “We love the HondaJet,” Leavitt says. “I am in line to get the next version, with significant improvements, sometime in early fall or late winter. It fulfils a great need, and it does so without costing a fortune.”

Business Benefits of Aircraft Ownership

The flexibility of using the Hondajet to go and explore new business deals and being able to scramble to places for emergency meetings are two great benefits of owning a jet – which also provides a great aid in offering hospitality.

“In a one-hour flight with the HondaJet, I often show visitors four national parks, several national monuments and several national recreation areas or national forests,” he smiles.

Of course, the ownership experience is helped if there are other operators nearby. And as the fleet of in-service HondaJets grows, it is becoming easier to find type-rated pilots.

Within a 45-minute drive, there are five other HondaJets based at Cedar City and St George airports, and Mark likes to think that the Leavitt Group helped to make that happen. “It is notable that 2.5% of all HondaJets in the world exist in a 50-mile radius of our small rural environment.”

Because of the number of HondaJets in the area, there are now eight or 10 type-rated pilots that Mark’s company can choose from if it needs help with flights.

And while chief pilot Cole primarily flies for the Leavitt Group, he contracts out to others when not working for his main employer.

Cabin Comfort

The HondaJet disguises itself very well as a larger aircraft, according to Mark – a so-called ‘Harry Potter effect’. A full flushing lavatory is one of the bonuses, and the space provided in the luggage area is impressive too. While most of his time is spent in the front doing the flying, his passengers have very few complaints.

“It is not unusual to carry luggage for an all-seats-filled flight, along with car seats, strollers, and all the accoutrements required for modern babies.

Then, closer to my heart (don’t tell my children), you can carry six sets of golf clubs along with the luggage on a mid-range flight for a weekend outing.”

The Company Plane Enhances Life Choices

Using private jets also allows the Leavitt Group to base itself in Cedar City, Utah. Mark is unequivocal that without it, the company couldn’t function at the same level.

With a population of just over 38,000 people, there’s also a very low crime rate. In fact, over the past several years, Utah has made the list of the best places to live and start a business.

With a lower cost of living than many cities in the United States (85-90% of the US average cost of living) and most major cities within Utah, there’s much to promote a healthy balance of work and leisure in Cedar City, particularly if you enjoy the great outdoors.

Being able to enjoy views of the red hills and alpine mountains every day, and the spectacular starry skies at night, not to mention breathing in the crystal-clear air every day of the year are all things that are difficult to quantify on spreadsheets and data forms, but they are a very real part of living in Cedar City.

Mark, his brothers, and their respective families certainly enjoy living there, and the location has enabled them to attract and develop a great team at the Leavitt Group.

Thus, another great benefit of the private jet as a business tool is being able to locate your company where you like, away from the hustle and bustle of large cities, and consequently attract good employees that like a quite natural, rural lifestyle outside the office.

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