- 03 Aug 2023
- Fabrizio Poli
- Aircraft Ownership
Follow the story of entrepreneur David Miller who bought a plane he could barely afford to take his car wash chemical business to new levels. Fabrizio Poli discovers how business aircraft paved the way for David’s success…Back to Articles
David Miller is a Dallas-based entrepreneur who sold his car wash chemical business in 2005 and became a founding member of the Citation Jet Pilots Association (CJP). He has owned several Cessna Citation Mustangs as well as a CJ1+. In his current role he’s also had the opportunity to fly many different Citation models.
His father started the car wash business in the 1960s. Back in those days, there were no detail shops. If you wanted to clean up your car, it was done at a gas station, and as the owner of some gas stations, David’s father figured it made good business sense to sell products, polishes and waxes too.
Obtaining some formulas from a gentleman in California, he started to manufacture his own. He would make them at night in the family garage at home then go out and sell them during the daytime. David’s involvement in the business started at the age of 10.
By the time David sold the business, it had over $20m in revenues, distributors around the country, and even a few distributors internationally. The company made several hundred products and transported them to car washes, car dealerships, and anyone else using products to clean their cars. Illinois Tool Works, a large firm based out of Chicago, acquired the company.
David got the ‘flying bug’ at around the same age as he got involved in the family business. His father had been a flying instructor and had flown P-51 Mustangs in World War II, despite not having any previous combat experience.
Reckoning flying to be a part of his DNA, David had earned his Private Pilot’s License before he was a Senior in High School.
In fact, during his Senior year, when he first started dating his wife, David took her flying in a Cherokee 140, and to visit the control tower. A couple of years later they married, and his wife has been flying with him ever since (55 years and counting), though not as a qualified pilot.
The family business was relatively small at the time David started flying, generating a couple of million dollars in revenue annually, so David put his mind to figuring out a way he could buy an airplane to expand the business.
Ultimately, he did what a lot of successful entrepreneurs do, buying an airplane they could barely afford, and turned it into a business tool. Starting with a Beechcraft Baron, he progressed to a Beechcraft Duke, then a Beechcraft King Air 100, before entering the jet age with a 1965-model Sabreliner, and later a Dassault Falcon 10.
As the company grew, it used those airplanes to travel mostly around the US to seize on business development opportunities and visit customers.
“When I bought the Duke, I flew it for a few years but recognized that I could not be a decent CEO and a decent pilot [at the same time],” David recalls. “I hired a co-pilot to help me with the flying, the pre-flight checks, the weather and that kind of stuff, so that I could focus on the business.
“As we grew into airplanes that required two pilots, I always had somebody to help me fly the jet.”
Though the company was relatively small within its industry David reckons his was the only one in its niche market that owned an airplane. “We could be nimble and respond quickly,” he highlights.
“I remember [back in the 1990s/early 2000s] when we were competing for a million-dollar account with a customer that had multiple locations spread all over the country. We were able to take the jet – I think it was our Sabreliner at the time,” he elaborates. “We were able to land and see three of their facilities in the same day.
“Nobody else could do that. The customer was pretty impressed…I think our ability to go to those outlying places [won us the account].”
David would also play a game with his team aboard the jet. “I often told my employees I would take three or four of them on a business trip. They would be sitting in the back in this nice private jet, and I would tell them, ‘This airplane is costing us multiple thousands of dollars. By the time we land at the next destination, I want an idea from this group that pays for the trip’.
“So, we would use the trip – the luxury, let's say – of flying in the corporate jet to produce some ideas.”
On another occasion, David recalls closing a deal with a Japanese company. “We discovered a product in Japan; a clay bar used for car detailing that smooths out the paint. It had never been seen in the United States before. We discovered it by accident and brought it to the US, and it became a huge overnight success. Now it’s used all over the country.”
He tells of how the Japanese team came over to the US with the option to selling their product to several interested buyers. According to David, negotiating a deal in the back of the private jet made the difference.
“They had never been on a private jet before, so the leverage that we were able to create with that airplane made a big difference.”
These are a handful of many instances over the years when airplane was used to cement a lucrative business deal, culminating in David later selling the business and retiring early.
Since selling his business in 2005 David has owned a Beechcraft King Air C90 and four Cessna Citation Mustangs. He also co-founded the Citation Jet Pilots Association, which has seen strong growth over the years. Today the Association has over 1,400 members who fly almost a thousand Citation jets.
According to David, it's an amazing group that is very focused on safety. CJP holds events all over the US, and new training initiatives are provided with the likes of FlightSafety International who are working to reduce the single-pilot accident rate.
As a matter of fact, the Association is about to celebrate three years of accident-free member flying. Perhaps that shouldn’t come as a surprise given the tremendous amount of safety information that CJP has produced and made freely available to any pilot registered on the Association’s website (https://www.citationjetpilots.com).
Watch the full Biz Jet TV interview with David Miller here: