From simple songs to select skies, Kenny Dichter is an entrepreneur who has tried his hand in numerous sectors and achieved unprecedented success on several fronts
Kenny Dichter is today best known as the founder, CEO and chairman of the board of revolutionary membership-based private aviation company Wheels Up – a firm that has eliminated fixed costs and provided unparalleled flexibility since its 2013 launch – but it was way back in 1990, as a then new graduate of the University of Wisconsin [majoring in sociology], that Dichter co-founded his first company: Alphabet City Sports Records.
Focused on creating and selling songs that commonly reverberate around stadiums, arenas and other sports venues, the company was ultimately bought in 1998 by SFX Entertainment (now LiveStyle, Inc.) for 4.3 million dollars in cash and stock.
Dichter’s next original move came in 2001, when he founded Marquis Jets, representing the first fractional card jet programme, which served to revitalise and democratise the private aviation industry. With Dichter at the helm, the company grew quickly and by 2007 had achieved an annual turnover of more than $700 million from 3,500 customers. With over $4 billion in revenue generated, Dichter sold Marquis Jets in November 2010 to NetJets, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, and was named NetJets vice chairman at the time. This new role enabled him to build lasting relationships with CEOs, entrepreneurs, celebrities, athletes and tastemakers worldwide, which would prove vital for his future ventures.
As a natural entrepreneur who has always been known as a trend spotter and trendsetter, with an innate knack for branding, marketing, public relations and advertising, Dichter is a self-proclaimed “man of the people”, whose successes prove that he can apply his skills to a variety of industries.
Kenny is always on the lookout for earlystage businesses that show the potential for hyper growth. He has invested and played an active role in Juice Press, a Manhattan-based, multi-location, grab-and-go organic, raw food and juice company; SportYapper, a global communications platform for talking sports; CYC, the first indoor cycling studio aimed at college students and young professionals at universities across America; and Cirrus, a fitness company that customises premium exercise equipment.
You need to be gritty to be a successful entrepreneur. You have to be willing to just keep moving forward, willing to take advice and, most importantly, you need to be a flexible thinker
In 2010, together with fellow entrepreneur Ken Austin, Dichter co-founded Tequila Avion, an ultra-premium brand of this famous Mexican spirit that needed just two and a half years of excellent branding and distribution to position itself as an emerging leader in its category. The venture quickly proved so successful that famous Paris-based Pernod Ricard, the world’s second largest company specialising in premium wines and spirits, even purchased a minority stake in Tequila Avion in 2011, taking on worldwide distribution rights.
Dichter also founded (in 2004) MGX Lab, an independent, full-service, digital media, brand strategy and business development company that serves as a think tank for companies like Disney, Bayer, Patch, cambio.com and Muhammad Ali Enterprises, while he is also Founder and Chairman of Tour GCX Partners, Inc., a golf membership programme that provides client entertainment solutions for corporations and individuals, via access to private country clubs.
Thanks to the expertise he acquired during his work with Marquis Jets, NetJets and Wheels Up, Dichter is regularly sought by media outlets for his perspectives on the aviation industry, consumer brands and the luxury goods and services sector.
All these successes might lead one to conclude that Kenny has always lived the high life, but the truth is that his journey has been one of constant hard work and tenacity, coupled with his natural inclination for entrepreneurship. He grew up on Long Island in the 1970s and ‘80s and has worked for almost as long as he can remember. His first job came while he was still in the sixth grade, delivering newspapers by bike every weekday afternoon and Sunday morning. He subsequently worked in restaurants as a busboy and even launched his own T-shirt business while studying at the University of Wisconsin, expanding to three retail locations by the time he graduated in 1990.
“You need to be gritty to be a successful entrepreneur,” says Kenny. “You have to be willing to just keep moving forward, willing to take advice and, most importantly, you need to be a flexible thinker.”
His greatest business success to date is undoubtedly Wheels Up, which represents the only company in the aviation industry to offer a total private aviation solution that includes world-class safety, service, and flex ibility through on-demand flights, membership programmes, corporate solutions, aircraft management, whole aircraft sales and commercial travel benefits, thanks to its strategic partnership with leading U.S. player Delta Air Lines. Wheels Up offers its customers and members access to over 1,500 safety-vetted and verified aircraft. Via the Wheels Up App, anyone can search, book and fly. Wheels Up Connect, Core and Business memberships provide enhancements like flight sharing, empty-leg Hot Flights, Shuttle Flights, Shared Flights, signature Wheels Down events and exclusive member benefits from preeminent lifestyle brands. The company’s ongoing Wheels Up Cares programme aligns with philanthropic organisations and initiatives that are relevant to the company and its customers, members, stakeholders, families and friends. The Wheels Up Cares fleet comprises five custom painted Beechcraft King Air 350i aircraft – with each plane serving as a flying symbol for a specific cause.
I believe every organisation needs to identify their own philanthropic values and make sure it’s an organic part of the work they do every day
Speaking about this unique programme, Kenny explains: “Wheels Up has always had a culture that cares and wants to give back. It’s in our DNA and we created the official Wheels Up Cares programme with that same vision and mantra – we want to use our platform to Ovardo good in the world and make an impact. We identify causes to rally around and lend our support in creative ways that make sense for our brand to serve the communities we fly in and out of every day.
“Since our founding, we have painted the livery of five Beechcraft King Air 350i planes, which became permanent members of our fleet as flying symbols of awareness for each of the causes that we represent. The presence of the Wheels Up Cares fleet serves as a constant reminder of our pledge and creates a tremendous sense of pride for everyone in our company. Our social media channels also change from our brand blue to match the colour of each Wheels Up Cares aircraft throughout the year, during the months when they are recognised, and a few of the planes have even featured in television commercials. They also provide special experiences for our members and customers, who are surprised and delighted when they discover that they will be flying in one of the Wheels Up Cares planes. “Our most recent launch was the Orange Plane, which we painted with our partners at Textron and unveiled in September 2020, in honour of Feeding America’s Hunger Action Month and in conjunction with our Meals Up initiative, to help support the growing levels of food insecurity during the pandemic. As part of that effort, we also illuminated pylons at airports across the country, such as LAX and LGA, to raise further awareness of the mission of Feeding America.
“The Wheels Up Cares fleet includes the Camouflage Plane for the Tragedy Assistance Programme for Survivors (TAPS), the Red Plane for the American Heart Association and Simon’s Heart, the Teal Plane for Ovarian Cancer Awareness, and the Pink Plane for Breast Cancer Awareness and the Dubin Breast Center of the Tisch Cancer Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.”
Kenny says that the company will continue developing its philanthropic initiatives. “In the future, we will continue to add to the fleet as we identify and align with philanthropic organisations and initiatives that affect and matter to our Wheels Up members, customers, families and friends.”
Entrepreneurs who strive to establish and develop new businesses need to both attract and retain top talent, and Kenny is of the opinion that doing so requires being a good corporate citizen, engaged in the communities they serve.
“Our team is made up of some of the most inspired corporate citizens I’ve ever met. We push each other every day to find new ways to use our platform and relationships to promote causes that will impact change, and that is a very important part of our culture. I believe every organisation needs to identify their own philanthropic values and make sure it’s an organic part of the work they do every day.”