Services: MAG Aerospace
Joseph E. Fluet III
CEO and Chairman of the Board
Soaring to success
Joseph Fluet powers MAG Aerospace with the right stuff of risk-taking leadership.
When choosing members of your management team, Joseph Fluet believes there are three ways — and only three ways — that you can be sure you are hiring a leader.
The first way, Fluet says, is to “find the unicorn” — that is, the natural born leader. The second is to train someone to lead. (Contrary to the popular aphorism that leaders are born, not made, he insists, “Leadership is absolutely trainable.”) The only other way to be completely certain you will be employing a leader, he says, is this: “hire a veteran.” How does he know? “Five thousand years of experimentation have developed systems that are provably effective,” he says. “Veterans are a sure bet. You can get someone who is trained and skilled in leadership.”
Fluet’s conviction is steeped in personal experience. A decorated veteran who served for 20 years in active and reserve forces, he was a combat commander in a variety of aviation and special operations units in Iraq, Afghanistan and other overseas locales.
Which is not to say that Fluet’s military background is the sole source of his leadership acumen. He points to his participation in sports as another major influence. And the fact that he was serving as a foreman in his father’s construction business at the seasoned age of 16 didn’t hurt either.
His inquisitiveness and ambition eventually led him to the field of law. After earning his degree from the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law, working as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Labor and serving as a judicial law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals, he joined a prominent litigation firm in the nation’s capital. “I was living the big-shot DC lawyer life,” Fluet says.
It was during this heady period that the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US occurred. And — quite literally — duty called. Fluet put his prior military service to work in 2004 when he traded in his courthouse business attire and once again donned combat fatigues.
Fluet deployed to Afghanistan with a mission: to build an Afghan Air Force. While deployed, he witnessed firsthand the critical role that military aviation and ISR — intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance — played in the mission’s success. In a tent in Afghanistan, he decided he would build a company that provided this vital service of real-time situational awareness to customers around the world.
Though he retained his love of the law — and, in fact, founded a new law firm while he simultaneously founded MAG Aerospace — he says his heart just wasn’t in the big-shot lawyer life anymore. His passions had changed. “I missed managing, leading, creating — all the things that go into entrepreneurship,” Fluet says.
Why build a law firm and a new company at the same time? “I knew how to do two things really well — run a law firm and fly airplanes,” he says. He remains a partner at the firm but has since stepped back from day-to-day management to focus his efforts on MAG.
Fluet polished the idea for MAG — which delivers manned aerial surveillance, unmanned aircraft systems and a host of other aviation services to federal, civilian and commercial customers around the world — in his spare bedroom. He then built MAG into a company that now boasts 1,000 employees on six continents.
Fluet says his legal experience has contributed to MAG’s success. “Lawyers can make very good business leaders if their law background doesn’t make them too timid,” he says, explaining that legal minds are trained to minimize risk. “Entrepreneurship demands risk, but when I say risk I do not mean gambling,” he says. “It is important to draw a sharp distinction. Learning the difference between risk-taking and gambling is critical to success.”
Fluet took plenty of calculated risks in building MAG. He and a few partners invested their life savings and mortgaged their homes to purchase $4.5 million in aircraft so they could win and execute on their first contract. Another inflection point was partnering with a private equity company to keep up with MAG’s soaring growth. Yet another was the decision in 2015 to acquire BOSH Global Services, enabling MAG to provide ISR services for both manned and unmanned aircraft, a distinct competitive advantage.
These calculated decisions have shaped the company and established its sterling reputation and brand. Also embedded in the company’s success is what Fluet calls MAG’s “relentless and uncompromising commitment to service.”
“It’s God and country first,” he says. “We won’t do any work for any entity that doesn’t align with the values we hold dear.”
That does not, by any means, diminish MAG’s determination to come out on top. “We don’t seek win-win,” he says. “We want to win.”
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