Pilot skills set businessman on path to new heights
Published: 26 Jan 2017
As he approaches 30 years in business, Julian Keating reflects on how he successfully transferred his experience as a pilot into a whole new career.
During his 20 years as a pilot Julian flew for the Army in Hong Kong, Singapore and Brunei before working with British Airways Helicopters in the North Sea, India and the far east. In 1986 due to health reasons a doctor advised him to choose a different career. The following year Julian decided to set up in business.
Now managing director of Aberdeen based e-commerce specialists, nSYS Services, Julian can see the similarities between life in the cockpit and being at the helm of a successful business.
“Analysis, planning, multi-tasking and knowing when to make a decision are vital both in aviation and in business. Everything is based on future predictions, so it’s important to learn to look ahead and have a back-up plan for when things change, whilst also remembering that not doing anything can sometimes be the best decision – which has saved us a few times,” he said.
Julian believes the high pressure environment of the cockpit has armed him with the tools required to face challenges in business.
He said: “Pressures that pilots encounter in aviation are similar to those working in the oil industry – if you don’t think ahead then yourdecisions can easily kill people.
“Hopefully not usually so serious in purchase to pay, however, when it does go wrong what will save you is instincts born from training and experience.
“Rely on those instincts for the instant decisions but for the rest – don’t jump, analyse and ask yourself how much time you’ve got and then use that time.”
With communication being a key aspect of safety in the air, Julian describes how he integrated that into operations at nSYS.
“Open communication is key to success in any field. The fundamentals of communication in the cockpit are the same as in business.
“You have to understand the requirement, talk to your customers and agree the delivery they want.
“Discuss it with your professionals and then build the flight plan. Once on the flight deck instant communication is critical and one must be prepared to accept correction or assistance regardless of rank or status. Learning to listen is the primary communication skill and never be afraid to say I don’t know, the crime is not ignorance it is not asking.
“A mix of young and old personnel is great for business – it keeps people like me on my toes. New ideas and methods reduces the risk of errors and gets the job done faster.
“With training and experience we reduce the pressure but if people can’t give their opinion then their training and experience are useless to us.
“We work really well as a team at nSYS and I value that level of openness and honesty more than anything and it results in us being better prepared for our clients.”
Julian’s biggest inspiration in business is Warren Buffet. He said: “He values what is real and stresses the importance of looking for intelligence, honesty and energy in the people you want to run your company.
“ If they have all three then they are gold but if any one element is missing, then they will never be the true leader you want. Business is about people and our greatest successes have come from the meeting of minds.”
When asked what advice he would offer a young entrepreneur, Julian emphasised the importance of having a good team around you.
He added: “It is important to understand your business model and what you require to do to make itsucceed.
“Listen and learn from those that have done it before and surround yourself with people who have different skills from yourself, listen to their opinion and value their expertise.
“Planning ahead, hard work and maintaining integrity are fundamental as is getting over naivety quickly. Once up and running, don’t tinker with the toys in the cockpit, steer the ship and manage the crew.”