Ford scion bleeds blue, but finds aviation niche
Pentastar serves corporate travelers with Detroit's Big 3.
By Joel J. Smith / The Detroit News
John T. Greilick /The Detroit News
Edsel Ford II stands near a photograph of his great-grandfather Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh taken on August 11, 1927.
-- Owner: Edsel B. Ford II
-- Location: Oakland International Airport
-- Employees: 248
-- Pilots: 61
-- Maintenance/Avionics: 100
-- Corporate customers: 19
-- Catering operation: 1,000 meals/week
Source: Pentastar Aviation
"I've always had a passion for aviation," says Edsel Ford II, on the tarmac at Pentastar Aviation at Oakland International Airport.
WATERFORD - Edsel B. Ford II grew up with Ford Motor Co. and remains close to the company founded by his great-grandfather. But these days, he's also got a little bit of General Motors Corp. and Chrysler in his blood.
The 55-year-old Ford heir is the owner of Pentastar Aviation, the former Chrysler air transportation department that shuttles the auto company's employees and executives worldwide. Pentastar now manages DaimlerChrysler AG's fleet of aircraft, its flight crews, maintenance, on-board food and scheduling.
In addition, Pentastar arranges the chartering of General Motors Corp. aircraft whenever they aren't in use.
Edsel Ford, who has a seat on Ford Motor Co.'s board of directors, just laughs when his unusual relationship with Detroit's Big Three automakers is brought up. "When I put on my Pentastar Aviation hat, I'm nondenominational," he said.
Ford bought Pentastar in October 2001, three years after he officially retired as the president of Ford Motor Co. Credit. He remains at Ford as a part-time con******t, working four days a week on dealership issues. He earns $500,000 annually in restricted Ford stock.
His lifelong love of aviation made the Pentastar acquisition a perfect fit for him. Photos of his great-grandfather, Henry Ford, and his grandfather, Edsel Ford, with various historic aircraft and aviation pioneers like Charles Lindberg adorn the walls of the Pentastar passenger terminal at Oakland International Airport in Waterford Township.
"When I retired from Ford, I began looking for business opportunities," said Edsel Ford II. "This literally fell into my lap. I've always had a passion for aviation. Whenever I had the opportunity to fly in a Ford airplane, I'd ask the pilots if I could ride up front.
"They would tell me 'Once we get to cruise altitude, Edsel, you can come up.' My father (Henry Ford II) used to laugh about it because everybody else was riding in the back."
When Edsel Ford took over Pentastar, the company was handling flight operations for 12 corporations, mostly Fortune 500 companies in Oakland County. Pentastar has grown by 70 percent and serves 19 companies. And Ford said he's looking for more growth.
While not discussing specific company financial numbers, Ford said he's happy with his return on his investment.
Pentastar is located on the southwest corner of Oakland International Airport, which Ford said is an ideal location for his corporate clients. The 248-employee operation just completed a major, multimillion dollar renovation that included an 11,000-square-foot passenger terminal and its own U.S. Customs check-in center.
The facility has five airplane hangers with 130,000-square-feet of space and over 11 acres of reinforced concrete ramp space.
Pentastar services more than 500 aircraft per month. It pumps more than 4 million gallons of aviation fuel a year.
As part of the flight management services, Pentastar owns its own in-house catering division called Fivestar Gourmet.
-- The company has five certified gourmet chefs who prepare over 1,000 meals per week for consumption on flights. Many of the meals are sold to third parties for flights out of Flint Bishop Airport, Detroit City Airport and other nearby airports. Some of those flying in and out for the recent Ryder Cup golf tournament at Oakland Hills used the meal service.
Ford gingerly protects the identity of his corporate clients for security reasons. He spends one day a week at Pentastar. The day-to-day operation is handled by Thomas D. Seeber, its president and chief operating officer.
"The managed aircraft business is the core of our company," Seeber said. "We provide the pilots, maintenance services, the catering and a full turnkey solution for aircraft management. We coordinate all travel arrangements for companies."
He said the service can save companies money because they don't have to staff full-time pilots and flight attendants or worry about scheduling maintenance on the aircraft.
About 10 years ago, aviation officials at Ford, GM and Chrysler met to discuss forming a joint charter company so when an aircraft wasn't being used, it could be chartered by other companies or individuals, he said.
Ford decided not to do it. But Chrysler and GM formed Automotive Air Charter. When Edsel Ford bought Pentastar, he also bought Automotive Air.
The relationship with GM has been solid.
"It's a way for us to recoup some of our costs," said John McDonald, a spokesman for GM travel."