If you haven’t personally trained with John and Martha King, you know someone who has—they’ve taught roughly 50 percent of pilots through one of their live, video, and online courses through more than 45 years of propelling their company, King Schools, into legendary status.
The Kings established a successful business delivering ground training to prospective pilots as well as serving their ongoing training needs. They just released their first book, part entrepreneurship manual and part autobiography, Lift: How to Start, Run, and Grow Your Own Successful Business.
Though I’ve renewed my flight instructor certificate several times using their course, they have also been mentors, colleagues, friends—and competitors—to me and the companies I’ve worked with over the years. Most recently, they’ve contributed the column “Sky Kings” to FLYING.
But they started off as a piece of paper tacked to a column near my cube at Jeppesen in 1997, when I joined Aviation Courseware as a technical writer. Our team was in the midst of finishing the first installment of the Guided Flight Discovery program, for private pilots. Their smiling faces and thumbs-up demeanor served as a cruel reminder that Jepp had lost the contract to develop training materials for Cessna Pilot Centers to the Kings—and we were determined to best them in the marketplace with GFD.
At the time, I wouldn’t touch a King Schools video with a 10-foot pole.
Fast forward through my “career path with many waypoints,” and in 2008 I took on the role of Cessna Pilot Center manager for Cessna. All of a sudden, as the training focal on the Skycatcher light sport aircraft program and head of CPC, I reached out to the Kings to launch our development of the new courseware that would accompany the 162’s debut with flight schools.
As we built our working relationship, I had a first-hand view of not only their business but also the ethical way they moved through the world—and aimed to treat their employees with respect.
We’ve been through our fair share of spirited debates, and have not always agreed on the best approach to specific elements of training.
One example: John was not an early proponent of scenario-based training as outlined with the FAA/Industry Training Standards (FITS), while to me its advantages were clear. It turned out that the answer for us both was in its proper execution—natural for some instructors to deliver, but considered a complete waste of time by others. We found a resolution for the Cessna Sport/Private Pilot Training Program.
So, What About the Book?
I mention all this because I sat down to read “Lift” curious to see what I would learn. Would this be a review of the hundreds of stories they’ve shared over the years, both with me directly and to various audiences? Sure, it turns out a lot of those anecdotes reside in its pages—but you’d expect that they’d share some of their most important lessons again.
The Kings are clearly on a mission to promote entrepreneurism, and the benefits of healthy business development. However, after opening chapters compelling the reader to form a solid business plan based on a passion—and their personal “Scrabble tiles”—John and Martha quickly get into the specific reasons why they feel their business has succeeded, as well as outlining areas where they have failed.
They provide actionable tools to use to help you organize your own business. While these might seem basic to those with a strong business background, there are also good reminders within about the elements that have worked.
Because of their own position in the industry, the Kings have met a ton of interesting people along the way. They include additional stories that introduce you to some of these folks—a veritable who’s who of aviation legends. And they give credit where it is due to the team members who have propelled them forward.
Overall, it’s a fast-moving read, with nuggets enough to keep even those of us who have had the pleasure to work with John and Martha entertained—and still learning from them.
At NBAA 2022
The Kings will host a book signing at the Coffee Social at the National Business Aviation Association’s Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (NBAA-BACE) in Orlando at the Orange County Convention Center on Tuesday, October 18, at 2 p.m. The first 100 attendees will receive a complimentary copy.
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