Serial Entrepreneur in Our Back Yard
Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas
Serial Entrepreneur; an entrepreneur who continuously comes up with new ideas and starts new businesses.
Those of you that love entrepreneur stories will love this one. It is an example of fact that the vast majority of new businesses are started without millions of dollars in venture capital by people who don’t have business degrees. Curtis Lavine needs no introduction to business leaders in Southeast Kansas; indeed, many in the aviation industry. Many times, when I speak of starting a business, retirement-age people talk about being too old. I tell them the story of Curtis Lavine.
An important side note. In spring of 2014 when we spoke about starting a Fab Lab, Curtis was one of the first to understand how a maker space would benefit people’s thinking. He became a primary benefactor providing matching funds to the Kauffman Foundation grant. Curtis’ vision made it possible to open Fab Lab ICC in the fall of 2014. Without his gift, we would have likely been delayed one to two years.
Curtis started his first company after retiring from the Teledyne Corporation at age 59. He is a great example of a grass roots serial entrepreneur. I got to know him beginning in about 2010 when I joined a local group in creating a non-profit to help entrepreneurs. The others in the group told me that if I could get Curtis to be on the board, he would be a great asset. It was good advice.
He chose to serve in the Air Force because he had an intense interest and curiosity about jet engines. His time in the service included work on the Thunderbirds aircraft. After his service, he eventually became the general manager of the Teledyne Corporation office in Missouri. The Independence Kansas office was having some difficulty, so they asked him to move to Independence. He jokes about how his wife had about 30 minutes to decide she’d be ok with moving.
Along about age 58 or 59 Curtis says something inside of him became sick of the four walls of the corporate office and that he was tired of his corporate bosses “breathing down his neck.” So, he retired to start something of his own.
From his experience working around jet engines he perceived an opportunity in the area of jet engine overhaul. Engine overhauls are required periodically throughout the life of an airplane. In the early 1990’s the entire engine went to one of several very large service centers around the country.
Overhaul is required not only of the major engine components but also smaller, but just as important accessories such as fuel controls. Curtis recognized that the big service centers were mostly interested in the high revenue potential of the major components. He even said they looked at the revenue from overhauling fuel controls as “chicken feed.” Overhauls take a while. At that time, the engine overhaul could take 45 – 60 days. Smaller components, like the fuel controls had the same lead time even though only a few hours were required to complete the smaller overhaul.
Fuel controls require overhaul more often than entire engines, yet the big companies could not get the smaller orders fulfilled in less than 45 – 60 days. Curtis thought this was the real opportunity. In 1992, Curtis and a partner started Kanas Aviation with four employees and one product. They obtained the necessary certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Their turn-around time for fuel control overhaul: 7 – 10 days as opposed to the then industry standard 45 – 60 days. The company grew and in 2014 was awarded the Kansas exporter of the year award doing business with companies from small to huge around the globe. You can see more of the Kansas Aviation story at kansasaviation.com.
Curtis sold his interest in Kansas Aviation several years later. After all, he was 58 when he started. But did he retire? No. He went on to start and/or acquire seven other businesses most of which are still in operation and at 83 years old, Curtis still signs most of the checks and has regular weekly meetings with the managers to keep his fingers on the pulse of each business.
Brian Hight of Magnolia Scents by Design, a serial entrepreneur in his own right, interviewed Curtis in 2013 as part of an assignment for the Entrepreneurial Mindset class. The concepts Curtis discusses are timeless. You can hear that interview on my podcast. Google “The Correll Files” and you’ll see the episode.
Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at email@example.com or Twitter @jimcorrellks. Podcasts and archive columns at jimcorrell.com.