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Lessons from Kitty Hawk

Kitty Hawk, NC. It’s a place etched in our collective imagination as the site where daring, passion, invention and genius came together to achieve the impossible and usher in the age of aviation. It’s why, for airline geeks — and dreamers the world over — the publication of David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers last year was a much-anticipated event.

But there’s a less-explored side to the story of Wilbur and Orville (and their more overlooked sister, Katharine). It’s the story of how, as one writer puts it, “The Wright Brothers Blew It.”

In short, the brothers who “made flying possible” were rotten business managers, unable to put their pride aside, suspicious of media and, perhaps worst of all, litigious. A decade after Kitty Hawk, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company had already overtaken the Wright brothers as the largest aircraft manufacturer. Years of lawsuits over patents would eventually lead to a merger with their biggest competitor and archenemy. In 1929, Wright Aeronautical became Curtiss-Wright and the Wright brothers became old news.

When you live and breathe aviation, a story like this really hits home. In truth, however, this cautionary tale should resonate with any entrepreneur. Ideas aren’t enough. Innovation isn’t enough. Brilliance isn’t enough. You need foresight, you need a team, and you need a solid business plan. You can never rest on your laurels — which is why, at AirStart, we’re always pushing ourselves to improve service, to think like our customers and to give back to our community at large.

The Wright brothers’ incredible achievement at Kitty Hawk stands regardless of their poor business. But the sad trajectory of Wright Aeronautical is worth remembering. As we noted when AirStart won Deloitte’s “Best Managed Company” designation last week, the importance of interpersonal relationships cannot be overstated. In this business – in every business – partnerships breed success.