Posted 18 days ago ago by Admin
“I say every day do one teaspoon of work. In a week you have something, in a month a good mound, and in a year a mountain of work,” so says Luis Olarte, founding CEO of Entrol. We can add to his quote: in less than two decades one will have established many mountains into a mountain chain that spans the globe: from its beginning in Madrid, Spain, to over 30 countries across seas and continents in which Entrol-brand flight simulators are sold.
What started such mountainous growth? Did an army of investing angels launch from the Gothic spires of Madrid Cathedral to spread Church treasure to capitalists in need? Dream on. Did a conglomerate of well-established helicopter OEMs cooperate to spin off a sim manufacturer to service the training needs of their global customers? Nope. Did two brothers with dreams, guts—and very few funds—sacrifice to build flight simulators in a garage-size niche the big-boy sim manufacturers overlooked? Bingo!
In 2004, Luis Olarte had an MBA from Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and he was looking for a niche industry in which to launch a manufacturing business. “I always wanted to start a company and sell something you could touch, feel, and customize to customer needs,“ he says. “The fixed wing market is big, but too established and defined for new startups. I wanted to start a business and in the end it came down to helicopters being an underserved niche. It was a natural niche for us to enter as the value company that sells regulatory compliant helicopter sims for a lower, good price.” Then Olarte underscores the niche nature of rotorcraft with this memorable quip in his rich, Spanish accent, “Helicopters fly only by the grace of God, and God Himself doesn’t know how helicopters fly; helicopters are miraculous!”
In addition to his diploma and dream, Olarte also had a job selling warehouse equipment for Kardex, but his biggest sales job happened when he returned to his native Spain and convinced his brother, Pedro, an engineer who designed flight simulators for fixed-wing aircraft, to leave his secure salary—on which he and his family depended—to move into a 40 square-meter garage to write code for helicopter flight sims for a stake in his brother’s dream company that had no customers and little capital, except for Luis’ savings account of 30,000 euros. Entrol was birthed on a vision and a business plan. “I guess I was a good salesman and that Pedro really loved me,” Olarte says. Pedro and family lived on an hourly wage of 19.95 euros and Luis lived on… potatoes. “I went without a salary for 15 months and lived off of eating potatoes,” the then bachelor recalls. (Today, he enjoys tastier ice-cream treats with his young sons.)
Times were tight back then. Entrol’s first customer, Top Fly, a Barcelona school, purchased construction materials on its own credit card for the Bell 206 sim it ordered. (Yes indeed, Olarte is a good salesman.) From that first sale in 2005, Entrol survived year-to-year selling one sim at a time. Then they caught their first big break by selling to better known, established customers: an H135 sim to the Spanish Police and a Dauphin sim to NHV, an offshore operator in Belgium. “These customers helped our credibility as we established that the market was global,” Olarte said.
After these credibility boosting sales, the global financial crisis tsunami swept across companies large and small and slammed into Entrol through 2009-10. “Those were very challenging times, and we were hanging by a thread and at the end of our money. We borrowed from family and friends,” Olarte says, “but I think hard work pays off and in 2011, things changed for the better.” That year, the company sold five units (three helicopters and two fixed-wings). This began Entrol’s second growth spurt, as the still-small company was growing its technical capabilities and growing sales, selling approx. six units annually.
Entrol’s third growth stage began in 2017 and, surprisingly, continued through COVID. Although personnel challenges arose as accomplished engineers left for more established companies, Entrol started consistently selling between 10 to 15 units per year and the company expanded its training line to 15 helicopter models (20 models overall, including fixed-wing) while eventually growing its workforce to 40 employees. To keep up with Entrol’s overall increasing and improving personnel, Olarte undertook additional executive training at the University of Navarra’s respected IESE business school. “I felt I had to improve my managerial skills and be a better CEO so the company could grow,” he says, “The education program I did in 2017, helped me a lot and modified my approach to management and leadership; it taught me to lead by empowering people to do their work and manage the overall process, not to dictate each step. I am a fallible human, as we all are. When we collaborate with others we can catch each other’s mistakes and better see things that were overlooked. Collaboration creates better decisions and processes.”
This professional and business development is reaping dividends. Olarte says, “People now come to us. I can feel the difference in the way the market respects us as an industry training expert.” (That respect has reached North American markets and expect exciting announcements on that front soon.)
Now that Entrol is an established training player in its own right, fear not. Olarte is not resting on his laurels, which would rest on top of a pile of potato peels. “Work, work, work!” he says, “Reinvest, try new things every year, keep developing. The day you consider you have achieved everything or are at the top is the day to retire.”
Young at Heart
The 45-year-old says that retirement day is decades away. “Ultimately in regards to business, I am focused on the long term of the company,” Olarte says, and he can maintain that long-term focus because his two young sons (age nine months, and four years) keep him young. How many CEOs do you know change their kid’s diapers and prioritize taking their children to the school bus each morning, and eagerly build large models of the Millennium Falcon and Imperial Destroyer from Star Wars out of Legos? Oh, and what CEO quotes the hobbit Bilbo Baggins? When talking about the adventure of starting up Entrol on potatoes, Olarte said, “As Bilbo said, ‘It's a dangerous business going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.’”
Olarte’s child-like sense of wonder affects his leisure. “In regards to entertainment, I’m still a kid at heart in many aspects. I’m kind of a nerd who loves Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and I want to go to San Diego Comic-Con (the large annual sci-fi/fantasy convention). Yet, Olarte’s downtime is not confined to youthful entertainment. He also looks forward to time with his wife, Tania, and regularly reads The Economist to keep abreast of international news.
An international outlook is integral to the regulatory environment in which Entrol operates. “Regulations are a big challenge,” Olarte says. “There are lots of varied regulations and sometimes different interpretations of the same regulation between countries. Sometimes it is not clear what can or cannot be allowed and I think this should be improved in the medium term. It is clear that full flight simulators can do everything, but they cannot be afforded by all operators. Yet, we want to provide the best possible tools for all pilots everywhere, to make the skies safer.”
Bilbo would agree that’s a welcome journey’s end. Buen viaje!
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