James Sudbury, the Director of Finance for Airway Services, has learned many lessons throughout his career, the biggest of which is this:
“The one thing I know, after doing numbers for a pretty long time, is that the number guys should never be in charge.”
He said that with a laugh, but he meant it. Sudbury has been “working in numbers” for more than 30 years. In that time, he has helped a lot of companies grow. But, he says, the company needs visionaries just as much as it needs realists.
Sudbury is a realist. He is, pardon the phrase, a very paint-by-numbers type of guy. But that mindset has lent itself well to a career that has spanned more than three decades.
And now, after more than thirty years in his line of work, Sudbury is getting ready to retire.
“It’s my birthday present to myself,” Sudbury said.
But before we get to the end of Sudbury’s career, we have to talk about the beginning, and the middle.
It was in the middle of his career that Sudbury became the Director of Finance for Airway Services. Previously, he and a partner owned a consulting business, helping other companies find ways to grow. Airway Services was one of those companies. One of the owners of the company wanted to buy out the other partner and, in order to do so, they hired Sudbury’s company to help ‘get the books in order.’
Throughout that process, Sudbury became friends with Chase Hord, the Chief Operating Officer of Airway Services. The two began discussing the possibility of Sudbury coming on board, as Airway was growing at a tremendous rate and Sudbury himself had one eye on retirement already. So, he decided to come work for Airway Services in 2017. It was a win-win – he could wind down his own practice in preparation of his retirement, while also helping a company get its own affairs in order as it began its ascent. Sudbury liked the challenge and he accepted a position.
“Wind is a great business,” Sudbury said. “I recognized that. But it was really about the people I knew at Airway and doing what I could to try and help the company. I found Chase to be a really great leader. He’s great at being able to select the talent around him and once he selects a person, he’s not the kind of guy to micromanage. He’s of the belief that you hire good people and then turn them loose to do their job. And everybody is pulling together, to the same end.”
Sudbury name dropped Jonathan Click and Dusty Jensen as two people for whom he held a great deal of respect as well, and said it was the leadership that made him want to join the Airway team.
“The tone is set from the top,” he stated. “If we mess something up, we’ll say so. We own that, and we’ll come back with a solution. As a business, I think that’s a great way to do business and what sets us apart from many of our competitors.”
That’s not the only thing that distinguishes Airway Services from its competitors, though.
“I think it’s our commitment to excellence and doing the right thing and working with our customers as a true partner,” he revealed.
That’s what sets Airway Services apart and that’s the message that they want to continue to spread. It’s that mindset that has helped Airway to grow exponentially over its short history.
“When I started being involved with the company in 2015…the company is four times bigger today than it was back then,” Sudbury claimed.
Despite his self-deprecating tone, Sudbury was a big part of Airway’s success. And now, after helping to ensure the company’s future, he wants to focus on his present.
Sudbury has worked long hours, both for Airway Services and for his own company. The biggest thing he’s looking forward to with his retirement is a simple notion.
“I’m looking forward to spending some time with my wife, to tell you the truth,” he said. “It’s been a pretty busy several years, going through a couple acquisitions and having the kind of growth that we’ve gone through. So, I’m looking forward to spending some quality time with her. We’re planning on doing some traveling and I bought a retirement place in a golf course community, so I plan on playing a little golf, and doing some volunteer things with my church and in the community. It’s important for me to stay active and to be contributing to something…to the greater good, if you will.”
For 8 years, first as a consultant and then as an employee, Sudbury has contributed to the growth of Airway Services. Though he was the numbers guy and, in his own words, should never have been in charge, he was instrumental in the company’s success. Sudbury is helping to train his successor and is committed to ‘ensuring a smooth transition,’ but what he may not know, or believe, is that he’s actually irreplaceable.
“James joined the team as a consultant in 2015 to help Airway Services navigate a partner buyout,” Chase Hord said of his employee, of his friend. “After working closely with James over the next year, I began to admire his knowledge and unfounded respect in the banking world and asked him to relocate and join the Airway team full-time. A lot of people say when a person is leaving an organization that they were instrumental in their success, but I can honestly say Airway Services flat out wouldn’t be here today without James’s leadership and commitment to the organization’s success. Over the last 8 years, he has helped us grow our business 3.6 times; he has led and mentored our finance team, and helped align our organization to be the best postured ISP in the industry. I can’t say thank you enough for all of the long hours and countless nights of sleep to help the organization to be the best.
“May your retirement days be long and filled with fun and family. You’ve always set a great example and been a mentor throughout your career, and I know whatever you are doing in retirement, you will have a positive impact on those around you. Wishing you nothing but sunny days on a golf course and peaceful nights on a cruise ship from here on out! I’m excited for all the new opportunities with Lisa and your life.
“Take care my friend.”