Banner Business: Private Aviation Work Keeps Lake Bluff Resident on the Move
After returning from a stint in the Navy during the 1960s, Denny Banner was poised to become the fourth generation of Banners to work at their eponymous boiler firm on Chicago’s North Side. But when the application for $24,000 worth of GI benefits appeared, Banner was required to check a career path.
He chose pilot.
More than 45 years later, the Lake Bluff resident is a pilot – and more. He runs Banner Aviation, a one-stop private aviation shop. Banner will find the right plane for business clients, conduct maintenance after the purchase and often fly clients around the country.
“Salesmen for other companies are on a commission to get you to buy an airplane. Once you do, that guy’s gone,” says Banner over lunch at the Knollwood Club in Lake Forest. “I’m going to tell them what’s the best product out there to serve them best.
“I didn’t grow up in a family with the wherewithal to take flying lessons. I never imagined I’d be doing this.”
The path to Banner Aviation was unique. As a junior advertising salesman for a magazine company on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue after the Navy, his territory included Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming.
“I was flying my own Lear Jet, and I asked my boss one day, ‘Can I fly my territory? That’s when I realized private airplanes work for business,” said Banner, who has tallied more than 10,000 hours in the air – more than a full year of his life.
As Banner moved up the corporate ladder, he’d buy bigger and bigger planes for himself, and each job paid his expenses to meet clients. When he worked at CBS Publishing, others soon became interested in hiring him to fly them around — including a Chicago Bulls basketball player named Michael Jordan.
“I get a call and am told, ‘There’s a Mr. Jordan on the phone,’ ” recounted Banner. “He said in the summer months, he can’t go through O’Hare to fly to film Gatorade commercials and such because of security issues.
“When we flew Michael (during the offseason), we’d have lunch together, stay in the same hotels. It was a family affair.”
About seven years ago, the head of Leo Burnett, who had flown with Banner a few times, approached him and asked to buy his plane in exchange for a five-year deal to manage and fly it. Banner’s accountant suggested this philosophy made more business sense overall than owning the planes.
“I had negotiated fuel, hangars and other things for my own account. Why not so it for someone else?” he said.
Banner is invited to meetings at corporations, where he assesses what executives want and also suggests whether a certain plane makes sense based on a company’s cash flow. His niche is purchasing a pre-owned plane for between $500,000-$10 million — in places as far away as South America and Turkey – delivering it to a client and then managing the aircraft.
Though private aviation has been hurt by the sluggish economy, one advantage is a plane that cost $10 million in 2007, say, now can be bought for $5 million. And a good-looking airplane is a solid way to impress corporate customers.
“When you do this for a company, is generates business for them,” Banner said. “That’s the underlying theme.”
Call Denny Banner “The Airplane Guy” today 847-226-1128 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By David Sweet