Homegrown in Boise, ID, 1,4GROUP is a small company with an unusual name and a global footprint. It was founded in 1990 by John Forsythe’s father Darol, who passed his expertise in potato storage on to his son. For nearly 50 years, the family has used business airplanes to serve rural farmers and food producers.
“My dad bought the first airplane back in 1971, a Piper Cherokee D,” said Forsythe, the CEO. “He needed to get to potato farms in rural areas that would take all day to drive to or travel on the airlines. With the airplane, we could be in multiple towns and back the same night.”
After scouring university research for a better way to keep potatoes from spoiling in storage, Forsythe’s father in 1993 found the compound 1,4-dimethyl naphthalene. It occurs naturally in potato skins, where it prevents sprouting during the winter. The company marketed it as 1,4SIGHT.
The business grew quickly, and 1,4GROUP stepped up to piston twins and turboprops to reach new customers across North America. Forsythe, who had clipped coupons and worked weekends to take flying lessons in high school, has been chief pilot for more than 30 years.
“Airplanes have been invaluable for growing our business. We could not be where we are without an airplane.”
Brian Winn Global Sales Director, 1,4GROUP
“Airplanes have been invaluable for growing our business,” said Brian Winn, global sales director. “We could not be where we are without an airplane.”
By 2019, 1,4GROUP was operating two aircraft, a Piper Arrow and a Cheyenne 400. The company had customers across the United States, Canada and Europe. With 100 employees at a packaging facility in El Salvador, and 18 at the headquarters in Meridian, ID, the firm was expanding to serve farmers in North and South America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Forsythe loved flying the Cheyenne, even across the border to Canada and down to El Salvador, with a stop in Brownsville, TX. However, as the turboprop became more expensive to maintain, and with a global market to serve, it was finally time to step up to a jet.
After years of planning, Forsythe found the perfect airplane, at the perfect price. He had been disciplined, cost-conscious and finally took delivery of a Cessna Citation CJ2. Then COVID-19 hit.
Seizing the Moment
For the first two months of 2020, 1,4GROUP was “flying the wings off” the CJ2. In March, the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico were closed. Customers put off meetings, and agricultural trade shows were cancelled. Despite the shutdowns, Forsythe never doubted buying the jet. In fact, he took advantage of the downtime to invest further in the aircraft and the flight operation.
First, Forsythe hired Bryan Carson as the company’s first flight department manager (see sidebar below).
“When John brought me on board in April 2020, he told me 1,4GROUP is growing and he needed to spend more time on the big picture,” said Carson. “He wanted to gradually pass the aviation duties off to me. Now I’m taking over responsibility for maintenance, safety and scheduling.”
With the pandemic grounding the aircraft for weeks at a time, Carson went to simulator training for his type rating in the CJ2. Forsythe had earned his upon taking delivery, and the two are 1,4GROUP’s only full-time pilots, although they rely on a few contract pilots when one of them is not available.
“It took a lot of work, stepping up to a jet. The type rating, as I see it, is just a license to learn the airplane.”
John Forsythe CEO, 1,4 GROUP
“It took a lot of work, stepping up to a jet,” said Forsythe. “The type rating, as I see it, is just a license to learn the airplane. Every time we fly, we’re learning how to operate the airplane in the most efficient way possible, to be even safer.”
Forsythe and Carson keep detailed records of each flight they make. They record how they handled approaches and takeoffs, and how the airplane performed in various situations. Then they discuss the trips.
“We looked at our logs and we realized, for example, we needed to focus on our descent fuel burns,” said Forsythe. “We saw we were landing with 5% less fuel than we’d calculated. Even though we had reserves, we said, ‘Let’s find out why,’ so now we’re dialing that in.”
Flying as Much as Possible
During most of 2020, 1,4GROUP’s flying was on a wait-and-see basis, due to COVID-19 restrictions and health precautions.
“We did a lot of video conference calls with customers, but we kept wanting to go see them in person,” said Forsythe. “We were able to do a number of meetings at FBOs, always maintaining social distance and sanitizing the plane between flights.”
When the pandemic caused another lull in flying in June, 1,4GROUP took advantage of the downtime to send the CJ2 in for a major engine inspection and later have winglets installed, which boost the aircraft’s performance at high altitude.
With the jet in the shop, Carson began updating 1,4GROUP’s safety programs. He turned to the Citation Jet Pilots type club for suggestions and references for training, procedures and guidelines for writing flight manuals.
“We’re looking to fly twice as many hours in 2021 [as in 2020]. That’s our forecast, because our salespeople are always wanting to meet face-to-face with our customers.”
Bryan Carson Chief Pilot & Flight Department Manager, 1,4 GROUP
One of Carson’s first big projects was developing the flight department’s new budget for operating a jet – no easy feat with travel so unpredictable. He began by reaching out to heads of each department in the 1,4GROUP – sales, finance, regulatory compliance, etc. – asking them to estimate their air travel needs for 2021.
“Bryan surveyed each department and asked how many trips they needed each month,” explained Forsythe. “We translated trips to hours, built our flight schedule and our budget, and it came to 420 hours for 2021. The most expensive place for the aircraft to be is in the hangar.”
Some of those hours may be scaled back as meetings early in the year go virtual, but “we’re looking to fly twice as many hours in 2021 [as in 2020],” said Carson, “That’s our forecast, because our salespeople are always wanting to meet face-to-face with our customers.”
Even before adding the jet, 1,4GROUP flew weekly from Boise to potato-growing regions across the U.S. The Dakotas, California, Arizona, Texas and Colorado are frequent stops. The company makes an international trip about every month. For trips in good weather around Idaho and eastern Washington, the Arrow is used.
Boots on the Ground
Two administrative assistants schedule the airplanes as far in advance as possible, based on each department’s requests. And yet, they set aside at least 50 hours a year for unscheduled trips to respond immediately to customers struggling with potato storage anywhere in the country.
“That’s part of the service we provide our customers if a potato grower calls up with a problem,” said Winn. “To be able to get on the plane and have boots on the ground the next morning, looking at the potato pile, that’s a huge asset for customers.”
With such a busy flying schedule, 1,4GROUP will likely use contract pilots more often, making one of them a part-time third captain. Although the CJ2 is certified for single-pilot operation, the company always operates with two pilots for safety reasons.
As the world emerges from the pandemic, flying will only become more essential to 1,4GROUP’s growth.
“Because,” as Forsythe said, “you can make a phone call, that’s great, but face-to-face is irreplaceable.”
Still Flying, but Focusing on Being CEO
For many years, John Forsythe was both the CEO and only full-time pilot of 1,4GROUP. Previously, when employees needed to travel, he would fly them in the Piper Arrow or Cheyenne 400 himself. Now, with the addition of Flight Department Manager Bryan Carson, there are two full-time company pilots.
When 1,4GROUP acquired its first jet, Forsythe decided it was time to bring in a full-time flight department manager and start handing over some of the aviation responsibilities.
So Forsythe hired longtime friend and fellow pilot Bryan Carson. An aerospace engineer who helped lead an R&D team at a Boise, ID semiconductor company, Carson had the flight hours and managerial skills to be 1,4GROUP’s aviation manager. Carson also is a development engineer on the food science side of the business. Today, he and Forsythe fly together in the CJ2.
Despite the hours spent on the flight deck, Forsythe is productive as a flying CEO. If an employee has a three-hour meeting with a farmer in a distant town, Forsythe sets up shop at the local FBO.
“I have my laptop, I can answer emails and make calls,” he explained, “A lot of work gets done while waiting for a passenger to come back to the airport.”
Most important, Forsythe remains focused on the big picture. Employees say he checks in with everybody once a week, asking, “What can I do to help you get your job done?”
Aircraft: One Cessna Citation CJ2 and one Piper Arrow
Base: Headquartered at Idaho’s Boise Airport (BOI)
Personnel: One flight department manager and one CEO/chief pilot