Hill Aircraft & Leasing Corp.
There seems to have been a strong survival instinct built into the DNA of Guy Hill Sr., founder and patriarch of Hill Aircraft & Leasing Corp., a 58-year-old family-owned full-service fixed-base operator (FBO) that offers aircraft management and charter, maintenance, parts distribution and aircraft sales.
After crashing his plane in 1942 during a training flight and being pronounced dead, Hill was discovered to have a pulse. A doctor pronounced him alive and fit to fly, which he did during the rest of WWII.
Guy Hill Sr. passed away in 2004, but not before he made sure his five children were in shape to manage the general aviation company, which is based at Atlanta’s Fulton County Air-port-Brown Field, he left to them.
“When he was in the hospital, he called me down to meet with him and told me to bring my yellow pad,” recalls Guy Hill Jr. “One of the things dad had me put on that yellow pad was he wanted my four sisters to be on the board.”
That move was intended to tighten up what had been a rather loose business structure, followed by the arrival of a family business consultant who helped the Hills construct a buy/sell agreement, a sort of escape hatch for any family member who wanted to get out of the business. The consultant also took on the role of referee during board meetings. “Sometimes emotions run high in a family business,” says Hill Jr., the company’s CEO. “And having that facilitator made all the difference. Getting those emotional discussions out of the way so we could get to the meat of updating the buy/sell agreement was important.”
Today’s Hill Aircraft family ownership and executive corps includes Hill Jr., his mother Annie Hill, Anna Hill Miller, Pat Hill Camp, Larry and Carol Hill Westbrook and Sharon Hill Fields. The company has been named one of the two top FBOs in the state of Georgia for seven of the last eight years by Aviation International News.
But the junior Hill sees other family-related records as more important. “The five Hill family children are all still married to their original spouses,” Hill says. “In recent years, we have survived one of the worst economic downturns in history, especially in our industry, because of the strong and decisive leadership of the family management.”
Hill Aircraft is known for its role as a strong supporter of youth charities, offering college scholarships in aviation management programs. The company is especially close to Southwest Christian Hospice in Union City, where the senior Hill served on the board for 30 years and where he spent his last days.
Guy Hill Jr. says the 32-employee company is not just a family business, it is a family-centered business. “But my promise to my father was if the business ever separates the family, we will sell the business,” he says.
For the leadership and values held by the Hill family, Hill Aircraft is winner of the Cox Family Enterprise Center’s Family Business of the Year Award in the small firm category. – Ed Lightsey