11 Apr 2013

Travel: Secrets of an International Jet Broker

Douglas Blyde meets Steve Varsano, the London-based jet broker to the world’s elite (for Vertu)
Steve Varsano observes opportunity in cars creeping Hyde Park Corner. ‘When the light changes, the guy in the chauffeur driven car has to look right into this 10ft of window. The highest net worth window in four continents.’

Taking four years and 306 people to realise, his window, now clear, but opaque at the touch of a button, incorporates an Airbus ACJ319 fuselage, complete with hum and clouds. It’s the centrepiece within the first street level showroom for jet sales.
‘It’s a combination of trading floor, showroom and technology scheme. There are 19,000 private jets. We focus on super-midsize, long-range and airline VIP. Each year, 2,000 trade, with 700 new coming to market. With our team of 12 updating their presence, minute-by-minute, we compare every one.’
Varsano designed an application to take clients through the process of selecting which airplane best meets their needs. ‘Most people we deal with have ADD: my idea is to empower them by putting information in their hands.’ Overlooking a massive screen, Varsano shows how many planes could reach a chosen destination of Almaty – ‘good if you like oil wells’ - from London, given specific variables. ‘13 exist at $26m or less, nine years-old or less, which can carry six,’ he says, proceeding to show their actual dimensions, range, cost and avionics.
Varsano took his first flying lesson at 14. ‘I got my degree in aeronautical studies at Embry Riddle, the Harvard of the skies.’ He subsequently became a lobbyist, representing aircraft manufacturers on Capitol Hill. ‘Fantastic for ego, but it paid nothing, so by night I worked as waiter in a club in the first days of discotheques. Tough having a guy moaning because you didn’t fill his coffee cup...’
Fortunately things improved. ‘I went into corporate takeovers for 14-years. But my passion for planes remained.’ On returning to aviation, Varsano noted a different climate. ‘In the early days the market was North and South America and Europe, and I would go to see clients when others did business on the telephone. All of a sudden the world got bigger. Russia and China and Africa were buying. But what you’d have to do to see a client was unbelievable, logistically. So I came up with the idea of bringing clients to me.’ 
Varsano’s work ethic stems from his mother who raised four children single-handed. ‘At seven years-old I swept floors in the beauty salon where she worked. But life evolved.’ The experience remains vivid. ‘I appreciate every dollar. I admire every high net worth person. They’re what make the world tick: intellectuals, entrepreneurs and government and corporate leaders. Fingers on the pulse.’
But how is such an expensive operation to succeed in 2013? ‘Do you really know what the economy’s doing? The economy in central London isn’t that of Surrey, or Paris, or New York. Where in New York? Don’t read page one of a newspaper. Read page two. Much more positive...’
For Vertu