Sheltair Evolves And Grows As A Family Business
FORT LAUDERDALE – Jerry Holland still reports to work in a newly renovated building at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport (FXE) where four decades earlier his construction company started erecting aircraft hangars—the genesis of Sheltair Aviation.
Now in his late eighties, Holland founded Holland Builders in 1963; the company initially was focused on residential and commercial real estate development and later added airport properties to its portfolio. In 1988, he formed Sheltair Aviation, which today lays claim to being the nation’s largest privately owned network of FBOs and managed aviation properties.
Holland named his daughter, Lisa, as president of Sheltair Aviation in February 2020; she became chairman and CEO in 2022. Lisa’s husband, Frank Seymour, is a senior vice president and their son, Kai, joined the company as a management trainee in 2020. Lisa Holland appointed Todd Anderson, previously Sheltair senior vice president of aviation development, as COO in May 2020.
The Holland name figures prominently—the road outside the company's headquarters building at FXE is known locally as Holland Way—but Sheltair Aviation is no small, hidebound operation, says CFO Chris Appleton. “I don’t want people to confuse ‘family’ with ‘mom and pop,’” he advises. “This is a very professionally run organization; it’s a large company with over 500 employees. Lisa expects it to be run that way, but at the same time it is a family business.”
As an aside, Appleton notes: “Walmart is a family business.”
FBOs And Aviation-Related Real Estate
Sheltair currently operates 17 FBOs and a portfolio of 4.5 million ft.² of aviation-related properties. The company designs, builds and oversees development projects that include FBOs, hangar facilities and office buildings. It has its own FBO at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport but not at FXE; there, it leases property to Banyan Air Service and an office facility to Norse Atlantic Airways.
Appleton joined Sheltair in May 2020 after a 23-year career with Embraer Aircraft Holding. He served in multiple senior roles with the Brazilian manufacturer and helped facilitate the construction of its Phenom and Praetor assembly facility in Melbourne, Florida, which opened in 2011.
Appleton arrived at Sheltair two months after the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic. The company weathered the crisis relatively well, he says; its real estate business, which consists mainly of hangar space, remained steady. FBO fuel sales with partner Avfuel initially plummeted with the lapse in flight activity but rebounded within six months. Key to its emergence from the pandemic, Sheltair kept its workforce intact and did not lay off people. “Family first,” part of its mission statement, is a sentiment that includes employees, Appleton emphasizes.
The FBO landscape changed during the pandemic, seeing a spurt in major acquisitions and consolidation. In 2021, a consortium of private equity firms Blackstone, Cascade and Global Infrastructure acquired leading FBO network Signature Aviation, which operates more than 200 locations globally, for $4.7 billion. KKR acquired Atlantic Aviation from Macquarie Infrastructure Corp. for $4.475 billion.
In 2022, Signature acquired 14 TAC Air locations. Atlantic Aviation picked up three TAC Air locations from Signature and completed a previously announced merger with Ross Aviation, growing to more than 100 locations.
Mergers, Acquisitions And Consolidation
Appleton expects the trend in mergers and acquisitions will continue, noting that it also presents opportunities for family-owned Sheltair. “It seems that [investors] targeted FBO networks and individual, independently owned operations and, frankly, there’s not a lot of them left,” he says. “We continually look for those opportunities as well. We have a large credit facility that we have available to us. We have the capital available to make these kinds of acquisitions; it’s finding the right ones that fit into our strategy.”
Sheltair’s FBO network in recent years has fluctuated in size. After receiving what it described in a press release as an “unsolicited overture” from equity-backed Modern Aviation in 2021, Sheltair opted to sell its five FBOs in New York and effectively withdraw from the Northeast. It completed the divestiture to Modern Aviation in September 2022, for a time contracting to 14 FBO locations.
During and after the Modern Aviation transaction, Sheltair added a new FBO with the acquisition of Apex Executive Jet Center at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in 2021, opened its first FBO in Texas at Denton Enterprise Airport in December 2022 and announced a new location at Gwinnett County Airport near Atlanta in January. It has been engaged in hangar construction projects at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield, Colorado, Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport in Georgia and multiple locations in Florida, including a major expansion of its facility at Tampa International Airport.
Sheltair’s latest moves reveal a strategic focus on the Southeast, closer to its Florida foundation. “We saw our core, where we really wanted to grow, was in our backyard—where we currently have locations to expand, new locations in the Southeast [and] also out west,” Appleton says. “That’s where we see our market. We’re redeploying the capital we got as part of the sale [to Modern Aviation] to locations where we want to grow our market.”
The company opened its new corporate headquarters at FXE last December after relocating its offices from Oakland Park, Florida. Lisa Holland led a “passion-driven project” to renovate the two-story, 20,000 ft.² structure that Sheltair originally built in 1987. “I am so excited to finally have a corporate presence on an airport,” she said, announcing the new headquarters. “Especially [at] FXE, where it all began when my father purchased hangars almost 40 years ago.”