Kathryn Purwin has been the chief executive at Helinet since 2015, taking over for her husband and the company’s founder, Alan, after his passing. The former jet pilot now runs the helicopter service out of Van Nuys Airport, overseeing a staff of 85 who provide private chartered helicopter flights and manage firefighting helicopters, medical emergency airlifts and transplant organ transportation. While the pandemic slowed business, Purwin said the next year will bring growth.
What did you learn from the pandemic? We’re a very hands-on business, because pilots have to be here to fly and do maintenance. So we’re a company that usually can’t, as a whole, work remotely. However, we did learn that some things could be done remotely here. Some of our meetings, we’re still holding remotely. It’s actually a great thing, because now somebody is out of town, they don’t have to miss the meeting. Or if they’re home sick, they don’t have to miss the meeting. I think, like a lot of other businesses, we learned that it’s a different way to communicate, a different way to have meetings, to be more efficient online. And so that was good for us – it’s something that will carry through.How has your gender influenced the way you run your business?It hasn’t. Definitely, I notice it’s a male dominated industry – I mean, I was pilot, I flew jets in my 20s, which was long enough ago that that was that was a rarity. So I’m used to being in a male-dominated industry. I have to say that I have not had an unusual amount of pushback from people. … It helps to have a pilot background, I think people respect that. But for the most part, I would say that it doesn’t affect the relationships that I have with people or the respect that I get from people.How would you describe your management style?I have an open door. So anybody, and everybody, comes in. There are some people that would say that that gets in the way of being efficient or gets in the way of the hierarchy, but it works for me and it works for our company. … I definitely am a believer in policies and procedures and so I do have that side but, I would say, it’s important to me to be connected with everybody at every level in this company.How do you plan to grow your business?We just recently started a firefighting division, and we’re growing that really fast. We have a very big drone department – we do a lot of production work with drones – and we’re trying to move that into other areas such as utility work. So our drone department will certainly expand. I would say those are two areas that will grow for sure. And we’re just open because the aviation business is evolving, and we want to be a part of the change. We want to disrupt ourselves before somebody else can come in and disrupt us.
What is a favorite memory about your business?Our employee lunches. It’s just a time where everybody – we even have former employees that come join us – we get up and we talk and we raffle off a helicopter ride and we celebrate everyone who had a birthday that month. It’s just a great time to just connect with people and you’re not talking about business, you’re talking about their kids, you’re talking about their vacation they just got back from and how it was 123 degrees in Vegas. To me, those are some of my favorite moments because you get to connect on a completely personal level with people at all different levels in the company.What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?It’s just not easy. You’ve got to love it, you got to love the people you’re with. If you lose touch, if you stop caring about people and it starts getting easy to fire somebody or have tough conversations with people, then maybe you shouldn’t even be doing it. My advice is: It’s tough, but it’s wonderful. And it’s all about creating a family and a community to me. This is my analysis of business, which may be completely different from somebody else’s, but I love it. And I love it for reasons that might be different from somebody else coming in and starting a business.