Max Hussmann was just an 18-year-old when he realized he wanted to make his own money. He would do this through Elegance Group, a company in the business aviation industry. While doing this, Hussmann is also swimming laps in the pool in the hope of competing for Germany in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Born in Accra, Ghana, Hussmann completed his schooling in Germany and spent most of his time flying between Africa and Europe.
At the time, his parents worked in Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea and the young Hussmann learnt to speak French, Portuguese, German and English. When Hussmann was about to turn eight, his mother took him to a school in Germany. He stayed there until he completed a degree in international relations and finance.
“My holidays were always spent catching a plane and flying down to Africa to see my dad. And then I always went back and forth,” he says.
Once his degree was completed, he spent a summer working in Greece and forgot about a career in international relations and finance.
“I always wanted to become a pilot. Aviation was always my big dream,” says Hussmann.
After a few chats between father and son, it was agreed that the family would pay half the cost of a pilot course in Germany and Hussmann would pay the rest. His father would pay the other half back to him when he completed the course.
But when an opportunity arose to work for Brazil’s largest carrier, TAM Airlines, Hussmann didn’t think twice. He packed his bags and moved to Brazil without finishing the course.
After two and a half years in Sao Paulo , Hussmann had dinner with the former vice president of TAM Airlines, Fernando Sporleder. The dinner was a brainstorming meeting on aviation. It was over starters that he realized he wanted to make it on his own. There were a lot of decisions made by TAM Airlines’ management that he would have done differently. He realized the airlines were doing things he could do himself.
Business aviation was a tough industry and needed a lot of capital to break into. It was a market that was growing incredibly fast in Latin America and Europe.
But his idea for Elegance was an unrealistic one. It was a dream based on risk.
At the same time, he felt the need to finally finish the pilot course at the Gryphon Flight Academy in South Africa, where it was most affordable.
“Having my heart and spirit set on the African continent was for me the point of a very simple decision that I’m going to South Africa. I moved to Cape Town initially. Obviously as a foreigner in South Africa your dream is to be in Cape Town. I stayed in Cape Town for a year and very quickly realized that Cape Town wasn’t the place for this industry I want to get into,” says Hussmann.
He moved to Johannesburg a year later where he finished the course. Elegance moved to South Africa just before the soccer World Cup in 2010 and Hussmann thought that the business would be able to play a role in the biggest sporting event in the world.
He had grown up speaking four languages and this was his opportunity to use them.
But he quickly learnt that it wasn’t going to be easy and Elegance had no chance in the market at that stage.
He says many governments still take aviation for granted. It is an overly regulated industry that lags on associated infrastructure investment and it is difficult for newcomers to cut their teeth in the industry.
“I realized there are big competitors here who have established successful companies. But, my goal was always from the word go, to one day turn around and be the bigger one and it still is. I want to be the bigger one, not through monopoly in the country and not through hierarchy, but through innovative and creative ways of business,” says Hussmann.
Elegance survived and thrived. Hussmann started Elegance Group which now has different targets and divisions that he hopes will help him attain his goal of becoming the industry’s leading aviation specialist. The divisions include a concierge and charter service called Elegance Air, a sport consulting division and Aviation Consulting which, since 2012, has a footprint in Germany, Hong Kong, South Africa and Brazil.
Hussmann says he is the first business aviation company in Southern Africa to offer the hour package flying principle.
“Companies are able to buy bulk hours of 25 or 50 hours and utilize them to their own flexibility. And it brings huge flexibility to companies, it brings a certain ownership to your hours, and huge tax benefits. Again, a concept that comes from Europe and hasn’t been implemented here,” he says.
One of the reasons it is not in Africa yet is that companies are worried that selling hourly packages is a huge risk in a country where the aviation sector is not yet stable.
But why have such a versatile company that combines sport and aviation?
“They’re both driven industries. I myself have been heavily involved in sports on the swimming side. It is both a future orientated and innovative industry. You can draw a lot of goals and focus from sport into business. Being versatile comes from something I’ve learned from Virgin Group. That’s exactly where Elegance Group is going. Not being rigid in one industry,” he says.
As for expanding the business and becoming an industry leader in the business aviation trade, Hussmann considers moving into countries similar to those that his parents have worked in.
Maybe Hussmann can win a gold medal in both African aviation and the Olympic Games. It never hurts to dream.