Featured Employee: John Phillips


John Phillips, Chief Pilot

Like all large companies, senior leaders constantly have meetings all over North America.  In order to get A. O. Smith executives where they need to go quickly and efficiently, the company is fortunate enough to have John Phillips on their team.  With thousands of hours of flying under his belt, the Chief Pilot safely delivers A. O. Smith's team members to their needed destinations. 

Get to know John…

Q: Where are you from?
Tempe, Arizona.  When I got hired I was living in Minneapolis, so it wasn’t a big transition when I moved for A. O. Smith.

Q: How would you describe what you do?
My official title is chief pilot, so I’m in charge of a small part of corporate transportation.

Q: How did you get into flying?
I have just always loved flying.  My dad and grandfather were pilots, and I flew all over with them.  That is where my love for flying began.  I’ve been flying various airplanes since I was 12, so I’ve been flying my whole life, but you obviously can’t get your license until you’re 16.  For someone coming into the profession, I’d say it would take 10 years before being able to apply to a corporate position like ours.  Piloting is a continuous education; we attend recurrent training on the plane we are flying every year.  Formal schooling is a step, but actual flying experience is far more important.  At the bare minimum, you need at least 5,000 to 6,000 hours.  I have flown commercial for private jets for years. 

Q: How much time have you spent flying?
Over 10,000 hours of flight time.

Q: What do you like about being a corporate pilot?
I especially like flying the people of A. O. Smith around.  We have a lot of great people that work here.  I love flying, and the bonus is being with all the amazing people we have working with us, especially our other captain Rodney (Onstad).  Rodney and I are joined at the hip, and are really good friends.  Neither of us can get in the plane and fly without the other.     

Q: What is the most challenging part of your position?
It probably is our scheduling because we run a pretty tight ship considering there are just two pilots, Rodney and I.  Between aircraft maintenance, piloting, crewing, and the flight schedule itself, it is tough.  To be fair, it’s scheduled out days in advance, but the company can always call us whenever they need us.  They can call us anytime day or night; it’s not the norm, but we have to be ready to go at all times.  So I’d say just juggling it all is difficult, but I love it.    

Q: What is the most rewarding part?
I think Rodney and I both get a lot of satisfaction from being able to move our executives around quickly when they wouldn’t be able to make their destination on time with an airline.  We can arrive at multiple destinations in one day. 

Q: How do you prepare for flying upper level executives around the world?
First, there’s a process of scheduling done through Zivka (Styles) who gets the necessary things done.  We’re always ready for the senior leaders, but there are a number of things we have to do first.  We go through the process (pre and post-flight examination, making sure hotels are booked, catering, using a taxi and limo service, etc.) a lot so we can be ready to fly really quickly.  We do have a maintenance crew, but the pilots are the ones that have the responsibility to make sure the plane is airworthy.  We’re not mechanics, but we know what to look out for.  We try to mitigate all the little things that can go wrong.

Q: What is the craziest story you have from being a pilot?
Unfortunately, we can’t publish most of them.  I used to fly around a lot of famous people, and let’s just say they have a lot of fun! I have so many great stories, but you’ll have to talk to me in person!

Q: What has been your most memorable flight?
I’ve had a lot of really great flights. One of the most memorable flights that is coming to mind is when I did some aircraft ferrying with broken airplanes. I had to fly them up to the United States from Central America, and they really were not in good shape. We had to hope for the best because we had no clue what was going to happen.  They all worked out fine, but they were a lot of fun. 

Q: When you’re in a plane as a passenger does it irritate you?
I don’t have any problem with that. Once a pilot gets to the airline level, they’re all great pilots. What bothers me bothers everyone else, the flights are overcrowded, and service isn’t great. 

Q: What do you like the most about working for A.O. Smith?
It’s the people. We have an outstanding group of individuals. I half-jokingly tell all of my friends that we only hire geniuses at A. O. Smith. The employees here never fail to impress me. I’ve worked elsewhere and it’s outstanding here. 

Q: Where is your favorite destination to fly to and why?
Anywhere warm!  If we are talking about company flights, I would say I like San Francisco the most. If we are talking about my favorite place to fly to, it’s Beef Island, Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.  It’s a fun short airstrip in the Caribbean surrounded by mountains and built on a bed of rocks. It’s kind of like landing on an aircraft carrier, but better!

Q: What are your other interests and hobbies other than flying?
I like skydiving along with snowboarding, water-skiing, and sailing. I do a lot of yoga, I really enjoy yoga. 

Q: What are your goals/dreams for the future?
I do not want to sound cliché, but I feel like I am living the dream. I love what I do, and to me, that’s the most important thing.