INTERVIEWS

Story of Steven Udvar-Hazy, who left Hungary at the age of 12 and became a billionaire with air leasing

Why own an asset if you can make more money by charging someone else who is more interested in owning it than you? More or less it is from this thought that one can try to describe the existential and business trajectory of Steven Udvar-Hazy, to whom Forbes attributes a $ 4 billion worth. The name of this Hungarian immigrant is important because he can rightly be credited with creating the air leasing business. As with other successful cases, however, Hazy’s life does not begin in America, where he finds entrepreneurial success, even if it is precisely there that thanks to stubbornness, dedication, intuition and a bit of luck, he takes a direction that otherwise would have been. very unlikely.

In fact, Steven was born in Hungary in 1946 and as a child he witnessed the revolution of 1956 which was suffocated and repressed by the Soviet Union which tightened even more its control over that territory that had dared to try to become independent from the great giant of Eastern Europe. As with many other Europeans, not only from the East, who in those years accepted the risks and uncertainties of leaving everything behind in search of a better life, the Hazy family also arrived in New York in 1958, after an intermediate passage in Sweden. Steven’s first chore to try to help out household finances, Forbes reconstructs, is packing boxes in a Manhattan warehouse for 30 cents an hour. The boy’s great passion, however, are airplanes and in fact, says the New York Times, often after school he went to Idlewild airport, today John Fitzgerald Kennedy International Airport, to see the planes take off and land, recognizing in them a symbol of freedom.

The east coast of the United States, however, is not the final destination of the Hazy family who move to Los Angeles where Steven attends high school before being able to enter the business school of UCLA, University of California Los Angeles. In addition to providing theoretical knowledge, university studies are also able to stimulate the desire of an enterprising young person to try to do something concrete. Speech that is well suited to the characteristics of Steven who at 20, still tells the New York Times, collects money from a small group of Hungarian emigrants like him, starting to try to do some business in the aircraft sector. But he soon realizes an essential element to the continuation of this story: buying planes and renting them to third parties was an easier way to make money than owning your own airline. As Steven himself recalls during a speech held in 2018 at Utah Valley University, “I soon learned the fundamentals of a business and the bitter feeling of failure, when the expenses are greater than the income and you see that you cannot use the better the money of friends, family and acquaintances who have trusted you “.

In fact, Steven is starting a new sector of the American economy, what is now called air leasing. The first large sum he manages to get it, explains the Los Angeles Times, acting as a consultant and intermediary between two airlines in the purchase and sale of an engine for an airplane: the final commission for him amounts to 50 thousand dollars. With this money and that of a fellow student, who also involves his father, the leasing company was founded in 1973: the first purchase, the New York Times always remembers, a DC-8 used for rental at Aeroméxico, also if soon the fledgling International Lease Finance Corp. switches to dealing with more recent models. Deal after deal, the business model proved successful, so much so that when in 1983 the ILFC became a public company with a market value of 100 million dollars and assets for 200 million dollars and finally in 1990 it was sold to the American International Group for something like 1.3 billion dollars.

Steven, however, has no intention of leaving the world of aircraft and after spending several years as a consultant and adviser, among other things recognized and listened to by many giants in the aviation sector in the United States and around the world, in 2010 he started his second aircraft leasing company, Air Lease Corp. which in 2011 also became public. Because even Steven Udvar-Hazy, like the planes that as a boy he observed landing and taking off from the New York airport, needs to be free, to follow his routes and paths, flying, it is appropriate to say, on the wings of that airline business that he has always wanted to explore.

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