Kohl's flight department

National retailer with more than 1100 stores in 49 states prizes personal connections and flies Challenger 605 and Learjet 45XR. Av division partners with EJM to maintain high standards.

By Cindy Youngblood
Contributing Writer

Kohl's flight dept poses on the ramp at MKE by the company's Challenger 605. From left to right are Lead Pilot in Command Frank Duckwall, Lead Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic Alex Kalempa, Sr Capt Joel VanDeKreeke, Capt Alvin Gonzalez, Capt and Safety Officer Ranon Amundson, A&P Jeff Hattendorf and Capt Brian McBryde.

Kohl's first started as a corner grocery store in Milwaukee WI in 1927, when Maxwell Kohl opened the small business that eventually grew into the largest supermarket chain in the Milwaukee area.

In the wake of his success, Kohl expanded and opened a department store in Brookfield WI in 1962. Kohl's was positioned between the higher-end stores and the discounters, selling everything from candy to engine oil to sporting equipment.

In 1978, BATUS Inc, the US division of British American Tobacco, purchased an 80% stake in the Kohl's Food and Department Stores and the Kohl family left its ties. A group of investors then purchased the company in 1986, took it public in 1992. Today Kohl's is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol KSS and ranks 145th on the Fortune 500 list.

Headquartered in Menomonee Falls, a suburb of Milwaukee, today Kohl's operates more than 1100 stores across 49 states, has approximately 140,000 associates and generates annual sales of approximately $19 billion. Additionally, Kohl's has 13 distribution centers that move merchandise to stores, e-fulfillment centers that ship online orders to customers, and several customer service call centers for e-commerce and credit opera-tions around the country.

For more than 50 years, the family-oriented store has brought style and savings to shoppers, offering a variety of clothing for the whole family, and home goods and accessories from national, private and exclusive brands.

Launch of Kohl's flight dept

Kohl's operates more than 1000 stores across 49 states and employs approx. 140,000 associates. Popular clothing brands distributed by the company include Adidas, Columbia, Dockers, Nike and Under Armour.

Kohl's operates according to 5 strategic and fundamental pillars: amazing products, incredible savings, easy experience, personalized connections and winning teams. And one of the company's winning teams is the aviation department.

As Kohl's continued to grow and expand, the ability to travel coast-to-coast for meetings with business partners and colleagues, and to visit stores, distribution centers and credit facilities became essential and required better travel options. So Kohl's executives began chartering aircraft in the late 1990s with Sterling Aviation Management at MKE (General Mitchell Intl, Milwaukee WI).

In 2009, the company decided to purchase its 1st aircraft, a Learjet 45XR, and had Sterling manage and crew it. Kohl's purchased a 2nd Learjet 45XR in 2011 and decided it was time to launch their own flight department.

Company executives called Frank Duckwall, a pilot for Sterling who had flown them on numerous trips, to see if he was interested in joining the company. At the time, Duckwall was flying as captain on a Learjet 55 and Challenger 601 and 605 for RJ Corman Railroad group in Lexington KY, but he knew leading the launch of Kohl's flight dept was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

With 10,000 flight hours (7500 in jets), Duckwall returned to MKE to become chief pilot for Kohl's. He helped purchase Kohl's 2nd Learjet, hired a team of pilots and maintenance crew – all from Sterling – and officially started the company's flight dept.

Partnership with Executive Jet Management

Early on Duckwall discussed the direction and structure of the flight dept with company executives. They wanted to take things to the next level, and because aviation is not the company's core business, they wanted to partner with a specialist. After considerable evaluation, Kohl's chose to partner with Executive Jet Management (EJM), a large, structured and established management company.

"By partnering with EJM, we have the best of both worlds," says Duckwall. "We can customize our department to meet our needs and have access to a multitude of EJM tools, training and operational best practices that provide a higher level of professionalism."

EJM is wholly-owned by NetJets Inc, a Berkshire Hathaway company. The company manages more than 200 aircraft under Part 91 or 135, and on average provides service to more than 100,000 passengers each year. EJM has been recognized as "Best Charter Service" by Professional Pilot magazine and "Best of the Best" charter service by Robb Report magazine.

Executive leadership

On the ramp in MKE the Kohl's flight team prepares for departure in the company's Bombardier Challenger 605 and Learjet 45XR.

Kohl's Chief Administrative Officer Richard Schepp joined the company in 2000 as senior vice president, general counsel and secretary. He was promoted to his current position in 2015 and he now oversees Kohl's human resources, legal, risk management and compliance, real estate, business development and store construction and design functions.

Schepp highlights the advantage of having a flight department of their own. "Having a flight department allows us the freedom and flexibility to travel from our corporate headquarters to our facilities around the country.

This includes offices in Silicon Valley, home to our Kohl's Digital Center, and in Manhattan, home to a 120,000 sq ft design center in the heart of the fashion district," he declares. "The flight department gives us more time to focus on our business, from shortening the time it takes to embark and disembark, to being able to work enroute with our teams."


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