a personal memoir

How we sold German dept store mogul Gustav Schickedanz a unique Lear 24A

By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet

Aerodienst/Gustav Schickedanz operated this Learjet 24 until 1981. Photo taken by Gerhard Plomitzer at NUE (Nuremberg, Germany) in April 1978.

Gustav Schickedanz was the founder and owner of the Quelle series of department stores located all over Germany. Just like Sears, Schickedanz started out in 1927 with a mail order house which grew into a large chain of department stores.

As a typical Beech Queen Air operator in Germany, Quelle was a prime prospect for a business jet. At Learjet, our competition was the Beech King Air turboprop and the Cessna Citation jet. The Beech sales effort collapsed when, after a demonstration of a King Air, someone handed Schickedanz a purchase order to sign. This he found so presumptuous that he tore up the contract.

Gustav Schickedanz started a company that would grow into a highly successful series of dept stores that were found all over Germany.

Josef Sondermeyer, chief pilot at Quelle with experience as a wartime Luftwaffe pilot, was a staunch supporter of the Learjet—and for a good reason. If Schickedanz bought any of the then available larger business jets, Josef would have lost his job.

Like most other ex-Luftwaffe pilots flying corporate aircraft after the war, he did not have a Commercial 2 license. This was required for all aircraft above12,500 lbs gross weight and none of these pilots wanted to undergo the study and examinations necessary to obtain a Commercial 2 license.

The Lear 24 was the current model at the time. It was certified at 13,000 lbs gross weight—just 500 lbs above the maximum for a Commercial l license. So we came up with a solution by certifying the Learjet 24A model at 12,500 lbs. The 2 models were identical except for a placard on the instrument panel restricting the amount of fuel that could be carried in the fuselage tank.

The Kvassay and Schickedanz families were friends. In this photo taken in 1942 by Gustav Schickedanz at his family home in Fuerth, Germany, are (L–R) young Alex Kvassay, Alex's father Laszlo; Gustav's wife Grete, Alex's brother Gene, Gustav's daughter Louise, and Alex's mother Jolan.

Gerhard Puhlman, my friend in the German equivalent of the FAA, fought this arrangement for 2 years, trying to change the regulations. Finally he told me, "It is impossible to change a regulation in Germany. You win, Alex."

I also had a unique advantage. Because of my personal background with Gustav Schickedanz, I had easy access to him, not as a Learjet salesman, but as the son of an old friend. I knew him from the time I was a teenager and spent several weekends in his spacious house in Fuerth. The railroad from Nuremberg to Fuerth, a few miles away, was historical as it was the 1st rail line ever built in Germany (1835).

Grete, Gustav's 2nd wife, poses with Louise, daughter by his 1st wife, together with Gustav Schickedanz.

At the beginning of World War II, my father was the Hungarian Consul General in Munich, and Schickedanz was Honorary Consul of Hungary in Nuremberg. "Honorary Consul" was purely a title.

But an important businessman, without the coveted "von" before his name Schickedanz, from there on had to be called "Herr Konsul" instead of just "Mr." He had a title.

Tom Gillespie was a well-qualified USMC pilot who gravitated to bizav aircraft sales with his winning personality. He worked for Beech, then came to Learjet and later served in marketing at Piper. As an expert golfer he often clinched sales out on the links.

His son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Louise, Hans Dedi, was also a wartime Luftwaffe fighter pilot and a great supporter of the Learjet. This also helped.

Madelaine, Gustav's daughter with his 2nd wife, Grete, was once listed as the 13th richest woman in Germany, but shortly thereafter she declared bankruptcy. I don't know the details but I heard that it was her husband who blew all her wealth.

Madelaine, another daughter of Gustav Schickedanz by wife Grete, was once reported to have great wealth, but shortly later declared bankruptcy.

Schickedanz was very safety conscious. He was involved in a car accident that killed his 1st wife and son. His daughter Louise survived. We flew him and Grete to their summer home in Italy in our Learjet 24 demonstrator.

Tom Gillespie was our pilot. Although he was a highly experienced former US Marine Corps test pilot who had been a veteran of the battle for Iwo Jima, he had received his Learjet type rating just the day before our planned departure for this trip.

Headquarters building of Gustav Schickedanz's company, Quelle, was located in Fuerth, Germany.I closed the cabin door and a red warning light came on. I knew I closed the door correctly, but probably the sensor on one of the 8 bolts holding the door had malfunctioned.

Headquarters building of Gustav Schickedanz's company, Quelle, was located in Fuerth, Germany.

Gillespie looked at me and asked, "Alex, now what?" Knowing that our passengers would flee the aircraft and the sale would fall through had I come out to recycle the door, I just crossed my fingers and told Tom, "We go." It was a good decision. Of course, the door was closed correctly.

When I left Learjet, there were about 35 Lears flying in Germany. Now, 40 years later, there are 69 Learjets registered in Germany, but almost all are older models, only 6 of them are more recent model 45 Learjets.

Alex Kvassay spent 30 years in international business aviation sales, working for both Beech and Learjet, concluding with Management Jets Worldwide, of which he was CEO, based in Paris. His book, "Alex in Wonderland", outlines his life and career. Now 90, his 300 scrapbooks assembled after each of his milestone trips abroad, serve as basis for this series.