Stellar flies a Citation Excel for customer contact, strategic planning and construction management

Company works with Nestle, Kraft, Sara Lee in creation of refrigerated
warehouses, food processing plants and commercial facilities.

By Cindy Youngblood
Contributing Writer

Executives and design/build teams use Stellar's Citation Excel to fly to job sites throughout the US, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Because of business aviation, the company is able to expand operations, serve customers better and reach new milestones.

Stellar, a relative new adopter of business aviation, is a strong advocate of private flight. Since acquiring its 1st aircraft in 2004, this architecture, engineering and construction services firm has experienced a surge in productivity, efficiency, employee morale and business opportunities.

Company history

Stellar is a private company that integrates a multitude of disciplines to create buildings and systems ranging from food processing plants and healthcare facilities to refrigerated warehouses and automated production lines.

Founded in 1985, the company has over 700 employees spread around North America with 300 at its Jacksonville FL headquarters. For 30 years, Stellar has led the way in both commercial and public sector markets, and today is one of the nation's top design-build, engineering, mechanical, and construction services firms.

Chairman & CEO Ronald Foster Jr began his career at Stellar on a construction site more than 25 years ago.

In the early days, Stellar's original vision was to design and build cold storage refrigeration warehouses in the Southeast. However, because of its philosophy and relentless drive for exceptional customer service, the company developed a great reputation and quickly expanded to include food processing facilities.

Stellar's products and services touch our everyday lives, mostly behind the scenes. They engineer, design and build the facilities and equipment required to make the products packaged under the labels we all see in our local grocery. These include brands such as Nestle, Kraft Foods, Sara Lee and many others. They have also worked on major projects with Starbucks and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and support commercial, government and military operations around the globe.

Today, Stellar is licensed in all 50 states with 7 satellite offices strategically located around the US.

Additionally, the company is a global design/build leader with business in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, India, China, the Middle East, and the Americas. To support its growing operation in Asia, Stellar established a physical office in Shanghai in 2010 with a focus on food and related products. COO Mike Santarone travels to China twice a year for business.

Stellar expands with use of bizjet

It is because of business aviation that Stellar has been able to move further, faster and reach new heights. As the company grew, the need to visit job sites in small, rural areas not serviced by major airlines also grew. CEO Ron Foster Jr started exploring how to move company employees to and from these job sites more efficiently. As a result, they began chartering a light jet in 2003, which enabled them to transport people to remote locations, put in a full day's work and still get home the same night.

Recognizing that business aviation improved productivity, provided a better quality of life for employees and was a great customer service tool, Stellar decided to bring the operation in-house. After searching for the perfect aircraft and crew, Paul Petraglia was hired as chief pilot in 2004 and the flight dept was launched.

Based out of JAX (Jacksonville FL), Stellar began flight ops with a preowned Citation 2, which was upgraded to a Citation 3 just 8 months later. In 2012, leadership wanted even more range and short field capability, so they leased a Falcon 50, which didn't fully meet their needs. They acquired the Citation XL in 2013 and have been very happy ever since. "It took some trial and error, but we learned a great deal through the process and have come a long way in a short time," declares Petraglia.

Stellar's destinations vary widely. Company representatives use the Citation XL to travel domestically and to fly 4 to 5 business trips each year into Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean. For transoceanic trips they fly commercial.

"Picking our people up or dropping them right outside of customs so they can avoid additional legs and layovers or make tight connections makes international travel much less stressful," says Santarone. "Life is even easier now that travelers can clear customs right at their home base at JAX."

A company aircraft has also enabled Stellar to provide emergency service to its customers in a way they couldn't do before. When a tornado ripped through a warehouse in North Carolina, they deployed key personnel and stabilized the mechanical systems at the facility within 3 to 4 hours. Because of the company's responsiveness, Stellar was selected to rebuild the warehouse. "The airplane also allows us to move customers around to several plants in 1 day and still have them home at night.

This would have required at least 1 overnight and multiple layovers on an airline," says Santarone. "In addition to improving efficiency and productivity, the airplane is an impressive sales and marketing tool. It simply allows us to be there when we need to be there."

Executive leadership

COO Mike Santarone has been with Stellar since its inception in 1985. He has a relentless drive for exceptional customer service and uses the company Citation Excel to fly to job sites, meet with customers and procure new business opportunities.

President and COO Mike Santarone has been with the company since its inception. He has over 31 years of construction management experience and currently oversees all Stellar operations. Santarone establishes goal planning for administration, financial security, insurance, and training by integrating good people with efficient technologies built upon Stellar's core values.

Santarone holds a BS degree in building construction from the University of Florida and an MBA from Jacksonville University (JU). Santarone is a huge proponent of customer satisfaction and promoting a team atmosphere between clients and associates.

The company is currently working on several jobs in Northeast New Jersey and Pennsylvania which require monthly trips into areas not served by commercial airports. "Our Citation XL has been instrumental in transporting both our people and clients to job sites," says Santarone.


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