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Alumni Take their Trent Education to New Heights

Gillespie Family Runs Flying Colours Business at Peterborough Airport

"Trent helped us learn how to adapt to change and to think outside the box,” alumna Kate Gillespie says, reflecting on her experiences as a Trent student. These skills have been especially useful in Kate’s career of choice – working with her twin brothers, Eric and Sean, two fellow Trent alumni, at Flying Colours, an innovative family-run company that completes refurbishments and modifications to primarily mid to large sized corporate and commercial aircraft.

For Kate, Eric and Sean, the Trent experience has played a vital role in their lives; helping to shape the people they are today – both in the business world and on a personal level.

“I learned how to think at Trent,” says Eric, a Business Administration graduate, while sitting in the boardroom of Flying Colours’ new office in a newly built hanger at the Peterborough Airport. Sean nods and adds that learning the basic business fundamentals from Trent’s award-winning Business Administration program was also a key in transitioning from university life to the world of work. For Kate, also a BBA grad, the transferable skills learned at Trent have made the most impact. “Trent taught us the skills to work together. These skills are important to be successful both as a business and as individuals within the company,” she says.

And successful they have been, working for the company their father, John, started over 25 years ago as an extension of the sales and maintenance division at the Peterborough Airport. Today, these Trent alumni are a vital part of a team of over 160 employees who work to offer their clients the best in aircraft luxury.

“We started as a small paint shop and have grown into finishing all aspects of an aircraft completion,” boasts Eric, explaining that Flying Colours works on both the interior and exterior of new and used aircraft, providing a variety of services such as custom paint jobs and outfitting the cabin with the finest leathers and fabric, as well as state-of-the-art entertainment systems. “Whatever the customer wants,” adds Sean.

Sean and Eric work in the sales and marketing division of the company, preparing proposals, liaising with customers, handling accounts and marketing their unique services across the globe. Kate started off her career at the company working in interior design but over the last couple of years, has transitioned into coordinating several special projects, including working with Fleming College to create an Aircraft Interior Fundamentals Certificate Program.

For each of the three siblings, it is the variety of opportunities offered through the company that makes working at Flying Colours the most rewarding. “It certainly isn’t boring,” says Sean. “No two projects are alike and you learn something different every day.”

But working for the family company wasn’t always something they wanted to do. After completing his degree at Trent, Eric wrote the LSATs and had dreams to pursue a career in business law. Kate went to Ottawa after Trent and completed a program in interior design and event management. During this time, Flying Colours was growing by leaps and bounds and the exciting opportunities available back home eventually brought them both back. “We love the company and we are passionate about each customer and project,” says Eric.

Over the past couple of years, excitement levels have grown as the company introduced an exciting new completion in late 2006. The new completion involved converting CRJ regional jets from an airline to an executive configured aircraft. The CRJ “ExecLiner” has expanded their customer base from a primarily North American to a truly global company. Kate, Eric and Sean work with high-profile corporations and private individuals from around the world to customize these larger planes both inside and out. Also part of the ExecLiner conversion is the manufacturing of a long-range fuel system that allows the CRJ to fly further distances without re-fueling, which is a major selling point.

When asked the inevitable question if any of their clients are celebrities, the three Trent alumni smile before discreetly replying that, although they retrofit the aircraft for many different companies and private groups, it is likely that celebrities do charter the planes for various trips when they are completed, along with the major corporations such as Irving Oil.

“It’s definitely a niche market,” Sean says. But it’s a niche market that continues to expand, according to Eric, who states proudly “each one of our departments is growing right now.” This pride in their family’s company is the same pride Eric, Sean and Kate also feel towards Trent. “We would recommend Trent to anyone,” Kate says. “We do already!”

This story is featured in the September 2008 issue of Focus Trent. To read the complete issue, visit the publications website.

Posted on Monday, September 29, 2008.

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