SEABROOK�� Starting in high school, Greg Raiff has had a penchant for organizing travel excursions, getting people efficiently and cost effectively by air from one place to another.
So it�s not a surprise that today he is chief executive officer of a boutique aviation company and charter service that flies rock stars, sports teams, politicians and others to their destinations all around the world.
�You know the one about how it�s better to be lucky than it is to be smart. That was certainly the case for me,� Raiff said of his creation in 2003 of Private Jet Services (https://pjsgroup.com), with offices at 5 Batchelder Road in Seabrook.
His ability to provide what the company calls �mission critical air services� to customers started at the Bronx High School of Science in New York City.
�I actually chartered my first airplane at the age of 18 as a senior in high school,� Raiff said. �There was a group of kids that were going to the Bahamas for a spring break trip, and I couldn’t afford it. So I figured if I organized a couple of kids for the travel agent they’d give me a discount � 472 kids later I’d chartered a 747 and went off to the Bahamas and if you’ve ever taken 471 of your closest friends with you to the Bahamas for a week it’s a heck of an experience.�
He�d caught the travel bug of a different strain � he was the one organizing the travel.
It continued in his dorm room Middlebury College in Vermont where, he said, �I was in a small liberal arts college organizing student travel for kids all over the country to the Bahamas and Jamaica and Mexico.�
After graduation in 1993, he applied and interviewed for Wall Street banking jobs. What he�d done with charters resonated with interviewers. �I�m telling people my story and they all said: You�ve had the greatest experience of any person I�ve ever met. Why do you want to work on Wall Street at a boring banking job when you can be in the travel business?�
Out of college after graduating in 1993, the first businesses Raiff bought and sold were devoted to college student travel. But he didn�t like the finances behind a business model where customers graduate from being students each year and they�re looking for the cheapest way to get to where they�re going.
�They�re highly price sensitive, they view travel as a commodity, and almost by definition as they graduate each year they�re no longer customers,� he said.
He�d married a woman from Stratham and they moved from Boston to the Seacoast, and in 2001 with a couple of other people started a charter service out of his garage at his North Hampton home.
�I had missed the airline aspect of being in the travel business,� Raiff said. �I called an old friend of mine that had owned an airline once upon a time and said: You know, I�m thinking about getting back in. And he said to me: Well, you should go into the deep end of the pool, which is professional sports teams and all that.�
�It was right place, right time,� he added. “We built a bunch of the sort of VIP airliners that are all business class, and the first group we flew were the Rolling Stones.�
One of his first sports teams he chartered for were the Boston Bruins hockey team. Among his long-standing customers are the Rolling Stones, U2. Guns n Roses, Fleetwood Mac, and many others. In January 2019, PJS announced a five-year deal with the 130 colleges that are part of the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly the D-1A teams) to secure air transportation to and from games from licensed carriers for a fixed hourly rate.
�It was networking and meeting people and not being afraid to take no for an answer, and having the confidence and determination in both the employees and the business we were trying to build,� Raiff said of how he grew his specialty clientele.
�It�s a highly specialized market,� he added. �I suppose it was all the service shortcomings of a highly commoditized, low-price point services like the student travel business that taught me all the things that people shouldn�t do. I tell people today that I think I still suffer from PTSD from being in the student travel business, and it makes me allergic to disappointing our customers.”
Early on, the company had its own planes. It moved from that model in 2003, selling the planes, incorporating as PJS, and leasing aircraft on behalf of customers. In 2017, the company started a new division called Elevate Jet (https://elevatejet.com) using airplanes of their own and using other people�s airplanes.
�Now, owners of airplanes will come to us and say: Hey, I have my airplane, can you get some revenue while I�m not using it � like an Airbnb model � can you please manage the airplane, take care of the headaches, and bring me some customers. One thing we�ve done over the 17 years as PJS has been a business is really figuring out how to bring in those customers.�
Elevate has two jets of its own, currently using the airport in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a base of operations. Raiff said he hopes someday he can work out an agreement with the state of New Hampshire and Pease Development Authority to have operations working at the Portsmouth International Airport at Pease.
With Private Jet Services and Elevate Jet (under the corporate umbrella of Elevate Holdings), Raiff said the company can meet the needs of specialized travel.
�No matter what someone�s need is in the private aviation space � managing an airplane, buying an airplane, selling an airplane, chartering an airplane � we can take care of those needs for them,� said Raiff.
About a 100 people work for the company. Employees who handle finances, operations, logistics and marketing work out of the offices in Seabrook. Salespeople are located all over the world.
�One of my mentors once said to me: There’s no news in the newsroom,� Raiff said on why he keeps salespeople out in the field.
The number of employees will grow as the business grows, particularly as Elevate adds more jets to the current two. Raiff noted each airplane requires 25 to 30 people in terms of pilots, stewards, grounds crew, etc.
The company is committed to what it calls a �carbon neutrality pledge,� by making sure carbon emissions generated by its flights is 100% offset through a partnership with American Forests. A reforestation program supported by the company sequesters 100% of carbon emissions from clients� flights.
As big as Elevate might get, he will always operate his boutique charter service.
�I so enjoy servicing these customers,� Raiff said, �not just the rock stars and celebrities and the presidential candidates and the presidents and the Stanley Cup champions and the Grammy winners and all the really interesting people that are solving problems for us all over the world, but the everyday people whose names aren’t in the newspaper. I wouldn’t shut down that business for all the money in the world. It has been such an exciting ride.�
He still thrills at the logistics of arranging an excursion. Prior to the interview, he�d just come from a meeting to figure out how to arrange a photo shoot in the middle of a desert in the middle of the night with helicopter landings.
�At this point in our organization, the company doesn�t need for me to be on that phone call, but it�s so interesting,� Raiff said.