It’s hard to find a more enthusiastic or resounding endorsement of personal flying as a business tool than you’ll hear from Bill Chandler.
Gracious and unassuming, Chandler sat in the terminal lounge and shared the story of his flying and business careers, which always supported each other.
Chandler and two partners owned Manchester Industries, based in Richmond, and a group of related paper products companies. At the peak, he said, “we had nine plants in six states. I was the operations guy overseeing all of it.
“There’s no way I could have kept up with it without airplanes. We had no middle management. All the plant managers reported to me. There were very few weeks I wasn’t flying. If a problem arose somewhere, I could be in the plant in two hours.”
In 43 years of flying, Chandler has logged more than 6,500 hours. His first plane was a Cherokee 140, followed by an F33 Bonanza, a B58 Baron, a C90 King Air and, since 2012, the B200 King Air. He’s been a based customer at Chesterfield County Airport for 37 years.
“I’ve known Bill since I was a 20-year-old CFI, before I started Dominion Aviation,” recalled Dominion CEO Mike Mickel. “Bill had just bought his Bonanza and I was doing checkouts in a lot of Beechcraft products. I checked him out in his Bonanza – and in every other airplane he’s owned.
“At the time, Bill said that Bonanza is ‘the only airplane I’ll ever need.’ And I often remind him he’s said the same thing about every airplane since!
“Insurance companies can be leery of owner pilots in turbine-powered airplanes,” Mickel continued, “because many people have trouble separating the tasks of flying and running a business. But Bill has the ability to put everything else aside when he steps into the cockpit. I would put Bill’s professionalism and flying skills up against any professional pilot I know.”
A native of Asheboro, NC, Chandler graduated from North Carolina State in 1972 and went to work for Caraustar Paper Board in Charlotte. “As a plant engineer, I did a little of everything.”
In 1979, Ken Aspinall, Tom Harris and two others had bought the Manchester paper mill, located where Hull Street meets the James River. “They were all salesmen. They knew how to sell, but they had no clue how to run a mill,” Chandler recalled. “They approached Caraustar, the mill where I worked, to buy it.
“Jim Dalton, the chairman, sent me up to Richmond to have a look at it. I was 28 or 29 years old. I went back and told him it’s the worst looking mill I’ve ever seen. But we can fix it and make money with it.
“Caraustar turned the deal down, but Ken Aspinall asked me to come join him. In December, 1979, I became a partner and two of the others got out. By the end of the first year, we’d turned the plant around and made up the deficit.”
A series of acquisitions later brought the company to nine plants and a workforce of 500 to 600. “At one time we were told we were the 88th largest privately-held company in Virginia, and we grew some more after that.”
Now all the plants have been sold and the partners have retired. “It was a great deal for us,” Chandler said. “None of us were wealthy people, but we all worked hard, and we did very well when we sold.”
One of the original partners who got out in 1979 still lives in Richmond. “He told me, if I’d only known who you were, Chandler, I’d never have sold my share of the partnership.”
Now early in his retirement, Chandler still flying his King Air, but aside from some consulting work, the destinations are mostly for fun.
Chandler’s passion for flying started early in life. “My father took me to Hinshaw Field (N61) near Asheboro to see the airplanes. It’s a 1,400-foot turf strip, owned by the owner of the Hinshaw Hosiery Mill.
“My first flight was as a Cub Scout. That was in a Piper Tri-Pacer. I have a photo, but you can’t see the tail number. I wish I could find that airplane and buy it. After that, I would hang around the airport and just watch.”
Later, in 1975, Chandler continued, “I had a good friend who had a Cherokee Arrow that he flew for a long time on a student pilot certificate. He kept asking me, have you started [your lessons] yet? I hadn’t, because I didn’t have the money. So he wrote me a check for $200, which was enough to get me started. In those days you could rent an airplane for $30 an hour. Since then I’ve done the same thing for several others.
“When I was working in Charlotte, to build time, I’d go to the airport after work and fly cancelled checks until 2 to 3 a.m. I’d go with professional pilots, but I was doing the flying. That gave me a lot of night experience. I’d typically go Charlotte to Asheville to Knoxville to Winston-Salem to Raleigh-Durham and back to Charlotte in a Cherokee Arrow.
“Those guys flew all the time, in all kinds of weather. They basically never cancelled a flight.”
Chandler raised three daughters, all of whom grew up flying with him. They all followed their father to North Carolina State, but none of them inherited his passion for aviation.
The tradition is continuing, though, through a son-in-law. Dave Coiner, who’s married to Chandler’s youngest daughter and lives in Richmond, has learned to fly at Dominion Aviation and is working on his instrument rating in a Cirrus.