Meet the Founders at Stratus Financial: Anthony Geraci, CEO
Meet Anthony Geraci, the CEO of Stratus Financial. This blog post delves into his journey from being an attorney and private lender to becoming a leader in the aviation financing industry. Geraci’s unique blend of legal expertise, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for aviation has positioned Stratus Financial as a pioneering force in the industry. The company’s mission is to fund the dreams of aspiring airline pilots by providing them with financial accommodations to complete flight training. This post offers an exclusive insight into Geraci’s leadership style, decision-making process, and his vision for Stratus Financial. Read on to learn more about how Geraci and Stratus Financial are making a significant impact in the aviation industry.
1. Can you please give a quick overview of Stratus Financial and its mission?
Stratus Financial is a private lender that focuses on funding aspiring airline pilots’ dreams by providing them financial accommodations to complete flight training. Stratus intends on being the #1 lender in the space by truly being flight schools’ partners and not seeing them as vendors.
2. What was the inspiration behind Stratus Financial? Was there a specific problem or opportunity you saw in the market?
The idea took hold when I was training for my instrument rating. One day I asked the dispatcher who was also working on his rating, albeit much longer than me, why it was taking him so long to complete his training. He told me there was no financing available in the space. I walked into my friend, and now business partner, Brandon Martini’s office and asked him about it. He confirmed the same and said he wanted to do something for his flight school. I reviewed the market and told him the market was much, much bigger than his flight school. We could solve a real need in the industry for over 1,000 flight schools nationwide.
3. How has your background and experience prepared you for the role of founder and leader in this industry?
My background as an attorney naturally lends itself to solving problems, and I have been in the private lending space for 20 years. Extending my knowledge to student lending was a small stretch while retaining all of the minute details of lending that make private lending great. During COVID, I got my pilot’s license to learn a new skill. Soaking up the flight school atmosphere helped me truly understand student pilots’ problems in obtaining funding to quickly get their licenses and start earning the paychecks they deserved. As a serial entrepreneur, my skillset is in quickly scaling companies for depth and breadth to capture both market share and profitability.
4. Entrepreneurship often involves making critical decisions with limited information. How do you approach decision-making, and to what degree do you rely on data versus instinct?
It truly depends on the decision to be made, but as much as possible I harness data to tell me what is going on in our various departments, where the gaps are, and what we need to fix. To scale as fast as we are requires rapid decision making across broad segments of our company, requiring not only speed but also accuracy. Also, as cliché as it sounds, we listen to our customers as much as we can. What do they want? How do they want it? Then give it to them as frictionless as possible.
5. How do you continue to invest in your own personal growth and development? Are there books, podcasts, or other resources that have had a significant impact on your mindset and skills?
I still read a book a month on professional development and one book on personal development. I am currently re-reading The Complete Works of Swami Parthasarathy, and I try to stay on top of the latest business books. Most books at this point re-hash older ideas, but some truly make an impact that I build into the companies I run.
6. Can you share the long-term vision you have for your company and how you envision it making an impact on the industry at large?
Stratus is the only company that was founded by pilots to fund student pilots. No one cares more about the space or has more knowledge about what it takes to be a flight school. Our competitors treat flight schools like another school. We treat flight schools as who they are: the gatekeepers of training our future aviation professionals who will take us safely from one place to another.
7. How do you maintain innovation and differentiation in this market?
It’s important to watch what our competitors do, but it’s also important to listen to what our customers want. I want to be at the intersection of what Stratus does great, what our competitors can’t do, and what our customers absolutely need. As their needs change and our capacity changes, so too will innovation and differentiation change as we go.
8. How does Stratus Financial’s offerings benefit the end-user, the student pilots?
We look at lending differently. We look at several different metrics to create our Strata score, and do not rely solely on your FICO score. We want to see the whole picture and look to see that you have the drive to become an airline pilot and can repay your loan (i.e., we do not want to set you up for failure).
9. Every company faces challenges. Can you describe some challenges that Stratus Financial has encountered and how are you navigating them?
I feel like we have challenges every single day. We’re punching far above our weight at the moment, and our systems, processes, procedures-everything, is behind our competition. It is why I am so insistent with the speed at which we’re moving. No one moves as fast as we do or is as nimble as we are. It’s that speed and excellence that will allow us to catch up and then leapfrog our competition in the space.
10. What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a founder that have contributed to the exponential growth of Stratus Financial?
A deep understanding that we are in the people business. That is across all fronts, whether we are interacting with flight schools, students, borrowers, investors, or our own stakeholders within Stratus. Understanding that to unlock our full potential requires our people to interact with their people and help them achieve their goals, whatever they are. We can’t do it alone, or even by ourselves. We need the entire ecosystem to believe in us and that we’re the best solution for them.
11. How do you envision your company’s growth and impact over the next several years?
The flight training industry as of 2022 was a $3.7 billion industry. I believe without evidence that it is atleast 50% bigger ($5 billion). If we have 5% of that market share, or $200 million, we are already a large lender. Our goal is to become the largest lender, or do $1 billion a year in loans. The federal government isn’t funding this important and necessary transportation training ground of student pilots – we will and must. After we dominate the pilot space, we will look to other vocations to give them student loans as well.
12. What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges in the industry over the next few years?
This industry reminds me of private lending in the late 90s. The biggest opportunity is that there is still a blue ocean mentality here – there is so much business that no one company can capture it all. There are no institutions playing in this space and based on our own experience, it is difficult showing institutions why they should back us.
I think 5 years down the road we will see an explosion of them playing in this space. That gives us a short window to scale, become more sophisticated as a company through infrastructure, and create partnerships and platforms that can withstand any competition, even the competition of cheaper access to capital.
In conclusion, Anthony Geraci, the CEO of Stratus Financial, is a visionary leader who is leveraging his extensive experience in private lending and his passion for aviation to make a significant impact in the flight training industry. His unique approach to problem-solving, coupled with his commitment to continuous personal and professional development, has positioned Stratus Financial as a game-changer in the market. By focusing on the needs of aspiring pilots and flight schools, Geraci and his team are not only providing much-needed financial solutions but also contributing to the future of aviation. As they continue to innovate and differentiate in the market, Stratus Financial is poised to become the #1 lender in the space, truly embodying their mission of being partners to flight schools and not just vendors. With Geraci at the helm, the sky is indeed the limit for Stratus Financial.