Jeff Potter was the CEO of Frontier Airlines for five years, maneuvering the airline through both the post-economic recession and a groundswell of explosive expansion to 6,500 employees. His new chapter is taking people on high-end curated personal and professional trips designed to change lives and hearts as the Founder and CEO of Manifest. I had the opportunity to learn about his career path, his compassionate approach to leadership, and his new venture in a recent interview.
Potter didn’t follow the polished, Ivy-League trajectory to CEO that can be typical.
Having been born in France and lived in Arizona and the American Northwest, Potter recalls a displaced childhood where the idea of being rooted was never quite graspable. Though, it might be his ability to find comfort in the untethered that helped him seek new possibilities and avoid a prudent, conservative life.
After enrolling at Washington State University, Potter quickly transferred to Eastern Washington University at the end of his first year and soon found himself a directionless junior, misplaced in the world and what his path would be.
One day, while at his job cleaning out airplanes, a manager told him that they were hiring ticket agents in Oakland for $7 per hour. Potter accepted the offer, leaving college to embark on his first real job in the workforce, albeit a humble one. Here is where he began his unusual journey to the C-Suite.
He began learning the inner workings of the airline industry, from spending time in airport operations to being a gate agent to getting trained as a flight attendant before he became a manager. In talking with him, it’s clear that his ability to lead stems from understanding the equal significance of every position in an organization.
“During my Frontier days, I told our flight attendants, ‘you have one of the hardest jobs in the world because you’re not allowed to have a bad day,’” says Potter, pointing out how brutally public-facing the life of a flight attendant can be. Unfortunately, these frontline jobs in airlines have become more challenging as these workers enforce COVID safety measures
After Frontier, Potter went on to run a small airline called Surf Air for several years. Then, four years ago, he launched his new travel and tourism brand called Manifest, which he is scaling today with his team.
Manifest has positioned itself as a domestic getaway service offering turnkey regional escapes with private aviation. Their trips often include atypical activities in overlooked destinations such as white water rafting, culinary and wine-inspired vacations, farm stays, secluded golfing, and yoga retreats.
Usually, these types of trips are reserved for the echelons of the mega-wealthy. However, Potter has applied his ability to make companies more effective and has already found solutions to lower the cost of private travel by 24-28%. As a result, he believes that Manifest will soon offer private flights for nearly 40% cheaper than the market.
Understanding an organization from the ticket agents up to the CEO is Potter’s forte. It allows him to understand the people around him and what they experience day-to-day. In addition, to address the needs of people, he is also addressing the needs of the planet. For example, Manifest has teamed up with Carbonfund.org to become carbon neutral for their private flights through carbon offsets. Manifest purchases carbon offsets to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions from the use of private aircraft.
Potter and Manifest are launching corporate experiences to bring teams together and learn about compassionate leadership in Aspen, CO, for outdoor-centered bonding retreats. These programs will help companies develop a more humane approach to culture development and growth as they consider people, the planet, and profit.