Whether in an ice hockey rink, the jungles of South America or negotiating deals with presidents and princes, Russell Dise is the consummate competitor. As president and founder of JetLease, the world’s largest private aviation leasing company. He won’t divulge the names of his clients, but does say that they have ranged from royalty to heads of nations.
Dise reflected on a career that has spanned three decades of achievements “I started the company with $80,” said Dise. That was 35 years ago. Like many successful entrepreneurs, success didn’t happen overnight, or by accident. His is a story of determination, and commitment. And a combination of two of his greatest loves: Flying and hockey. He discovered the latter early on. Although he grew up in Cleveland Heights, Ohio where his father was a steel industry executive, his family roots go back to New York and Brooklyn in the 17th century. Russell Dise’s family roots go back … way back, in fact. The “W” in his name stands for “Wyckoff,” after the Wyckoff family that in the 1650s settled in what is now Brooklyn, New York.
Over nine generations of Wyckoffs occupied the house up until 1901. In 1982, the house was restored and opened as the Wyckoff Museum. The museum website notes, “The Wyckoff surname is unique – so much so that the vast majority of American and Canadian Wyckoffs can trace their lineage to one of Pieter and Grietje’s eleven children.” Little did they know a future relation would be piloting planes above that historic homestead. Dise first took the ice at the age of five, playing on pond rinks, and later joined his sixth grade hockey team. As both a player and coach, Dise hasn’t put down his hockey stick for very long since.
Among his proudest achievements on the ice is leading Team Ohio, the Ohio high school all-stars, to the National championships and developing a high school coaching program that has produced over 350 college student athletes, four of which played in the National Hockey League. His formula was simple: “Mental toughness and mental discipline.” Along with their athletic achievements, Dise wanted his players to be “great students and great citizens.”
While enjoying success as an athlete, his mother and father helped set the stage for his career in business by sending Dise to Culver Academies, a college prep school in Culver, Indiana. “It was a family tradition,” Dise said. “All of us kids (his brother and sister) had to attend their summer program.” Dad knew what he was doing. Notable Culver alumni include actor Hal Holbrook, hockey players Gary and Ryan Suter, former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and movie director Joshua Logan.
Among other things, his time there “helped me learn to focus,” said Dise. Afterwards, Dise took a job as Federal Tax Manager at Parker Hannifin, a $13 billion global company serving industrial and aerospace clients. All the while, the friendly skies were beckoning, as well as a desire to run his own business. In his pursuit of flying, he entered the Navy Officer Candidate School program, but was disqualified when doctors found he had a crushed sinus from years of playing hockey, which has since been repaired. Undaunted, he became a licensed private pilot and started flying on the side.
That was when he and a buddy took $80 and started a ground school. Typical of startups, it was a shoestring operation. “Our business phone was in my parents’ house,” Dise recalled, but a chance meeting led to Dise working as a co-pilot for an Ohio cheese company making round trips to Denver. That led to an opportunity to broker an airplane sale. And that was the early beginning of JetLease, which has grown over those 33 years to broker over 1,000 transactions for major corporations, the rich and famous, with satellite operations in Chicago, Cleveland and Germany.
Today, Dise and his team serve all segments of the aviation industry, including leasing, sales, financing and management. One of their newest endeavors is military arms sales. ITAR-certified, (International Traffic in Arms Regulations), they are involved in the forthcoming sale of Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters, Chinooks and Hughes 500’s (“Little Birds”). Call it a “power play” or a “hat trick” or whatever hockey term fits, Dise is the self-described “honey badger” always in search in the next big opportunity. “Every day is an experience,” said Dise. Judging by the energy he throws off during a tour of his Palm Beach headquarters, it seems he’s just getting started.
JetLease’s headquarters is at 1515 Perimeter Rd. at Palm Beach International Airport.