At the end of this newsletter I set down what I think are the key lessons for modern day investors (speculators need not read - this is about businesses and understanding them not about financial markets and their ups and downs). First I'll finish the story of Al Ueltschi, the founder of FlightSafety, by looking at how he used much of his $2bn.
In the 1970s Juan Trippe asked a favour of Ueltschi, who was more than willing to do what he could to repay all the kindnesses received from his mentor. The favour was simply to have lunch with Trippe’s daughter, Betsy, and a friend of hers, Dr. David Paton. It seemed modest enough, but that meeting was the start of something big.
Dr. Paton was the was head of the Ophthalmology Department at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. He had a dream to use the technology and knowledge held in the rich world to help the poorest be free of eye disease.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of eye specialists in western hospitals and clinics eager to help but unable to reach those most in need. Paton had come up with a plan: put the eye specialists in an airplane and fly it to where the patients are and where local medical professional could be mentored by the world’s best.
At the lunch he and Betsy quizzed Ueltschi first on whether it would be possible to put a hospital inside an aeroplane. “I told them I wasn't sure, but if the airplane was big enough, it seemed like it could work.” Ueltsch responded.
That led to the second question: Where do you go to get such an airplane? And they added for good measure, “for a discount of approximately 100 percent”. Ueltschi wasn’t sure, but thought there might be a manufacturer or an airline that would donate one. And there and then, Ueltschi volunteered to get an airplane for free, and to oversee the modifications to make it a Flying Eye Hospital. (He later took on the chairmanship of the continuing effort to keep it airborne).
He called every airline and manufacturer he knew. Eventually, United Air Lines, offered an old DC-8 parked in the Las Vegas desert. It dripped hydraulic fluid and leaked fuel but was fixable. Then the search began for microscopes, fuel, operating room equipment, etc.
The charity established after that lunch is called ORBIS International. Its DC-8 lasted around 10 years, flying to some of the most impoverished places on earth carrying volunteer doctors and other medical staff restoring the eyesight of thousands of children and adults. It was replaced in 1994 with a DC-10, and, in 2008, United Airlines and FedEx donated a replacement for that one. The fourth generation Flying Eye Hospital, a DC-10 donated by FedEx, was unveiled in 2016 complete with back-up generator, water-t......
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