Zean Nielsen is Chief Executive Officer at Cirrus Aircraft and is responsible for oversight of the company, working with senior leaders from across the business to transform innovation, operations, and the customer experience. He joined the company in 2019.
With a career rooted in globally recognised lifestyle brands, including Tesla Motors and Bang & Olufsen, Nielsen brings a diverse background of strategic planning, channel diversification, and groundbreaking marketing initiatives to Cirrus Aircraft.
He began his career at the luxury electronics maker, Bang & Olufsen, where he quickly ascended to more senior roles over a 17-year tenure, including President of Bang & Olufsen North and South America. Nielsen’s work gained the notice of Tesla and Elon Musk, and he joined Tesla Motors in 2014 as Global VP of Sales Operations, responsible for all aspects of worldwide sales operations.
Immediately prior to joining Cirrus, he served as the Executive Vice President of North American Sales at James Hardie, a leading industrial building materials company.
To find out more about his intriguing career, we recently caught up with Nielsen for a quick chat. We picked his brain about the current — and surprisingly positive — climate of the private aviation industry, as well as what we can expect of Cirrus Aircraft in the near future. Read on for more.
Zean, tell us more about yourself and your role at Cirrus Aircraft?
My name is Zean Nielsen and I have been overseeing Cirrus Aircraft as Chief Executive Officer since 2019. I have over 20 years of professional and leadership experience in luxury manufacturing and automotive brands such as Tesla and James Hardie and Bang & Olufsen.
At Cirrus Aircraft I spearhead the strategic and financial planning for the company, determine which new markets we need to penetrate and where we can gain the most visibility. We aim to introduce more people to aviation and are rapidly expanding across the United States and Asia.
You come from high-end consumer companies such as Tesla and Bang & Olufsen. How are you finding the aviation industry?
Thrilled to be here! I find the industry fascinating and love discovering new ways to improve the aircraft ownership experience. There are several similarities between my prior ventures with Tesla, James Hardie and Bang & Olufson that directly correlate with what Cirrus Aircraft is accomplishing today. Strategically speaking, we are continuously innovating, which is reflected by the aircraft we create, the avionics we integrate, and the industry-leading training programs we develop. Additionally, we want to remove any barriers of exclusivity in aviation, therefore we bring various backgrounds and experiences to the table to better understand how to do that.
Considering the effects of Covid-19, the private aviation industry seems to have done well over the past two years. Tell us more about the status of the private aircraft industry right now and how Cirrus Aircraft has faced these extremely turbulent times on a global basis?
Personal aviation is on the rise and while the coronavirus impacted every industry, business owners were forced to think outside the box, adapt to changing times and equip themselves with solutions that allowed their business to prevail. We have been working closely with individuals and several business owners who have been keen on finding a safe and efficient way to continue personal or business travel during these times. Owning an aircraft opens new doors and provides people with the freedom to safely travel the world.
On both a financial and order book basis, how successful have these past two years been for Cirrus Aircraft?
We are currently breaking all sales records in the United States and expanding our sales and support team in Asia Pacific. Cirrus Aircraft SR Series is the best-selling high-performance piston aircraft for 19 consecutive years and our Vision Jet is the best-selling jet in general aviation for two years. In 2020, we delivered 346 SR Series aircraft and 73 Vision Jets. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association recently released its report on general aviation aircraft shipments stating Cirrus is a market leader with a total of 195 SR Series and Vision Jets delivered in the first six months of 2021.
As CEO of Cirrus Aircraft, what are your objectives for the company?
As the leader of a global company, you can expect us to appear in new markets around the world to better serve the deep-rooted and growing aviation community. Just this year, we’ve announced several Flight Training and Innovation Centers that offer aircraft maintenance, management, and sales further supporting our aircraft owners and growing economies. We are also actively recruiting as we expand.
We are an inventive company and constantly explore how we can create the next best thing for our customers. Our innovation speaks for itself if you have ever experienced the SR Series aircraft and SF50 Vision Jet. For instance, we’ve recently announced G2+ Vision Jet which features 20 per cent more take-off performance and WIFI connectivity. The newly optimised thrust profile provides an extra boost during departure and provides access to more destinations around the globe. We are excited to announce new features and tailored services that make flying safer, smarter, and more convenient in the near future.
The Cirrus SR Series has an incredible history of innovation, evolution and invention. Tell us more about the Limited Edition you launched this past year?
This year, we released eight 8000 Limited Edition SR Series aircraft to celebrate the delivery of our 8,000th SR Series aircraft. We were inspired to create a Limited Edition that steps out of the mould and reflects the energy and excitement of where we are going next.
The 8000th features a bold, new design and unapologetic accents on the exterior and interior. The design is accentuated by an industry-first Volt wing paint scheme, which clearly can be seen from the ground or sky. The unmistakable graphics and colours carry through into the interior with Volt stitching on the seats and embroidery on the door, and luxury perforated leather on the seats, control yoke, and throttle.
Additionally, each 8000 Limited Edition aircraft were delivered along with a curated series of gifts and bespoke events for the new owners.
How has Cirrus Aircraft impacted the general aviation market? How has this affected consumers?
We are developing an aviation experience that is unmatched. Whether you are a student pilot or have hundreds of hours clocked, we treat you as family and tailor every experience so that they are memorable – from continuous training options to personalising your aircraft interior and exterior. Additionally, owning and operating a Cirrus aircraft enhances your lifestyle and provides the opportunity to fulfill a personal or business need.
We truly set ourselves apart in the personal aviation industry because we have incorporated exceptional, award-winning safety features including the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS), a standard feature on all Cirrus aircraft, and Safe Return Emergency Autoland enabled by Garmin. To date, worldwide flight time on Cirrus aircraft has passed 13 million hours and 212 people have returned home safely to their families as a direct result of our CAPS technology. With CAPS and Safe Return, people are safer when they fly in a Cirrus and that message resonates with prospective and existing aviation enthusiasts.
You provide world-class training to Cirrus owners through both the company-owned facilities as well as the partner network around the world. How do you organise that key aspect of the business and ensure such a unique service?
At Cirrus, we welcome anyone that has ever dreamed of becoming a pilot or owning an aircraft to fulfil their dream whether it’s for leisure or business. Our team is involved with customers for their flying lifetime. We’ve created Cirrus Approach, an in-depth online flight training program, that walks people through flight instruction. Additionally, we have Cirrus-trained flight instructors that dedicate time to reviewing course work and flying with you. We put you in the pilot seat and allow you to experience what it is like to fly an aircraft. When we work with our customers, we create milestone memories together. That is what differentiates our company from the next and makes our aircraft highly-sought after. With our expansion, we are deploying more resources to create convenient ways to reach aviation communities that are interested in flying with Cirrus.
Besides safety, do you see any other major trends right now in the private aviation industry?
Personal aviation has been positively impacted by the pandemic resulting in various new market trends. There are three main trends we have observed — people are seeking to completely control their travel experience, grow their business, or learn to fly.
Where do you see Cirrus Aircraft in five years?
This is a very exciting time because we are growing in every way! Cirrus Aircraft will have more visibility — geographically, digitally, and in everyday interactions. We will have faster production times and our aircraft will be seen at every airport.
What is your favourite aspect of flying?
I love that aviation has changed my life. I can be in three different places in one day and back home before dinner. It also provides me and my family with a safe way to travel to and from destinations without the hassle of waiting in line or fear of becoming sick.
You can learn to fly too – cirrusaircraft.com/learn-to-fly.
About Cirrus Aircraft
Cirrus Aircraft is the recognised global leader in personal aviation and the creator of the best-selling SR Series piston aircraft and the Vision Jet, the world’s first single-engine Personal Jet, as well as the recipient of the Robert J. Collier Trophy, which recognises the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America each year.
Founded in 1984, the company has redefined performance, comfort, and safety in aviation with innovations like the Cirrus Airframe Parachute System (CAPS) — the first FAA-certified whole-airframe parachute safety system included as standard equipment on an aircraft. To date, worldwide flight time on Cirrus aircraft has passed 13 million hours and 212 people have returned home safely to their families as a result of the inclusion of CAPS as a standard feature on all Cirrus aircraft.
To learn more about Cirrus Aircraft, please visit cirrusaircraft.com.