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Making a Move to Make a Move

Peter Fox, CLA alumnus and entrepreneur
January 14, 2015
The company:
Cargo Holdings
International Inc.

The mission:
Heavyweight cargo air
transportation services

Peter Fox wanted to start an airline.

He had a business plan and a contract to buy a Boeing 727-model passenger plane, which he aimed to convert into a freighter. He just didn’t have any experience. So it was a long shot when he asked Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance to invest $4-$5 million in start-up capital.

“We all have fears, we all have
problems,” says Fox. “You have two
choices: Get up and go solve them,
or run. You may as well get up and
deal with this one, because if you
don’t, you’re just going to have
to deal with the next one.”

When one senior investment committee member asked him what he knew about the airline business, “I kind of swallowed,” Fox remembers. “I said, ‘Well, the truth is I don’t know much. But I do know a lot about industrial real estate, and a cargo plane is just a warehouse that flies. I know I can do this.’”

He got the investment and in 1995 started Capital Cargo International Airlines (Capital Cargo). On its own, then as a subsidiary of Cargo Holdings International until it was sold, transported cargo from the exotic to the unnerving—from Arabian horses on their way to the Olympics, to AIDS-infested rats destined for research at the Centers for Disease Control. By the time Fox sold Cargo Holdings International in 2007, it was one of the largest providers of heavyweight domestic airfreight in the country and Fox was the model of a successful entrepreneur. But it had been a huge gamble initially, and not the first time he had waded into unfamiliar territory to start companies. Not all of them had succeeded.

“If you look at all the business scenarios in my career, you’d see some failures,” says Fox, who is now retired, “but I never thought I was broken. I always figured out something else I could do.”

Early on, such resilience wasn’t predictable. He had been a marginal student who “majored in skiing” at the University of Utah. After his military service, he became a drive-through, commuting student back in Minnesota. But between his graduation from the University with a sociology degree in 1973 and his retirement in 2009, his entrepreneurial career soared and soured and rebounded in a formidable test of endurance.

His Wayzata real estate company succeeded. So did the software program he developed to manage real-estate accounting. On the other hand, the training package he designed to support that real-estate software program became a victim of timing: He had designed it for small-business computers, licensed it to IBM, then ran headlong into the personal computer revolution when IBM announced its PC.

“The long and short of it is, it failed,” he says. “I had been a mouse stepped on by an elephant.”

There wasn’t an obvious next step. So, more than a decade after college, he put together his first-ever resume and pursued a long shot: developing a golf course community in Orlando for professional golfer Arnold Palmer. Fox knew Florida; he had even lived there while his father, Minnesota Twins Executive Howard Fox, worked with the team at its spring training camp. The Palmer project worked, but a subsequent real estate venture in Orlando collapsed under the weight of a recession and the bankruptcy of one of his partners.

Raising money to get back on his feet, he worked his way through a few more chapters, including an air-cargo warehouse development company, before deciding to start the airline that would be his most complex challenge.

Today, Fox no longer flies planes, but he does continue to pass on what he’s learned through one of his volunteer mentoring projects that assists people that lack good job skills. Among his lessons: persistence and faith.

“Everyone is subject to the human existence,” he says. “We all have fears, we all have problems. You have two choices: Get up and go solve them, or run. You may as well get up and deal with this one, because if you don’t, you’re just going to have to deal with the next one.”

What she says:

“A liberal arts degree is not as defined as a CPA or an M.D. It doesn’t matter. Just take a job and get going. Nothing should be beneath you. What matters is you have to make a move to make a move. There will be something there that will help you build your skills.”

“Nothing ever happens until a sale is made. So if you can’t find anything to do, just get a sales job selling something you believe in. It will teach you much about life. We are all in sales, no matter what we do in life.”

“As an entrepreneur I once said that I have never been fired because I’ve never been hired, but I have been fired. It’s called failure.”