““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
If a desire to see the world helped entice a young Hank Cintron to sign up for military service, it's a good bet that he wasn't disappointed. He joined the Army from an ROTC program at the University of Puerto Rico at age 21 in 1975, and by the time he retired as a lieutenant colonel two decades later, he had worked everywhere from Venezuela and Nicaragua to Germany and Kuwait.
Much of that work involved medical records and-during the latter part of Cintron's career in uniform-computer technology. Assigned initially to the Medical Service Corps at a military hospital in Frankfurt, Germany, he subsequently worked at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. Later, at the United States Army Medical Materiel Agency, he was director of readiness. He also served as a project officer on a program called Deployable Medical Systems and as the first commander of the Department of Defense's Theatre Medical Management Center. After that, he retired and moved to Tampa, Fla.
But Cintron didn't retire to Florida the way most people retire to Florida. Instead, he started a technology consulting company called Multi Services Group International, or MSGI. The firm-which garners most of its business from the military-now has 72 full-time employees, many of whom are retired military personnel. It maintains offices in Tampa and San Antonio and smaller operations at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Lewis in Washington state, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Offices in Germany and Korea are coming soon.
To travel abroad, Cintron and his staff still rely on the airlines. But to get around domestically, they now have a leased Learjet 45 and-as of a few months ago-their own Learjet 35.]
You started MSGI with $10,000?
The first version of the business I actually started with $1,000. I wanted to provide consulting services in Latin America and that became something I realized wasn't going to be easy. So I shut down, recovered and started again, focusing on what I know best-consulting, business management and logistics management.
This time, I pumped in about $10,000 and we went after our first contract, which was with the Medical Communications for Combat Casualty Care operation at Fort Detrick [in Maryland].
What did you do with the $10,000?
We were about four people when we started and I needed to make sure we had enough capital to pay salaries and taxes for the first couple of months.
$10,000 doesn't go very far for that.
No, but I was able to negotiate pretty good terms with my prime [client] at that time, and I was able to secure payment for my invoices within 30 days. So that started generating the capital to keep people paid so I could grow the company.
Your business is largely computer related?
About 95 percent of it is information technology services. We find out a customer's requirements and then devise a plan for them to acquire IT solutions. Then we do all the training, installation and systems management. About 95 percent of it is U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps. We're providing services to all the hospitals overseas that are supporting operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
What sort of services?
We're working on the Theater Medical Information Program, which will provide a seamless medical record for any service member in the military. It's a huge project. We have only a small piece of it. We go out and train the end users, the doctors who are in the military. We're also responsible for making sure the system that supports this is maintained properly. We train the system administration personnel and we mentor them as well. This is a brand-new capability that the military is deploying, because Congress mandated that they have a way to track electronically what happened to each service member while they were deployed overseas.
So it's an electronic medical record.
Yes. You have both the inpatient and outpatient records of the servicemen being maintained electronically and there's a central database in Virginia. So say a soldier comes back injured from the battlefield and gets returned to long-term hospitalization at Walter Reed. The doctors there can see exactly what physicians in the frontline in the combat support hospitals did to that patient. It's all accessed via the Internet.
I assume this and your other consulting projects involve lots of travel.
I'm a three-million-mile American Airlines person. Most of my travel began when I created MSGI and this project required that we visit Army sites and try to get them ready to accept this new product that was being delivered to them. So we traveled worldwide. I've traveled to Seoul many times and to Dubai and Kuwait.
And you did all this travel commercially until recently?
Yes. But then I started reading about private jets. And I thought that maybe that would be a good option, not just for myself but for my employees, to give them additional family time. We were burning them at both ends-they'd come back from a training and probably a day or two later, they'd have to go back out to another training site. And with all the security that's going on in our theaters and to make sure they got there in time for processing and flying out and coming back home, I said, let's take a look at a private jet and see if we can save everybody some time-getting them from point to point without having to go through hubs and also cutting back on the time they'd have to spend in security lines.
Did you consider any options other than purchasing a whole aircraft?
I did a lot of homework. In fact, I had discussions with several fractional companies and then I started looking at owning something. It has to do with accounting and what's more beneficial to the company in the long run. And talking to the CPAs and lawyers, we came to the conclusion that with our mission profile, it'd be better if we bought something.
While we were in the process of finding the aircraft, though, I signed a 24-month lease with Bombardier Flexjet. That started in July . They have a very nice program that allowed me to lease 75 hours per year. We've used about 65 hours of that already. So in addition to flying my Lear, we've been flying [Flexjet's] Learjet 45. That gave me the capability to start moving people around the country on a private jet while I was looking for the right aircraft to buy.
What's the nature of the Bombardier deal?
It's a dry lease. It's sort of like fractional ownership, but entry into that program was not as expensive as a fractional share. I didn't want to have to spend a lot of my capital going into a fractional jet ownership program and at the same time try to come up with the capital to buy my own aircraft.
Why did you wind up opting for a Learjet 35?
Most of my teams are deployed in packages of six so it made sense to put them on a small Lear. And because of the range, we can transport them out of San Antonio-that's where they're mostly based out of-to places on the West and East Coasts. We're not using the Lear to transport them overseas yet.
Do you foresee a time when you might move up to a larger jet?
I just had a meeting with my senior staff and we could very easily be up to 200 full-time employees by June of this year. That would require the corporate team to move around the country a lot more than we thought initially and having people pretty much all around the U.S. So, yes, we can foresee ourselves graduating to something a little bigger-a Hawker or maybe a Gulfstream.
My dream airplane, by the way, is a Challenger 300. It's very comfortable and it's got newer technology. That's an aircraft that I could see us buying.
What benefits have you seen so far from flying privately?
It's made things a lot easier. I went on a business trip the other day to San Antonio and was able to come back the same day. As soon as my meeting was over, I was able to call up the pilots and say, "Change the flight plan, we're leaving a couple of hours earlier."
The input I've gotten from my employees is they really appreciate that we can pick them up, transport them to a destination quickly and get them home a lot quicker than before, without having to worry about changing or refunding airplane tickets. It gives them more time with their families.
How do you handle maintenance and crews?
We've signed a management contract with a very good company here in Tampa called ExecuJet [Charter Service]. They'll manage the Learjet for us and they also have a full in-house maintenance program and provide the pilots.
Do you use the Learjet for personal travel?
Absolutely. My dad and mom, who are 83 and 78, have flown in it. My grandkids have flown in it. My daughter and son-in-law and my son have flown in it. In fact, we're gonna use it soon to fly to Puerto Rico for a wedding.
Meanwhile, I'm told you've started an air charter division.
Yeah, my goal is to be able to buy one, two, maybe three more aircraft in the long run and have them for charter as well as for MSGI and our own clients. We're setting up the company for people who want to do luxury travel and also safaris and canoeing and rafting. I just fell in love with the private jet and what it can afford to people who want to move around not only our country but internationally.