Complex litigations, high stakes negotiations, global patent enforcement…and free fall, indoor skydiving? If you’re Kevin Fiur, executive vice president and chief legal officer for iFLY Indoor Skydiving, it’s all in a day’s work.
When he started out as a lawyer, inspired in part by fast-paced legal television shows of the late-80s and early-90s, Fiur was interested in litigation. But he soon found himself drawn to the business side of things. “I grew up in the L.A. Law era, so I saw being a lawyer as cool and fun, with a lot of chaos and drama,” Fiur says. “I always thought I wanted to be a trial lawyer and make the big closing argument, but I became a litigator, doing a lot of discovery and motion practice that young lawyers know and love, and made a very conscious effort to transition from that to a more business-oriented negotiation and deal lawyer.”
After rounding out his skill set and joining a public company in a heavily business-facing role, Fiur headed back to school for an MBA, eventually entering the venture capital game. From there, he worked for—and founded—a couple of start-ups, and worked across the Asia Pacific region for a decade before ultimately landing a dream role with iFLY. “Over a period of fifteen to twenty years, I made a successful transition from being a lawyer to being a full-time international business guy with experience in finance, marketing, and business development,” Fiur says. “When I started my career at Baker Botts, I wanted to be just a lawyer. Then I started to get involved in transactions and gain some business skills, and years later, after a lot of successes and failures, and learning equally from both, I evolved into a business executive with legal skills, which is the role I play today.”
Fiur’s colleagues couldn’t agree more.“Kevin brings to iFLY an extraordinary combination of entrepreneurial business acumen, strategic thinking and legal expertise that I have seen him hone in the trenches over the past two decades,” says David Weaver, partner at Baker Botts.
As iFLY’s CLO, Fiur leads global legal operations across the nine countries where the company does business, while overseeing the myriad activities that accompany that role, such as litigation, employment law, intellectual property, and complex transactional work. But his impact on the business doesn’t stop there.
“We’re a complex company. We design, manufacture, and sell vertical wind tunnels to fly human beings; we build and install those wind tunnels for ourselves and own and operate close to forty retail locations; and we have a large global licensing and franchising operation,” says Fiur. “My team provides cover and support for all of those activities.” The other major part of his role, Fiur explains, is “to work across the C-suite—and really all departments in the US and globally—to make sure those clients and colleagues are well served by both me and my extraordinary teammates.”
He also devotes time to business development, pitches in with sales, and helps negotiate the company’s larger deals. “We are an innovative, deal-oriented company, constantly entering into new areas such as virtual reality and gamification of our product and looking at strategic partnerships to enhance our customer experience. We also have a big appetite for third-party sales—where we sell and license our wind tunnels and technology to entrepreneurial individuals and a variety of entities,” he says.“My team and I are regularly involved in the sales process and helping our salespeople close deals,” he says. “We have a complex contracting process, so I’m often engaged with my team at various steps of that process as well,” he says.
Depending on the nature of the transaction, Fiur is further involved in the franchise and licensee relations aspect after each deal is sealed. “Part of that is being a senior leader, and this is a high-touch business,” he says. “People who get into our business spend a lot of money to be involved, so they expect a certain level of access to senior management in relation to their position as a franchisee or licensee. Because of that, I spend a lot of time interfacing with many of our business customers around the world, particularly in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.”
And he’s also involved with the retail customers. “I still read every incident report, from someone who bumps an elbow to someone who breaks a pair of glasses while flying, and, when it makes sense to do so, I’ll call them up to see how they’re doing and try to make sure they are ultimately satisfied with their iFLY experience,” Fiur says.
Given the industry, and the fact that iFLY has flown almost nine million customers worldwide since its creation in 1998 as SkyVenture, the company is heavily committed to safety. And this is an area in which Fiur himself is actively involved. “The number one concern here is safety, so I provide a lot of input in that arena” Fiur says. “Fortunately, we have a very limited injury history because we take safety extremely seriously. I visit our company-owned wind tunnels. I meet with our instructors and general managers. We consistently talk about safety, debrief about how to do things better, and innovate as needed to best serve the customer. My team and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about risk and helping our company manage those risks as we continue to rapidly grow around the world.”
Of course, his position isn’t without its challenges. “Our inventions created the global indoor skydiving market. And because we have extensive patents and trade secrets protecting our significant investment in R&D, we work hard to protect our rights and the expenditure of time and resources by our employees and owners. A lot of people have tried to use what we’ve created and own the rights to, and we have a sophisticated team to deal with those situations. We like to solve things on the front end by adhering to our contracts and the relevant laws, but we aren’t afraid to litigate if we have to,” he says.
For Fiur, however, the challenges are worth the opportunity to see iFLY grow from one wind tunnel to seventy-five wind tunnels globally as well as the thrill of sharing this unique experience with people around the world. In fact, Fiur encourages new members of his own team (as well as his outside lawyers) to take the plunge—and it’s something he did when he first joined the company. “I got in that wind. The instructor was able to let go of me, because I had a good, stable body position, and I was flying,” he says.
“My team and I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about risk and helping our company manage those risks as we continue to rapidly grow around the world.”
“There’s something that happens to your brain when you suddenly realize that you’re actually flying—it’s the coolest adrenaline rush you’ll ever have in your life,” he says. “Compared to skiing down a black slope on a mountain or jumping from an airplane, it’s even cooler, because I wasn’t falling; I was flying.”
And iFLY will most certainly continue to fly under the leadership of Fiur and the company’s legal team.