Ex-banker's second act takes flight...in the cockpit

Reach for the sky
Reach for the sky

Javier Diaz has aviation in his blood. His father was an amateur pilot. His uncle owned and flew airplanes and helicopters. So it was no surprise when Diaz himself caught the bug. He just never expected to make a living doing it.

Colombia-born Diaz kept his feet on the ground when it came to business — becoming an investment banker with Deutsche Bank. But after 12 years behind a desk, he flew from the firm and went full throttle into Wings Air Helicopters, the company he founded in White Plains, New York, in 2002.

Javier Diaz left investment banking for a career that took off in a helicopter.
Source: Wings Air Helicopters

At Wings Air, a flight lesson costs $350 while a private tour has a price tag of around $1,500. The company also does aerial film production, working on movies including "The Bourne Legacy," "Now You See Me" and "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." It flies worldwide, with recent productions in New Orleans and Colombia and an upcoming shoot in Cuba.

"I don't think that anybody that's in banking loves banking," Diaz said bluntly in a 2013 interview with CNBC. "They love the perks. They love the fact that you can make good money, and as a matter of fact, being in that business allowed me to start this business."

He not only had the cash to buy an aircraft, but he had figured out how to make money with it, as well. "I had the idea of buying an airplane and renting it out for lessons," Diaz recalled. "I continued my day job, but I had somebody working for me as an instructor. And then, I bought a helicopter and started doing the same thing."

Still, he said the skies haven't always been clear for him. The company has been through some rough patches especially during the recession of 2007-2009. But over the years, it has adapted and expanded to meet clients' needs. Wings Air offers charters, flight training, aerial photography and more.

Advice from Diaz on successfully navigating a career change:

  • Make sure you have enough money to ease the transition to the new endeavor. Starting a new business always takes more money than you think.
  • Make sure you have your family's support.
  • Stay with it! If you love what you will be doing, you will definitely succeed.