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Van's Aircraft Frounder Richard (Van) VanGrunsven and Head Engineer Tom Green
Richard (Van) VanGrunsven (left), founder, CEO and head engineer with Tom Green (right), president of Van's Aircraft

From the Ground Up (Literally)

A small business in rural Oregon, Van’s Aircraft Inc., specializes in making kit airplanes and supporting the people who buy and build them. The planes can take years to assemble, and over 8,000 Van’s kits are completed and flying around the world today.

Richard (Van) VanGrunsven, currently head engineer and CEO, started the business in 1972 when he designed and built his first airplane from scratch in small shop behind his house. He’s always been an aviator and even today commutes to work—by airplane.

It takes anywhere from 70 days to 20 years to build a kit plane. Most average a few years to complete.

The business now supports over 65 employees, from engineers to shipping specialists. Tom started in a technical support role and worked his way up, holding the role of president since 2000. Five years ago he announced his retirement, but he still appears in the office several days a week. The main reason? Managing the company’s ESOP—an employee benefit program serviced by BCI Group.

“The success of the ESOP depends on the success of the company—and we’ve got a good thing going here,” says Ken Scott. Ken started as a Van’s customer—he’s currently building his 4th plane—but has been an employee for over 25 years. “We’re the best in the world at what we do.”

Van's Aircraft kit plane flying
More than 8,000 airplane kits made by Van's Aircraft are flying around the world today

Business Is Family

“Van's never been a braggart, but he always made a priority of taking care of his employees,” says Tom. Ken agreed.

In 2003, Van and Tom sat down with the BCI Group with an eye toward developing a plan that Van hoped would reward the employees that helped make him successful. Together, they decided on an ESOP— an Employee Stock Ownership Plan that would provide employees with an ownership interest in the company.

“We’re lucky we found BCI Group,” says Tom. “I know we could have done this with another company, but I’d recommend them to anyone. They’re affordable, helpful, capable and the relationship we developed at BCI has benefited us beyond our expectations.”

Moving On

On the manufacturing floor at Van’s Aircraft, huge computer-driven machines punch holes and trim aluminum to size. Pieces that will form the braces inside wings, for instance. Tom laughed. He remembers building his plane and there weren’t pre-cut pieces to help you connect the dots. Instead, he simply had sheets of metal and a set blueprints.

Tom insists he really will retire soon. In fact, many of the original employees are getting closer to retirement age.

“This benefits plan is ideal for us,” Tom says. “It allows employees to see a return for their efforts, it provides an opportunity to share the profits of the company and helps them plan for their future.”

As for Tom’s retirement? Logging more miles on the home-built Van’s aircraft is certainly top on the list.

Every other day, for over 40 years, a Van’s customer finishes building a plane. Somewhere in the world, every two days, an aviator is wheeling out a plane for the inaugural flight.

Van's Aircraft employees
BCI helped Van's Aircraft create an Employee Stock Ownership Plan to give employees an ownership interest in the company.

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