HI Uplift: HeliValue$’s ‘overnight success … in just 43 years’


Helicopter appraisal firm HeliValue$ was sold to a new owner last month. So, Helicopter Investor asked founder Barry Desfor and partner Sharon Desfor for their memories of building the business that wrote the book (literally, in this case) on global helicopter values.

For Barry, the most satisfying thing about developing HeliValue$ was: “Becoming an overnight success 43 years later. Seeing the evaluation criteria and appraisal language [we evolved] become the most common standard throughout the world.” 

Sharon, who sold HeliValue$ to its current president, Jason Kmiecik, on January 1st, 2023, picks out the people.Those we hired, those we helped over the years, and those we met through HeliValue$. We’ve had some amazing employees, of whom four worked for HeliValue$ up until they died and several who still work for HeliValue$. We’ve worked for some rather astonishing entrepreneurs and we’ve been privileged to know so many industry pioneers.” (Read the full list of people named below).

Over the past 40 years, Barry sees the helicopter industry turning and now closing a circle of change. It’s moved from a spot market, one-off resale for a specific job, to fleet acquisition of multi-unit sales as commodities, back to the one-here, one-there market,” he tells Helicopter Investor.

Sharon adds that the biggest changes have been in the forms that leases have taken over the years. “From major banks, with their standard lease-with-purchase-option, to Santulli’s first helicopter leasing firm in the 1980s that brought surprising new money to the industry, to the heyday of lessees exercising early-buy-out arrangements, to Mike Richardson’s (then-Aerospatiale) underrated and under-utilised betterment-detriment lease, to GECC deciding in the 1990s that they’d like to take over the helicopter financing universe, thank you very much,” she says. “And then to Santulli’s triumphant return in 2010 with the first commercially successful helicopter operating lease firm.”

Barry’s entry into the helicopter market began after he was recruited by a helicopter resale company that wanted to provide banks and leasing entities with authentic worldwide helicopter resale prices. “The prices we reported had to stand the tests of formal appraisal standards,” recalls Barry. “Many clients needed future values for the aircraft and I developed standardised Residual Value reports.” It was this that led to the birth of the famous The Official Helicopter Blue Book. This reports current and historical manufacturer pricing, average resale trends, component overhaul and retirement cycles for more than 200 civilian helicopter models plus interactive reports.

He even remembers the first helicopters he valued. (Bell 204 and 205 (UH-1B, C, D and H) models, selling for $100,000 to $250,000. And, of course, the last. (A Bell AH-1J Cobra, still complete with its firing systems, for $5m).

Sharon joined the industry through a job advert in the Chicago Tribune. In 1983 she was working for a Chicago stockbroker and hating it, so picked up “a Trib” and started going through the employment ads. “I found one that was very intriguing, a helicopter broker that needed a computer operator, so I applied and in January 1984 I got the job. Over the next few years … okay, decades … I learned everything that Barry could teach me about helicopters, their parts, their markets, who owned them and why, who bought and sold. I ended up fascinated by the dynamics of this industry.”

And plans for their future? Sharon will remain with HeliValue$ for another three years to consult and assist with appraisals and litigation support. In addition, she is part of the team updating the history of the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). Sharon is a member of the College of Fellows and an international past president, ASA.

It’s going to be a busy summer for the Desfors. “Our youngest son will graduate from high school this year, so we have to deal with all the legal and guardianship changes that happen when a disabled person becomes an adult, as well as the changeover from academic school to a special needs transition programme,” she explains.

Also, their youngest daughter finishes her graduate degree and is moving back to Chicago from Texas, while their oldest grandson is getting married this summer. Next year, they also plan to try snow birding – escaping the cold northern winter for sunnier climes. “We’ll start with a month in Florida during the coldest month of the year and see how that goes,” says Sharon. “It has to be better than February in Chicago.”

While Barry is involved in much of the former, he also has a simpler plan: “Lots of naps between motorcycle rides.”

So, any valedictory comments for the helicopter industry they have both served for so long? Barry’s message recalls his military service: “At my advanced age, I plan to be the last man standing from the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association, so I can give the final toast. Cheers.”

Sharon prefers to quote from the title of one of Douglas Adams’ best-loved books: “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

Sharon Desfor remembers industry colleagues

“For years I sat on a board with Frank Jensen (HAI), David Smith (MBB at the time), Jim Hamilton (Bell), Elfan ap Rees (International Helicopter Museum), Peter Wright (American Helicopter Museum), Matt Zuccaro (HAI), Frank Piasecki (Piasecki), John ‘Slatts’ Slattery (HAI) and so many more.  I’ve seen David Smith in a Star Trek costume and Lou Bartolotta in Renaissance tights.

Barry and I have hosted some really cool people over the years. Here are two you’ll recognise: John Sheldon spent a few nights with us when our oldest daughter was just a toddler (sorry for the flying baby food, John), and Jeremy Parkin spent a day or two when he was just a wee Jeremy (okay, maybe we were all pretty young back then). I’ve served on committees and foundations with some truly fabulous people. And of course, HeliValue$ led me directly to the ASA, which changed the entire course of the way I served the industry.”

Above: Sharon Desfor found her place in the helicopter

industry thanks to an advert in the Chicago Tribune.

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