Jet industry leader gifts aviation scholarship to ASU engineering
“I learned so much at Arizona State University, especially my business acumen,” says alum Justin Firestone. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without that, so now I want to pay it forward.”
Motivated by his gratitude, Firestone is opening doors for today’s ASU students.
He and his wife, Natalie Firestone, will be doing just that through the recently established Justin and Natalie Firestone Scholarship for Entrepreneurship in Aviation. The Firestones hope to inspire a student studying aviation — a field that has propelled Justin’s successful career over the past 20 years — at The Polytechnic School, one of the six schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU.
“We want to provide support for a student who wants to make a difference in today’s aviation industry,” Firestone says. “Perhaps he or she will be a disruptor, provide a new service through technology or improve how the aviation industry operates in an innovative way. We want to give a little push to help a student succeed by offering financial aid, mentorship and unique access to the aviation industry through our contacts and connections.”
Propelled into aviation
After working in professional sports marketing for the Phoenix Suns and the Miami Heat, Firestone joined the aviation industry in 2001. He served as a senior executive for Marquis Jet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of NetJets and Berkshire Hathaway, and as president of Hawker Beechcraft, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Textron Aviation. He was also a director of Sentient Jet.
He founded Asia Jet in 2007 and Firestone Management Group in 2011, among many other aviation and business endeavors, proving himself a leader in the private jet industry across both the U.S. and Asia.
With more than two decades of sports marketing, aviation and business ventures under his belt, Firestone decided to act on his entrepreneurial spirit and combine his interests to create his own niche in the private jet sector. He co-founded Wheels Up, a leading private aviation company striving to democratize and digitize the industry.
Firestone says he and his team share a deep conviction that it should be as easy to book a private jet as it is to order a pizza.
“When the horrific events of 9/11 happened, I was catapulted into arranging private jets for professional athletes,” Firestone says. “At the time, the private aviation landscape appealed to the ultra-wealthy and famous. This was the start of how my background in professional sports, aviation and business merged together. An opportunity to help aviation companies market to professional athletes also surfaced.”
The Firestones have contributed to ASU in various ways throughout the years. Along with support for the aviation programs, they have strong ties to ASU athletics.
“Through his long-term involvement in the Sun Devil Club, Firestone and his family have made a tremendous impact on the Sun Devil Athletics community. His loyal support of the Sun Devil football program, including his involvement in the annual football banquet, as well as in charter travel for recruiting efforts, has been insurmountable,” says Scott Nelson, senior associate athletic director for Sun Devil Athletics and assistant vice president for the ASU Foundation.
It was Firestone’s relationship with ASU Athletics that connected him to Marc O’Brien, program chair and senior lecturer for the aviation programs at The Polytechnic School. With O’Brien’s help, Firestone began sharing his experiences with aviation students in the classroom.
“I could see the wheels turning in student’s heads and that’s what made me want to continue building a relationship with the aviation program. I love Marc’s vision for the program and the way he has shaped it,” Firestone says.
“Justin has been a vital component of our aviation programs, even before giving this generous scholarship,” says O’Brien. “He brings his experience and knowledge into our classrooms, providing our students with an industry perspective and the motivation to break out of the mold and do something different.”
Widely considered an aviation industry expert, Firestone has dedicated years to his craft, something he looks forward to sharing with an aviation student in the near future.
“If you can do something you love, you’re ahead of most people. I feel like I haven’t worked a day in my life,” Firestone says. “Natalie and I want to encourage an aviation student to never settle and to continue on their path because it is a very rewarding path to be on.”