HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Huntington native Bill Noe is one hometown boy who has reached the heights of success as an athlete, a pilot and as a businessman.
Noe, 51, is the president and chief operating officer of NetJets, the world’s largest nonscheduled air carrier in the world. He was also a former standout swimmer for the Huntington YMCA and Marshall University.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, Noe will be the keynote speaker at the YMCA of Huntington’s “Just for Kids” Scholarship Dinner that starts at 6 p.m. at the St. Mary’s Conference Center on 5th Avenue.
“Supporting Our Youth: A Flight Path for Success” is the theme for the scholarship dinner.
“I just want to share my story that began with me not knowing what I wanted to do in life, to getting involved in the YMCA and the huge impact it had on my life,” he said.
Noe thought he had no idea what he wanted to do when he grew up as a child in Huntington.
“The only thing I knew that I loved to do was swimming,” he said.
Noe was born in Ashland in 1965, but his parents, the late Bill and Fran Noe, moved to Huntington when he was a year old.
“It was a little one-bedroom apartment,” he said. “Dad was a milkman, and mom was in nursing.”
Noe said his father later became a salesman for medical products and equipment, and his mother became a nurse anesthetist.
“I learned about work ethic by watching my parents,” Noe said. “My dad would leave on Monday and come back on Friday. My mom would often leave for work at 4 a.m. and was the kind of person who never said no if somebody needed a shift filled. The one person I really looked up to was my father. He reminded me of John Wayne – he was very tough, but he had a soft side. He was the kind of person who could say anything to someone, and they’d smile. People loved him. You can’t learn that kind of charisma.”
Noe said as a child he spent as much of his time as he could at the swimming pool.
“Huntington had a nice outdoor Olympic Pool at Ritter Park, and I loved going there,” he said.
At the young age of 4, Noe was at the pool with friends and family when he noticed some older guys jumping off the high dive. Noe says it was at least 16 feet high and located at the deep end of the pool, which was well over his head.
“Nobody really noticed me as I was climbing up to the high-dive platform until I was at the top,” he said. “Then lifeguards saw me and starting blowing whistle and telling me not to jump.”
Noe jumped anyway.
“I guess they thought that I couldn’t swim and would get hurt or drown,” he said.
Noe quickly swam to the pool’s edge before lifeguards had even reached him.
A YMCA swimming coach, Bob Shaw, noticed. He wanted Noe to come to the Y and try out for the fall swim team program.
“At 5 years old, I made the swim team,” Noe said.
By his senior year in high school, the scholarship offers began pouring in from various colleges and universities.
“I graduated from St. Joseph Catholic School in 1982, but still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, except continue swimming,” he said. “I majored in general studies at Marshall because I really wasn’t sure.”
At Marshall, Noe was on swim teams that won Southern Conference championships and set records.
During the 1983 Southern Conference Swimming Championship held in the aquatics arena at Marshall’s Cam Henderson Center, Noe set six pool, six school and six conference records while leading the Thundering Herd to the Southern Conference Championship. He also won the championship’s “Most Valuable Swimmer” award.
“That is something I will never forget,” Noe reflects. “I was very proud to be a collegiate athlete for Marshall University, and I still am.”
After college, he started working in the construction industry.
“It really wasn’t what I wanted, but I still remained unsure,” he said.
One day Noe was driving by the Lawrence County Airport in Ohio and noticed a sign.
“It said, ‘Learn to fly, stop here,’ ” he recalled. “I went in and asked what I needed to do.”
By the age of 22, Noe had obtained all the rating and certifications he needed to become a pilot.
“I fell in love with aviation,” he said. “I liked the views from a plane for my office when compared to any other job I could think of.”
Noe thought about applying for jobs with large airline companies, but instead found his niche with smaller aircraft.
“I started my career with Executive Jet Aviation, which later changed to NetJets,” he said.
NetJets, originally founded in 1964 as Executive Jet, implemented a unique business model starting in 1986 that would change the way some of the world’s biggest movers and shakers fly, Noe said.
“The concept is called fractional ownership,” he explained. “Instead of buying their own private jet, individuals purchase a share of a plane. Depending on the size of their share, they are guaranteed access to the jet for a certain number of hours or days each year. If owners need to fly somewhere, they simply call NetJets, and the plane and flight crew will arrive at their local airport within four hours. Owners also have the option of selling their share back to the company or to another individual.”
Noe said they get people on a jet, take them where they want to go and make sure it’s a great experience.
“It’s also about giving them that ‘wow’ factor,” he said. “That’s what we do. Our customers include some of the most famous people in the world. Of course I can’t name names, but there aren’t many celebrities we haven’t flown.”
Today, Noe lives in Columbus, Ohio, which is the headquarters of NetJets. The business now has more than 800 planes with offices in Ohio, California, New Jersey, Portugal and Saudi Arabia. It also boasts an impeccable safety record, having never experienced a fatality in its 25-year history.
“That’s the story I want to share with our youth: When you find something you’re passionate about, it’s not work anymore,” he said. “My grandfather told me to find a hobby you can make a living at – and that’s what I did.”
Noe said in 1999 his mother gave him a Christmas gift that included something he had written for a school assignment.
“It was about what we wanted to be when we grew up,” Noe said. “I had written that I wanted to be a pilot. I couldn’t even remember writing that, but it’s funny that apparently I had known all along what I wanted to be, and that was a pilot.”
Noe said he is looking forward to coming back home and usually visits at least once a year.
“When I think about Huntington, certain faces and names come to mind. We had the unique privilege to grow up with our friends. From kindergarten to high school to college, we shared those experiences together. As a result, I’m still friends with many of those people today,” he said. “I always drive through the downtown to see the Keith-Albee and Wright’s and all the new businesses. I always go to Rocco’s and Jim’s Spaghetti. I can’t leave town until I’ve seen Ritter Park or driven by the old house I grew up in. I have a lot of good memories of Huntington.”
At the dinner, the Huntington YMCA also will salute its executive director George Smailes as he prepares to retire after more than 49 years of service.
Cost to attend the fundraising event is $125 per ticket, according to Smailes.
“This fundraising event helps the YMCA to continue to provide services to youth and our communities,” Smailes said.
For information or to purchase a ticket, contact Smailes at 304-525-8127.