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A LEADER'S CHECKLIST

Wednesday, 7:30 PM: weather forecast in hand (storms en-route), aircraft fueled, flight plan filed, a reduced passenger load on board; captain and crew are not as fresh as they were after another very long day. Power on, pre-flight checklist underway, an unspoken “let’s get out of here” tension emanating from the cabin and the Primary Flight Display (PFD) goes intermittent, alternating on-and-off between brightly-lit yellow and magenta and a blank screen…

AvBuyer   |   25th January 2011
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The AvBuyer editorial team includes Matt Harris and Sean O'Farrell who contribute to a...
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The keys to reinventing success.

Wednesday, 7:30 PM: weather forecast in hand (storms en-route), aircraft fueled, flight plan filed, a reduced passenger load on board; captain and crew are not as fresh as they were after another very long day. Power on, pre-flight checklist underway, an unspoken “let’s get out of here” tension emanating from the cabin and the Primary Flight Display (PFD) goes intermittent, alternating on-and-off between brightly-lit yellow and magenta and a blank screen…

Leadership in Business Aviation can, at times, feel a lot like sitting in the left seat, staring at a flashing no-go monitor when all we want to do is fly. It is, after all, what we are best at, isn’t it? But leadership involves more than a flight-ready airplane, piloting skills, high-tech instrumentation, and the latest sensors, systems, equipment and data. It requires judgment in the face of imperfect information (and flashing screens), and the courage to set aside egos (mostly our own), learn from mistakes (mostly our own), and make necessary and often painful decisions (mostly with help).

Leaders re-invent the game and change the rules to be in their favor. They find the hidden talents in their organizations, and bring new ideas and bloodlines in. They make better decisions that build on past ‘mistakes’; they know that ‘failures’ are excellent learning opportunities for a new day, an easily- forgotten truism when a project sputters and things hit the turbofan at high speed.

When the ground shifts, the waves crash, the headwinds howl, and the customers don’t want to be reached, one thing that never seems to change is the need for better market and customer intelligence. These are the vital few things that need much more than monitoring – they need to be part of the bedrock on which leaders lead - not by Visual Flight Rules and dead reckoning, but with real-time data on existing and emerging customer patterns, causal relationships, behaviors, intentions and preferences that complement their time-tested sixth-sense of effective leadership.

How do end-customers use their aircraft? What are their requirements and preferences? What are their intentions? Perhaps most importantly, can we design products to meet their emerging needs? Internal company databases on sales, marketing and customer service are amongst the first places to look.

Buried deep in the data could lie the gold nuggets of future earnings. Other sources, including focus groups, customer surveys, and “market research by walking about” – getting out to see how the customers actually use their aircraft – can open new avenues of understanding. A good engineer can develop a good airplane – a well-informed engineer, armed with customer insights, is amongst your competitors’ worst nightmares.

At the end of the day, a leader’s imperative is to strive to constantly establish unique, defensible, and profitable competitive advantages for their company. Success can be gratifying but too much can be numbing – the challenge is to re-invent success, appear small, and stay nimble and competitively mindful.

As Clayton Christensen discovered in his seminal 1997 research [The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School], new competitors tend to come from below – with seemingly inferior products, lower performance, fewer “must have” features, and (a critical point) lower price points. They are easily dismissed – many are undercapitalized, and the barriers to entry can be intimidating to say the least.

Twelve years ago, Embraer was a regional aircraft manufacturer with an idea - to build a business jet portfolio. The not-very-highflying- or-performing EMB135 derivative was the cornerstone of that strategy. Priced millions less than other large-cabin business jets, that aircraft has since morphed into the successful Legacy 650. Around it, a confident industry leader has emerged with a growing product family that captured 19% of GAMA business jet unit shipments in 2010.

In the 1970’s, Canadair – an unknown player with a heritage of military aircraft license production – worked with Bill Lear to develop what eventually became the Challenger 600. Dubbed “Fat Albert” by its detractors, and notoriously underpowered but value-priced, the aircraft and its bankrupt developer had a protracted gestation period and were effectively dismissed as non-players.

Today, Challenger is the top selling large aircraft in its class, and Bombardier is consistently the industry’s leading OEM by delivery revenue.

In the late 1960s, Cessna developed a very light jet known at the time as the FanJet 500. Dubbed by some “the NearJet”, the precursor to the Citation 500-Series was just a shadow of the multiple aircraft designs that were to be forthcoming from Cessna, now recognized as the industry’s undisputed volume-leader. The company’s factory- direct Citation Service Center network, another product of early 1970’s thinking, is now the benchmark (and, begrudgingly, the quiet envy) of many in the industry. In each case, a company with a vision – and a value-priced solution attractive to customers - was able to succeed-against daunting odds and impressive barriers to entry. And they came from below.

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