Most HAI press conferences involve stone-faced CEOs reading from note cards. They are accompanied by their entourage of aides and fellow executives, piles of handouts and elaborate audiovisual presentations. It’s all quite serious.
This is not how Frank Robinson gives a press conference.
Yesterday, the 79-year-old founder of Robinson Helicopter climbed the stage alone.
No canned answers. No notes. Just a half glass of flat soda. Robinson’s press conferences are packed shoulder-to-shoulder, standing room only. He’ll talk for a few minutes about his company and its helicopters–particularly the new turbine R66–but most of this information has been out there for a while. It doesn’t matter. Robinson is the closest thing the civil helicopter world has to a rock star. After a few minutes he opens the floor to questions and the real show begins.
Some questions, of course, are serious and he answers them seriously, but others give Robinson an opening.
He is asked about the price range of the R-66? The audience erupts in laughter. Robinson has steadfastly refused to set a price for the new ship and will not until it is certified.
“Yes, it is going to cost more than the price of an R44 Raven II, but it is going to be well below the
A question about diesel engines in helicopters–Robinson likes the idea and his company is still looking into it–prompts Robinson to recall how he used kerosene, cleaning fluid, a bottle of New Power high test to power an old jalopy in his youth. “I used to park it on a hill and by the time I pushed it to the bottom of the hill I could get that thing running.”
Robinson admits that some customers cannot get financing and a few orphaned finished helicopters are parked on the ramp, but the company has no plans to set up a financing arm because most of its sales are exports. “I just don’t want to be in a position where I am trying to repossess a helicopter from Afghanistan and get it back to the United States.”
Would he comment on a succession plan he may have in place for the company? “Why?” Robinson asks back, feigning insult. “You know what Jack Benny said, when they asked him what he was going to do with all that money when he died? He said, ‘If I can’t take it with me I won’t go.’” At this point the audience doubles over. “He didn’t need one and I think I don’t either.”