Garrett/Piedmont Hawthorne rebrands as Landmark Aviation

 - October 17, 2006, 10:12 AM

Garrett/Piedmont Hawthorne/Associated has made a landmark decision. The services once provided by the well known and respected names of Phoenix-based engine and airframe maintenance firm Garrett Aviation, the FBO chain of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Piedmont Hawthorne and Dallas-based large-aircraft completions center Associated Air Center reemerge this month under the single name of Landmark Aviation. Garrett and Piedmont Hawthorne lose their names, but Associated Air Center will continue to operate under its own identity.

After the international private equity firm The Car-lyle Group in Washington, D.C., acquired Garrett Aviation Ser-vices last year, it began quietly assessing what it believed needed to be done to improve the performance and image of its new aviation service properties. At the same time, it wanted to rebrand itself as a full-service, single-source supplier and devise a less cumbersome but appropri-ate name. Move forward one year and the former Garrett/Pied-mont Hawthorne/Associated has regrouped under a new identity and strategic plan.

The route that brought the company to this Landmark event was a circuitous one of acquisitions and mergers over several years. In 1998 The Carlyle Group purchased Piedmont Hawthorne and, in 2000, added Associated Air Center. Last August, The Carlyle Group acquired Garrett Aviation from General Electric.

By last year, when Carlyle purchased Garrett, the company had undergone a 20-year metamorphosis from an engine manu- facturer to an engine-service supplier. In 1968 the Signal Companies merged with then engine-maker Garrett, which be- came a subsidiary of AlliedSignal when Signal and Allied merged in 1985.

Also that year, the original AiResearch was renamed Gar-rett General Aviation Services and then in the early 1990s changed its name again to just Garrett Aviation Services. UNC acquired Garrett in 1996 and turned it over to GE in 1997.

The Carlyle Group since 2000 has also owned Dallas-based Vought Aircraft Industries, which manufactures wings, wing structures, engine nacelles and engine nacelle components for Gulfstreams, Citations, Hawkers and other business jets.

The company would have liked to introduce a rebranding at the 2004 NBAA Convention–a few months after its acquisition of Garrett–but decided there was too little time to put it together. The com-pany conceded from the start that the old moniker was a “mouthful” and never indicated adequately what the company does.

Company executives said their biggest challenge was to take “three distinct cultures, each of them with a rich aviation history, and merge them into a single fully integrated FBO/MRO network and a single customer-centric culture.” This is “absolutely essential for our success,” said Landmark’s new president, Shawn Vick.

Last October, Andrew Farrant was hired as v-p of marketing and communications. As Bombardier Business Aircraft general manager of marketing and sales support in 2002, Farrant was one of the architects of the rebranding of the Continental business jet as the Challenger 300. Also in October the company brought in a branding consultant.

Workshops with senior- and mid-level managers from across the business fol-lowed, to establish the “vision and core values” the company must live up to. According to Farrant, the company sees its vision as “dedicated to enhancing the ownership and operating experience for every customer.” Values include “integrity, responsiveness and accountability.”

In January and February, the company launched a series of focus groups within each of the three divisions, talking to em-ployees at all levels and to more than 200 customers about what they believe the strategy and culture of the company should be. One of the biggest issues expressed, according to Farrant, was that the existing reputations of these three companies “were not in line with where we wanted to go.” Finally, it was clear, said Farrant, that “both external and internal audiences were ready for meaningful change.”

One of the essential messages Landmark Aviation wants to get across to customers is that the renamed company is now one cohesive team dedicated to pro-viding efficient and complete customer services–fueling, aircraft refurbishing, outfitting, airframe maintenance, avionics installations, and aircraft sales, charter and management.

With the “vision, values and strategic direction defined” over the last year, the company turned to finding a name and a logo to express clearly and appropriately its objectives and image. Initially, it considered using an existing name, such as Garrett. Although this name has recogni-tion and heritage, executives re-jected it because it was perceived as limiting the company to engine maintenance and might be con-tentious among non-Garrett employees.

Company officials also eliminated a combination of Garrett Piedmont or Piedmont Garrett because it seemed “a forced set” that didn’t signal any real change anyway. The abbreviation GPH was also discarded because it lacked meaning, authenticity and identity of any kind, said a spokesman.

Officials decided an entirely new name would be the best opportunity to “change the game” and the best way to accomplish its goals. They hoped it would indicate a “fresh start, set new expectations and be aligned with [our] desired reputation.”

With the assistance of outside help (and officials keeping their fingers crossed during a trade-mark search), Farrant said the company did two separate studies on names. “We did approximately 150 additional qualitative interviews with flight departments in which we tested a variety of names, and the one that emerged as the frontrunner by far was Landmark Aviation.” (The com-pany declined to provide proposed names that were not selected.)

The company sees this name as a “powerful and efficient means of signaling change and integra-tion.” It has long been a familiar term in aviation (as well as ma-rine) navigation and signifies a turning point or important change.

Landmark Aviation’s logo de-picts the integration of ground and sky to symbolize the job of the company–“ground support to keep aircraft flying,” said Farrant.

Associated Air Center keeps its own identity, Farrant said, because “a strong brand has been built down there” and its services do not find their way into that “day-in-and-day-out mix” of the other units.

Officials acknowledge it’s going to take “some time” for these three companies to merge into one. Employees and cus-tomers were briefed last month, and a formal introduction of Landmark Aviation to the rest of the industry is scheduled for the NBAA Convention later this month in Orlando.

Is it the right name? “The marketplace will tell you what the right answer is,” Farrant said.

The Landmark Network

Landmark Aviation, headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., is composed of four divisions: maintenance, repair and overhaul (previously Garrett Aviation Services); a network of 33 FBOs and an aircraft sales, charter and management operation (both formally Piedmont Hawthorne); and Associated Air Center, a completion facility for airliner-size business jets.

In addition to being a major supplier of repair and overhaul for TFE731 engines, Landmark also provides airframe and avionics heavy maintenance and modification, interior refurbishing and aircraft painting. The company also operates several Raytheon Beechcraft service centers.

The Piedmont Hawthorne acquisition not only provided a network of U.S. and Canadian FBOs, but it also gave Landmark Aviation a company charter fleet of nearly 50 turbine airplanes and a turbine aircraft sales, charter and management operation. Landmark Aviation is one of Raytheon’s largest independent Beechcraft dealers (Bonanzas through King Airs).

Dallas-based Associated Air Center, which offers interior completions and modifications for large business jets, is a designated completion and service facility for the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) and the Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ). A spokesperson said that the company has delivered 12 BBJs and three ACJs, with more of both models “under contract.”

All in all, Landmark Aviation has some 2,500 employees at 38 locations through-out the U.S. and Canada.