Hawker Beechcraft focuses on support

 - July 31, 2007, 12:35 PM

Bill Brown, Hawker Beech-craft’s new president for global customer support, has all the right credentials for his new job, which he started at the end of May. Brown took over the job from Randy Groom, who “recently made the decision to take some time with his family and explore new career opportunities for the future,” according to Hawker Beechcraft.

After graduating with an FAA airframe and powerplant mechanic certificate from Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Okla., Brown set out on a general aviation trajectory in the early part of his career. He turned wrenches at what was then Beckett Aviation in Scottsdale, Ariz., then ran a charter company maintenance department in Tulsa. He also obtained commercial, multi-engine and instrument and multi-engine instructor certificates and ratings and flew charters for the Tulsa company, which operated a variety of piston- and turbine-powered airplanes.

While working for the charter firm, Brown transitioned to a 13-year stint at American Airlines’ Tulsa maintenance base, then accepted a position as vice president of engineering and maintenance for Midwest Airlines. He moved to Miami as senior vice president of sales and marketing for Avborne, then joined start-up airline Independence Air as senior vice president of operations. After that airline failed, Brown moved back to Tulsa as president and general manager of AAR Aircraft Services’ maintenance and repair operations.

Now back in the thick of general aviation, Brown is happy to be home. He had been observing the transition of Raytheon Aircraft to new ownership and the new Hawker Beechcraft brand name when a headhunter contacted him about the position. “I jumped at the opportunity,” he said, “because I know how exciting it is to break away from a company that was shackling you and regenerating the enthusiasm and the employees around a premier brand. They’re no longer focused on just creating sales for the big mothership; the focus here is on creating value around a 75-year-old product line.”

Brown views his airline maintenance experience and early general aviation background as ideal training for his new job. In his various positions in general aviation and with the airlines, he has been both customer and supplier. He believes he can bring his knowledge of process improvement and best practices to the Hawker Beechcraft customer support organization.

Brown said that Hawker Beech- craft customer surveys show that his group is doing a lot right and that 98 percent of those surveyed would buy from Hawker Beech-craft again. (To see how the company fared in this year’s AIN Product Support Survey, turn to page 20.) “What we could do better,” Brown explained, “is continue to listen to the customer and try to react even faster to things they’d like to see us improve.”

Another challenge is to help customers lower their operating costs. “With my background,” he said, “it’s a great opportunity to look at how we can leverage our ability to lower costs.”

Hawker Beechcraft’s Support Plus+ cost-management program is a big factor in helping customers keep operating costs to a minimum. Hawker Beechcraft tailors Support Plus+ to customer requirements. If an operator has its own maintenance technicians, for example, it might not need coverage for labor costs.

Hawker Beechcraft is also working with parts suppliers to cut costs and minimize the effect of rising material costs. Hawker Beechcraft also has to ensure that needed parts are in stock at its Dallas and Liege, Belgium logistics centers, ready for immediate shipment to customers.

The OEM currently has nine company-owned maintenance centers and nearly 100 independently owned authorized service centers, including the recently announced InterGlobe Hawker sales and service center in Gurgaon, India. The service network, Brown said, “is a key piece of our strategy. We’re going to continue to assess whether it’s a company-owned store or an authorized service center, especially in these emerging markets.”

Hawker Beechcraft Brings Customer Service Online
Since signing on at Hawker Beechcraft, Brown has been on the run, visiting service centers and spending time working as a mechanic at a company-owned maintenance shop. “My style is to get out there,” he said. “I want to make sure my team feels like I’m an engaged executive, looking at the issues that are driving customer satisfaction.”

He plans to continue spending time on the shop floor at other company-owned maintenance facilities, and he wants to visit key authorized service centers “to make sure that we aren’t sending mixed signals to our customers. Then I’m going to visit some of our customers and ask them what we can do differently.”

One area that Brown plans to target is adding technology to make publication of aircraft technical data more efficient. Hawker Beechcraft is also working on
a case-based reasoning system that will allow customers to use an online tool for troubleshooting discrepancies. Customers will be able, Brown said, “to go to that Web site, type in a problem and get instant known solutions that we think are the highest probable solution to the problem they’re having.”

In recent years, Hawker Beechcraft started acceding to customers’ wishes for products that company engineers didn’t invent. For example, it finally became possible for a buyer to ask for Raisbeck wing lockers to be installed on a new King Air before the airplane reaches the paint shop, which saves time and money versus installing the locker after delivery and painting it to match the original paint job.
“Not invented here” is not an issue at Hawker Beechcraft, claimed Brown. “We’re pretty smart people, but if we [tap] other people outside our universe, we become even smarter.

“We will steal shamelessly where it makes sense for our customer. Steal is the wrong word. Our pride is wrapped around the product that we produce and how our customer views it and not necessarily how we view it, and if we’re going to keep our pride intact, we’ve got to look at these other options.”

Hawker Beechcraft’s willingness to consider other companies’ modifications ultimately benefits customers because this helps avoid multiple solutions to the same problem. “We want to work more closely with them, to say, ‘What are the best solutions?’” Brown said.