The surprise departure last month of Bill Boisture from Gulfstream after 10 years as its president and the naming of vice chairman Bryan Moss as his replacement tops a list of several major revelations over the last few months by the Savannah, Ga.-based manufacturer.
Just a month before the change in command, Gulfstream joined other major manufacturers of business jets in revealing a plan to reduce its workforce. The reductions over the next several months could see as many as 1,000 employees let go, in addition to an undisclosed number of independent contractors.
At the same time, parent company General Dynamics disclosed that Gulfstream will reduce production this year from a projected 85 aircraft (the same number delivered last year) to 77. The company delivered 101 aircraft in 2001, the first full year of production of the combined GIV-SP, GV, G200 and G100 lineup. Most recently, the company decided to push back by nearly a year the introduction of the new Gulfstream 150.
Just five days after General Dynamics announced that Moss was appointed president of its Gulfstream subsidiary, the parent company released its first-quarter financial report. Virtually all business jet manufacturers reported lower revenues and deliveries in the first quarter, and Gulfstream was no exception. Sales and earnings declined on fewer deliveries: 15 in the first quarter versus 27 for the same period last year. Funded backlog slipped to $4.3 billion.
And now, GD has a new leader at Gulfstream.
Will all these developments produce any fundamental change in direction or strategy for Gulfstream? Not according to Moss: “This is not a company in trouble,” he told AIN. “We believe we are on the right track. We have a great deal of confidence in not only the vision and strategy here, but particularly in the management team. At the end of the day, all of us [the industry] are basically facing the same problem–an incredibly difficult economy and market conditions.”
In reference to the rebranding and introduction of the new product line last year, Moss said, “We remain convinced that this was and is a proper strategy to address the changing market we have seen evolving over the past few years.”
Moss’ taking over the leadership at Gulfstream may seem surprising to some, but it is not altogether unexpected. About a year ago, Moss, now 63, was set to retire after six years as vice chairman of Gulfstream. But following the sudden departure of Joe Walker as senior v-p of worldwide sales right after Moss’ retirement was announced, Boisture asked Moss to postpone his retirement plans and remain vice chairman indefinitely. Moss said that with his family’s “full support and understanding,” he agreed to remain with the company. The question was for how long, though.
Moss said General Dynamics chairman and CEO Nicholas Chabraja came to him and asked if he would be willing to take the position of president. Although this meeting occurred before Boisture’s departure was actually announced, it is believed it did not occur before Boisture had made his intentions known to Chabraja. In a statement included in the announcement of Boisture’s retirement, Chabraja said, “We accept his decision with regret, but wish him well.”
“I will tell you that my instantaneous answer was yes,” Moss said of the offer by Chabraja. Nowhere in any of those discussions was the term “interim” or “caretaker” used. “I had no discussions at all with Nick or anyone else about the tenure. The clear charge is to continue to manage the enterprise for whatever period of time it takes. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that I am very excited about it. I have no timeframe in mind at all. It’s going to depend on performance.
“I will also tell you that when I made the decision [in 1995] to join Gulfstream I involved my family a great deal because for me at that time it was a huge decision to make. In this most recent case, I informed my family that I had made the decision, and I have been very pleased with the instantaneous support and favorable response that I got from my wife, Carol, my son, Jay, and my daughter, Andrea.”
Moss wouldn’t comment on whether the status of NetJets’ order for 50 G150s (and options on another 50) is behind Gulfstream’s decision to delay development of the airplane for nearly a year. It’s already known that the fractional operator has been in the process of canceling or delaying acceptance of aircraft it ordered from Cessna and Raytheon. “That’s a question that really needs to be addressed by NetJets,” Moss said. “It is a good solid customer. We value its business and, frankly, I think the last thing in the world that [NetJets chairman and CEO] Richard Santulli would want to hear is Gulfstream commenting on something that is really his business.”
Whereas Boisture’s career follows a path of serving as CEO at several aerospace companies, Moss’ track record is on the marketing and sales levels. In 1966 Moss joined Lockheed-Georgia, where he was assigned to the engineering administrative group. In 1968 he moved to JetStar Sales, becoming sales manager in 1975. He joined Canadair in 1979, serving as a sales manager, and was appointed v-p of sales for Canadair Challenger in 1984; executive v-p sales in 1986; and president of Canadair Challenger in 1987. He was appointed president of the business aircraft division of Bombardier Aerospace in 1992.
As president of Gulfstream for 10 years, Boisture successfully led the company’s transition from being a privately held turnaround (in 1993 to 1995) to a highly successful New York stock exchange public company in 1996 and then in 1999 to a subsidiary of a prestigious Fortune 500 company. “Those were 10 fairly intense years,” Boisture told AIN. After such a run, and in view of the marketing challenges, reduced production and deliveries and considering the latest financial report, AIN asked Boisture why he’s leaving now.
Boisture said the decision to leave was entirely his and it was “arrived at, as you might expect, over time. I think through a lot of hard work on the part of the leadership team at Gulfstream, and a lot of good understanding on the part of Nick Chabraja, the transition to GD has gone extremely well. The relationships that have been built are strong, and the strength of the leadership team at Gulfstream is understood by the chairman. I’m proud of what we’ve done with the enterprise and I’m confident in what the current leadership can do with respect to managing the enterprise, and it was time to step back.”
It’s been a few months now since Gulfstream rebranded its airplanes and expanded the product line with new and derivative aircraft. Boisture said he believes the intent of this sweeping change is working the way it was intended. “It has given us some pricing and product line breadth and flexibility that was needed in good times and is extremely valuable in tougher times,” he told AIN. “In fact, we have had substantial success with the new G300 since we announced it. We are pleased with it, and it’s becoming well understood.” Boisture claims that there “was a total lack of adverse reaction to this change from the owners of the Gulfstream products under their more recognizable designations.”
The company said it never expected there would be instantaneous understanding of the nomenclature. “We did it more because of the competitive advantages that it gives us between the different price points and the different performance points. We anticipated that there would be a period of time in which we would have to work with everybody to bring about a consistent knowledge of what it actually is that we’re manufacturing, what we’re not manufacturing anymore and what they’re called. That’s an education that will come through more effort into marketing, which we’re gearing up to do.”
Boisture, a U.S. Air Force Academy graduate and decorated combat fighter pilot, reflected on his career at other aerospace companies. “If you look back at where I worked (and please don’t take this as an ego statement, because it’s not)–Canadair, SimuFlite, Butler, BAE–the thing I have been able to contribute when given the opportunity is the ability to change things. One can begin to recognize when one has done what one is able to do for an enterprise and it’s time for others to make the contributions they can make. That had a lot to do with my decision.” Health was not an issue. “I am very healthy,” he said.
Asked if he would consider leading NBAA after Jack Olcott retires later this year, Boisture responded without a moment’s hesitation, “No.” Without conceding that he was on any list or had even been asked, he said, “I’m not a political person. I don’t know the steps to that dance.” Nor does he intend to join another aerospace company or be a regular at future NBAA Conventions. “If there’s useful work and discussions to be done, I would certainly be there. If not, I won’t be.”
He will, however, stay active in two Air Force Academy organizations. Boisture is on the board of the association of graduates of the Academy and a trustee at the Academy’s Falcon Foundation, “for which I care deeply and will probably spend more time on.” Will Boisture retain his position as chairman of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association? “I will fulfill my obligations with the organization at the pleasure of the GAMA board. I am happy to serve out my term.” Discussion about the chairmanship and a decision were on the agenda for a scheduled May 1 board meeting.
As for the position vacated by Moss’ promotion, Gulfstream indicated that the question was still open on who or when a new vice chairman will be named.
Time will tell if placing a career marketing and sales executive such as Moss in the lead position at Gulfstream does result in future changes in strategy and performance.