Jim Ziegler joined Greenwich AeroGroup in June as president and CEO, after running North America operations for Jet Aviation and serving in various positions at Learjet and Bombardier for 21 years. A graduate of Wichita State University, Ziegler started his aviation career at Learjet in the finance department then eventually moved into managing all of Bombardier’s service facilities, Wichita manufacturing operations and completions centers. Ziegler was also instrumental in Greenwich AeroGroup’s acquisition of Banner Aerospace.
There are two stories about how you took over the reins at Greenwich AeroGroup. One says you aggressively went after the position and developed the Banner Aerospace acquisition as a way of making points. The other story has Greenwich AeroGroup hiring you as a consultant specifically to make the deal; you impressed them and they offered you the job. Which, if either, is true?
Actually it is a bit of both. I was aware of Greenwich AeroGroup and the companies they had already acquired in the MRO and aircraft sales businesses [including maintenance businesses Atlantic Aero, Western Aircraft and Summit Aviation–Ed.]. After I left Jet Aviation, the Greenwich AeroGroup investors were persistent in trying to get me to take the president and CEO position. At the time
I wasn’t interested in jumping right back into this type of role. I was doing some consulting work for Greenwich AeroGroup, several OEMs and aftermarket businesses. In addition, I was looking at opportunities to acquire some businesses on my own.
When I came across the Banner Aerospace opportunity I realized that there was an excellent strategic fit between the Banner companies, which focus on aircraft parts, distribution, and component repair and overhaul, and the existing MRO businesses that Greenwich AeroGroup already owned. The owners agreed, and within 45 days we acquired Banner and I assumed the leadership position for the combined companies.
You’ve held several key, high-profile roles in the business aviation industry. How did you get started?
I attended Wichita State University, where I received a bachelor of business administration degree. I realized that most of the opportunity in Wichita revolved around the aviation industry, so I decided it was the most logical career choice.
I studied the industry and came to the conclusion that Learjet was the smallest of the local aviation companies and it would be easier to develop a long-term career and grow within the company. In 1981, after graduation, I aggressively pursued an entry-level position. It took about six months, but with the help of friends I got an interview and was hired into an hourly finance position. Once hired I established and wrote down goals for myself that helped drive my upward career path.
Your 21-year career with Learjet effectively served as a post-graduate course in business aviation management, didn’t it?
I was fortunate to have many diverse opportunities within Learjet and then Bombardier. I worked in finance early on and then became manager of spares and logistics in customer support. It was in that position that I learned the value of
the customer and the importance of having talented people around you. From there I was moved back into finance, managing the treasury function of the company and international finance for aircraft sales.
Eventually I found myself doing strategic planning and business development, where I was exposed to new product development and led the Bombardier team in the development of the aftermarket service center network. Once developed, I assumed the management responsibility for the service centers, then all of Learjet customer support, and ultimately all of Bombardier Business Aircraft customer support. Several years later I added the responsibility for Learjet operations in Wichita and finally all completions activities and the training businesses.
What are the most important things you learned working for Bombardier?
As I grew in my responsibilities, I quickly realized there are four basic things you need to do to be successful.
First, you don’t have a business if you don’t have customers. Every decision
you make has to consider the consequences on the customer. This sounds easy but
you have to constantly remind yourself of this essential element of business.
Second, you need to surround yourself with people who are driven and exceptional at what they do. This is the only way you make real progress and continue to develop your business.
Third, you have to be good at communicating where you want to go as a business, what you want to do and how you want to do it. If you can successfully communicate the vision up and down the organization and everyone understands their roles and responsibilities you can hold people accountable for achieving objectives.
Fourth, you have to provide them the essential tools and resources needed to do their jobs. Then you have to trust them and try hard not to get in their way.
When you moved to Jet Aviation as COO you were responsible for all the businesses in the Americas: FBOs, charter and management, maintenance and completions. What influence did this have on your role as a leader?
At Learjet and Bombardier I had grown up in the business. At Jet Aviation I had
to establish myself quickly and get the organization focused on what we were trying to achieve. I was brought into the company to integrate the businesses we had and to expand our geographical reach and product offerings and capabilities. We were successful in achieving all those goals.
In addition, I was exposed to several new businesses that I didn’t have a lot of experience with, such as the FBOs and charter and management. It helped to round out my background and experience.
So you moved to Greenwich AeroGroup to facilitate growth, but is this a good time to be building an MRO business?
There are several reasons why I agreed to join the team at Greenwich AeroGroup. They are committed to the industry and have the resources necessary to build a global business. In addition, the current market situation has put many companies in a situation where they need to have access to additional capital to continue to grow and develop.
Because Greenwich AeroGroup has the resources, it provides us the ability to continue to add to our geographical reach and enhance our capabilities. We now engage in domestic and international business and commercial and government aviation service markets. Each of these components holds new ways of thinking and adding value for the others.
Why were the Banner, Atlantic Aero, Western Aircraft and Summit Aviation acquisitions so important?
With this mix of businesses we are active in all areas of general aviation.
We sell aircraft as dealers for Pilatus and Cessna. We have FBOs, charter and management, full-service MROs with refurbishment and modification capabilities for both fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. We are currently authorized by many OEMs both at the component level and aircraft level. We also recently received our ODA designation for our engineering group, which is essential to support our MRO and component repair and overhaul businesses.
We have six different businesses dedicated to supplying parts for business and commercial aviation. We also have major manufacturing capabilities in the areas of machining and subassembly. The combination is synergistic with our multiple locations across the U.S., providing excellent geographical coverage. We are well
positioned to be a major supplier to aircraft customers and OEMs.
Being well positioned is one thing but the down economy persists. How is business?
Overall, our hours are relatively flat with last year. Some segments are down– general aviation discretionary work, in particular–but others are up. In addition to our main focus on general aviation we also support military aircraft at some of our locations. Additionally, our parts repair and overhaul businesses support commercial aircraft. This has helped to balance our businesses in the current environment.
With aircraft utilization down, the marketplace to service aircraft that require maintenance and/or modifications has become competitive. Supply and demand has put pressure on all of us and, as a result, there has been an erosion of pricing to try to attract business. However, we have been fortunate that we haven’t had to institute reductions in force or take the drastic measures some of our competitors have had to make with reducing pay and benefits.
Because of the mix of businesses we have and the focus we have on the different industry segments, we are weathering the storm pretty well. In fact, we are
hiring selectively, taking advantage of the fact that there are a lot of talented people available in the market right now.
What are Greenwich’s plans for NBAA this year?
We [have] two booths and approximately 60 people representing our nine different companies. One booth is focused on our parts distribution and component overhaul businesses and the other represents our MRO and aircraft sales businesses.