'Taking risks to be the winner'
Bill Boisture, president of Gulfstream Aerospace as well as an executive vice president of General Dynamics, which bought Gulfstream in 1999, joined the Savannah, Ga. business jet manufacturer in 1994, previously serving as executive vice president and president and COO. Before that he was president of British Aerospace Corporate Jets, president and CEO of Butler Aviation and president of SimuFlite during its start-up phase. A 1967 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, he served in training, combat and test flight assignments in fighter aircraft, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters and 13 Air Medals. He has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of New Haven. Just before the NBAA Convention opened, Boisture spoke with Aviation International News editor-in-chief Randy Padfield, on a wide range of topics.
General Dynamics acquired Gulfstream just over three years ago. How is this relationship working?
When Nick Chabraja, chairman of General Dynamics, bought Gulfstream, he said, “I expect you guys to operate the company and be accountable for it. And if you do a good job, we’ll stay out of your way.” And he has. He’s been true to his word.
I want you to know that General Dynamics is a good owner for this business aviation company. They’re very proud of this company. And in my mind, they have been, are and will be excellent owners of this company.
Nick Chabraja is very proud of the fact that his corporate headquarters for a $13.5 billion company has only 120 people in it. They’re the people who know how to make money, to create value for their shareholders. It’s a very lean approach to a major corporation.
That’s why our leadership team [Bryan Moss, Ira Berman, Dan Clare, Larry Flynn, Pres Henne, Joe Lombardo, Raynor Reavis, Buddy Sims and Boisture] is key to the future of Gulfstream’s business. The decisions concerning Gulfstream are getting made in Savannah by the people who know about airplanes, operations, customers, markets, and services and who are involved in only this daily. We’re not in the airline business. We’re not in the Ski-Doo business. We’re not doing any of that other stuff.
What are some of the benefits of being part of such a large corporation?
I think we are benefiting by General Dynamics’ presence as a major government and military supplier. I think this has helped with our credibility of our special mission products. It helps the government personnel who make the purchase decisions to know that a corporation of General Dynamics’ stature is behind a company like Gulfstream.
We’re also making fairly substantial use of the design engineers out of GD’s marine business. We’re very glad to have them. They work where they live and we send them the work electronically. That’s been a big help.
We also have senior people participating on various corporate councils covering such things as manufacturing, purchasing and technology. The manufacturing flexibility required to put out our new product line comes out of some shared work on how to build things.
Here at NBAA, Gulfstream announced a new product line, new nomenclature for its business jets and a new model, the G150, based on the G100 (former Astra SPX). Where did the ideas for these come from?
I think success has many fathers. It was a Gulfstream leadership decision to do this, strongly backed by General Dynamics.
One of this company’s real strong points is that we’ve got great leadership, several people who’ve been involved in the leadership of this company for the past six or seven years. This leadership team meets weekly; that’s how we run the company. Strategically, we get away together two to four times a year. Out of a series of those meetings over the last several years, a strategy like the one we announced here develops.
We sit and look at the market. We sit and think what might happen. We sit and think what the competition might do. And then we ask, “Given all that–and what we’ve got to do for our shareholders–what should we do?” That’s the environment you try to create. If you’ve got good managers, if you can get them all focused on those questions, then exciting answers like this come out.
Another example. The airborne product support idea, which includes a dedicated Gulfstream 100 available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, came out of one of these meetings. We were sitting around and saying, “What else can we do to improve our customers’ in-service reliability and availability?” Fortunately, we happen to be financially strong enough to execute this strategy.
How’s that program working?
Very well, but not very often. It’s just not needed very much. But when it’s needed, it works.
Key elements of the new product line are standard equipment packages, outfitting and completions. Why is Gulfstream focusing more on these?
Our rollback program involves taking things that are traditionally done in outfitting or completions and moving them back into the production phase of the airplane. We’re doing this because installing cabin equipment during the production phase places them in a more repeatable environment, meaning it’s easier to maintain manufacturing quality and integrity. It gives you a consistent configuration and we can build the airplane faster. We see a continual integration of this, so that it is not as much of a two-step process that we’ve seen in the past, while reserving for the customer the important choices.
From Gulfstream’s point of view, what is the most worrisome security measure that has been implemented during the last year or is now being discussed?
Our international customers, who come to the U.S. for maintenance of their airplanes and training, are troubled by the travel visa and clearance restrictions. To the credit of GAMA and the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Commerce, there has been a quick development of administrative procedures that if properly followed, we can facilitate our customers’ movements. That’s troublesome, but it’s a small price to pay.
Has Gulfstream’s acquisition of the type certificates for the IAI Astra and Galaxy business jets last year created any geopolitical problems for the company?
No. It just hasn’t come up. In fact, just before the Farnborough Air Show we delivered our second medevac GV to the ministry of defense of Saudi Arabia.
New York financier Ted Forstmann was your boss before he sold Gulfstream to General Dynamics. What did you learn from him?
One of the key things I learned from Ted was the tremendous positive effect of making good people your partners and giving them ownership of the task and expecting the best from them. And although it is very basic, he taught me an increased understanding of taking risk in order to be the winner as a company.
NetJets has a reputation for being a demanding customer, from the point of view of the OEMs and service suppliers. What has Gulfstream learned from having NetJets as its biggest customer?
I can well remember a day in 1995 when the leadership team was together and we were beginning to do business with NetJets. I said, “If we make a success out of this, it will make us a better company overall.” I knew they [NetJets] were experienced airplane people, but I also knew they’d operate the airplanes at twice the rate of our normal customers and that they would place incredible demands on the product support side of the business. They did. And we are a better company because of it.
NetJets emphasized very strongly the importance of the turn time in the maintenance cycle of an airplane. In order to meet that expectation, we’ve learned that preparation before the aircraft arrives for maintenance is important. That means having a tight work plan, knowing how to get the parts, having it all flow to the floor of the hangar while the mechanics and technicians are working on the airplane to cut that time by substantial amounts. We learned that in response to NetJets’ emphasis. And we’ve applied that across the business.
Looking at some of Gulfstream’s aircraft programs, when do you expect the GV to receive JAA approval?
We’ve completed all the necessary tests to meet the requirements that the JAA and
we agreed were requirements. We’ve spent the money–about $20 to $25 million–done the tests, done the work and now we have complied. We’re waiting for their final approval.
What’s happening with the supersonic business jet work at Gulfstream?
Relative to the other product development programs we have going, it’s a small program. An accurate description would be that technology building blocks are being addressed very carefully in programs funded by DARPA [the Department of Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency]. At some point, the research may possibly lead to a technology demonstration.
Does Gulfstream have any interest in the lower end of the business jet market?
No. Several of the companies that have products or concepts in development in the light-jet market have approached us from time to time. That’s not our business.
What can you tell us about the GIV-X or -Next?
We’re working on it.
Jane Garvey just completed her five-year term as FAA Administrator. Your critique?
We have a great deal of respect for Jane Garvey. Under her leadership the FAA developed the Partnership for Safety program with the OEMs. This was a tremendous step forward in terms of getting our new products to market efficiently. I give her a great deal of credit for listening to guys like me and understanding that there was a problem. We’re a very strong supporter of this program. When you introduce new products, you place a great deal of demand on FAA resources. If we couldn’t go to the FAA ahead of time, tell them what we’re planning to do and then work up a plan with them, it would be much more difficult, costly and time consuming to get our products to market.
What about Bill Boisture personally? Any thought of retirement or going elsewhere?
No, not at all. I’m responsible for the Aerospace Group in General Dynamics and I’m responsible for Gulfstream. Both are great opportunities, and I like what I’m doing. I have a great team of people to work with. So, no, I’m not thinking of doing anything else.