Gary Scott was the final speaker in this year's Albers Executive Speaker Series. Gary is a graduate of our MBA program and recently retired as President of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft after leading the development of the C series, narrow-bodied airplane. As Gary took pains to say, Bombardier is not trying to compete in the single-aisle airplane market with Boeing and Airbus, as much as fill a gap in smaller size end of the market.
Gary joined Bombardier in 2004 as President of the New Commercial Aircraft Program and was named President of Commercial Aircraft in 2008. He began his career with The Boeing Company in 1973, where his roles included Vice President and General Manager for the 737/757 programs and President of Flight Safety Boeing, which is the role he had when he left Boeing in 2002 to take a position with CAE, Inc., a leader in commercial aviation training. While leading the 737/757 program, Gary oversaw Boeing's single aisle commercial airplane division through the biggest production build-up in the company's history to that point in time.
Gary's presentation was on, "Leading a Non-US Global Enterprise," and he highlighted a few advantages that US firms have when doing business in the global market. These are things that many of us in the US take for granted, but should not! They include a huge home based market to grow up in. Second, we don't have to worry about exchange rate volatility in that home market, whereas companies in smaller nations are forced to expand into other currencies much earlier in their development. When US firms do venture abroad, foreign sales are still sometimes denominated in dollars. You can bet that Canadian firms are not pricing their exports in Canadian dollars. Finally, export financing through an entity the size of the US Export-Import Bank is not available in most countries. This is particularly advantageous to large scale industries such as aviation.
One advantage that US firms do not have is good people. "They are everywhere," said Gary. The trick is to create an organizational culture that leverages that talent.
One questioner asked how it was that someone with a business background held leadership positions that one would associate with someone from an engineering background. Gary's response was that you should always understand your product, even if you are the finance guy! He was not afraid to ask questions about how airplanes worked. Additionally, he was always willing to take on a new challenge, so in the process was continually learning about the business.
Several questions were directed at doing business in China, where there are concerns about protecting intellectual property. Gary acknowledged the challenges, but said that China is such a big market you have to be there if you are in aviation. The key will be to find a way to establish the right partnership. The market has confidence in Western aviation companies, and that can be a leverage point in establishing partnerships in China.
When Gary was an MBA student at SU, we required a thesis for graduation (many an MBA alum has complained to me about that over the years!). Gary reminisced about his topic, "The Capital Crisis in the Airline Industry." At the time, people were concerned that there would be insufficient financing for growth in the industry. Gary argued, correctly, that there would be no capital shortage. Things have a way of working out, he said. What you once thought was a stretch in terms of something like production capacity, is easily exceeded a decade later.
This perspective is what nearly four decades in the aviation industry will give you! It was a great opportunity for our students to learn from an aviation leader!
Gary's presentation was the last chapter in this year's Albers Executive Speaker Series. We had another good year, with some of the highlights including Howard Schultz from Starbucks, Jim Sinegal from Costco, and wireless industry legend John Stanton. We hope to do as well in 2012-13!