Gulfstream Shines in Georgia, A Conversation with Their CEO Larry Flynn
Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
Recently, Georgia CEO tried to catch Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation CEO, Larry Flynn, on the fly while he was busily preparing for the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention and Exhibit in Orlando, Florida. Mr. Flynn and Gulfstream unveiled an all-new aircraft family: the Gulfstream G500 and G600. The company displayed a mockup as part of its NBAA static exhibit at the Orlando Executive Airport. Mr. Flynn provides the very latest updates about the show and many other current initiatives at Gulfstream for our readers in the following interview.
Georgia CEO: I understand that for the 11th year in a row, Gulfstream finished first in an operators’ survey conducted by Aviation International News, and in 13 of the last 16 years, Gulfstream Product Support was ranked atop a similar survey conducted by Professional Pilot magazine. Congratulations on that record of achievement. What do you have to say about the people and high standards of Gulfstream?
Larry Flynn: Let me start by saying that Gulfstream is the success it is today for two reasons: our people and our products. We have the best employees in business aviation making the best products in business aviation, bar none. All of our employees are committed to our mission of creating and delivering the world’s finest aviation experience, and that’s a very large part of why customer service is so important to us. I’m a firm believer that top quality product support (taking care of your current customers) drives new aircraft sales, so we put a lot into ensuring our service organization is top-notch. We also know that every employee is an ambassador for our brand, so we make sure they’re willing to go above and beyond for our customers. When it comes to customers and ensuring great customer service, we empower our employees to do what they believe is right. Our Field and Airborne Support Teams are one example of that. We have two Gulfstream G150 aircraft dedicated to delivering parts and technicians to aircraft that are on the ground because of a possible service problem. Anyone on that team can dispatch that plane. They don’t need management approval to do so. It’s empowering when employees know we’ve entrusted them to make the best decision for the customer and the company.
Georgia CEO: What were the 2014 market conditions for Gulfstream and how have you fared to date, or simply put, how’s business?
Larry Flynn: So far, 2014 has been a solid year for Gulfstream. In the first three quarters of 2014, we delivered 108 outfitted business jets, up from 103 in the first three quarters of 2013.
What effect has the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013 had on Gulfstream Aerospace? Gulfstream wasn’t impacted by the Small Airplane Revitalization Act of 2013, as it focused on Federal Aviation Regulation Part 23 aircraft. Part 23 generally includes airplanes that weigh 12,500 pounds or less and have a seating configuration of nine seats or less. Gulfstream aircraft don’t fall into that category. That said, we support efforts to streamline the regulatory regime while improving safety, setting objectives that would spur innovation and technology adoption, and bringing new, safe airplanes to market.
Georgia CEO: Can you comment on the NBAA Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition?
Larry Flynn: On the Tuesday before NBAA, Gulfstream announced an all-new aircraft family: the Gulfstream, G500 and G600. We surprised the nearly 3,000 attendees at our announcement event at our headquarters in Savannah, Georgia, with a powered rollout of the Gulfstream G500, so they got to seen actual airplane taxi up under its own power. As part of that announcement, we brought the G600 mockup to Orlando, Florida, to be part of our NBAA static display at the Orlando Executive Airport. The mockup was very popular, since it gave guests who couldn’t join us for the announcement in Savannah an opportunity to see the aircraft flight deck and cabin up close.
As always, the G650 was a popular part of our static display. The aircraft continues to garner attention wherever it goes.
Georgia CEO: Looking back on your history with Gulfstream as if you were a ball player, can you tell us some of the highlight moments of the business.
Larry Flynn: A few things truly stand out to me: The company’s tremendous product support growth over the last 20 years. We’ve grown from one $16 million service center in Savannah in 1995 to the largest company-owned product support network in business aviation, with more than 4,200 employees, a repair center exclusively for components and 11 company-owned service centers.
The introduction of the all-new Gulfstream G650 was an exciting moment for a number of reasons: It was the first clean-sheet aircraft Gulfstream built since the GII in the 1960s. It defined a market segment, going farther faster than any other business jet on the market, a title it shares today with its sister aircraft, the Gulfstream G650ER, which can travel 6,400 nautical miles at Mach 0.90. No other civil aircraft can do that. And it drew a record number of orders; more than 200 people put down deposits for that aircraft, making it the most successful product launch in business aviation history.
And, of course, I have to mention our recent announcement of all-new aircraft family, the Gulfstream G500 and G600, here at our headquarters in Savannah. While speculation about our aircraft program was high, no one expected us to have a powered roll-out, so it was really an incredible moment to watch the G500 taxi in to place and bring an entire hangar full of people to their feet. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Georgia CEO: What measures and innovations has Gulfstream taken recently with respect to the ultimate level of safety for its customers?
Larry Flynn: Safety is a top priority for Gulfstream, and we’ve been proactive in ensuring the continued safe operation of our aircraft around the world as well as the continued safety of our employees.
In terms of the safety of our customers, our aircraft provide critical safety advances, such as enhanced vision and synthetic vision, which provide increased situational awareness even in no-visibility conditions. Enhanced vision uses an infrared camera to capture images of runways, approaches and surroundings. This enables the flight crew to see runway markings, taxiways, adjacent roads and surrounding areas in conditions of limited visibility. The system also helps crews avoid runway incursion and hazards that would otherwise not be easily visible. We recently delivered our 1,000 aircraft equipped with EVS. Synthetic vision, which supplements enhanced vision, improves situational awareness and safety by generating a three-dimensional image of the world outside the cockpit. It integrates data from the onboard terrain database with the aircraft's position, altitude and heading to create a synthesized picture that is projected on the primary flight displays. This allows pilots to view landmarks throughout the world and the aircraft's position relative to them, thereby improving terrain and obstacle awareness.
In addition to the safety built into our aircraft, our aviation safety officer, Tom Huff, oversees a comprehensive aviation safety program for all Gulfstream flight operations, including experimental test, production test, demonstration and corporate flights. He provides independent safety oversight and promotes aviation safety and awareness throughout the company. His role is so important that he reports directly to me.
We also recently expanded our safety management system (SMS) to include the Sales and Marketing department, making us one of the first original equipment manufacturers to implement such a system for a non-manufacturing or service organization. An SMS is an organized approach to managing safety and airworthiness. It includes proactive hazard and incident reporting, hazard assessments, a robust investigation process, a consistent and just disciplinary process, open communications and inclusive participation by everyone in the organization. The move to bring Sales and Marketing under the Gulfstream SMS umbrella is in line with the company’s goal to have the entire corporation operate under an SMS.
Georgia CEO: What are some of the various types of training and support programs you offer for your customers?
Larry Flynn: Gulfstream has a training partnership with FlightSafety International, which has provided training for Gulfstream aircraft for more than 50 years. The company offers pilot and maintenance technician training for the full line of Gulfstream aircraft. Together, we often implement new training to be responsive to the needs of the market. For example, when we noticed an increase in aircraft damage at fixed base operations, we worked with FlightSafety, so we could offer FBO line service technicians complimentary attendance at a course called, Gulfstream Ground Handling and Service. The course trains the technician on dimensions and danger areas, proper towing, fueling, water service, lavatory service, window cleaning and de-icing procedures. The goal was to reduce line-service incidents in the Gulfstream fleet.
Georgia CEO: A friend of mine flew several reconnaissance missions in a modified Gulfstream jet for a contractor in Afghanistan two years ago. How volatile is the government part of your business with flashpoints all over the world starting and stopping, or is the backlog still considerable?
Larry Flynn: Government and special mission sales are an extremely important, but rather small, part of our overall business. The majority of our customers (and therefore our backlog) is public, private and Fortune 500 companies (around 67 percent) followed by private individuals and then special missions. Our aircraft make excellent special mission platforms, with nearly 200 Gulfstream aircraft in 37 countries operating in support of government and military service special missions, including as head-of-state transports and airborne early-warning systems.
Georgia CEO: What keeps you awake at night about your business?
Larry Flynn: I try not to stay awake at night thinking about the business. As best I can, I try to leave work at work. We encourage all of our employees to have work-life balance, and I try to lead by example. I value my personal time, whether I’m exercising at lunch or spending time with my family after work. It’s all too easy to get engrossed in the day-to-day tasks and procrastinate personal commitments. We want our employees to realize that their personal lives are just as important as their professional ones. I make personal time a priority, so they see they can, too.
Georgia CEO: Anything else or any advice you’d like other business executives who will read this interview to know about Gulfstream and your business philosophy?
Larry Flynn: I do want to talk about an important subject for me: military hiring. I’m proud to say that veterans comprise nearly 30 percent of Gulfstream’s domestic workforce. I’d also like to talk about leadership. We encourage all of our employees to take leadership classes, because we believe they’re all leaders, regardless of their title or tenure. Empowering employees to lead is a key element of our leadership model.
Georgia CEO: What challenges lie ahead for 2015?
Larry Flynn: I wouldn’t call them challenges as much as opportunities. One of them is the first flight of the Gulfstream G500, one of two all‐new aircraft Gulfstream announced on Oct. 14, 2014 (the other was the Gulfstream G600). The G500 flight‐test program will involve four flight‐test aircraft as well as a production demonstrator that we will use to test the interior The G500 is slated to enter service in 2018 followed by the G600 in 2019.
We’re also looking forward to the G650ER being in service. Announced in May 2014, the G650ER is an ultra‐long‐range aircraft that can travel 7,500 nautical miles at Mach 0.85 and 6,400 nm at Mach 0.90. This represents an increase of up to 500 nm over the range of the G650, which entered service in 2012. The G650ER provides customers with greater mission flexibility and the longest range of any business jet. The aircraft was certified by the Federal Aviation Administration on Oct. 8, 2014, ahead of schedule, which means the aircraft will enter service later this year.
We’re also looking ahead to the continued growth of our Product Support network with the completion of an aircraft refurbishment paint facility that is expected to produce 100 jobs in Savannah, Georgia. Gulfstream’s new $33 million, 72,000‐square‐foot/6,690‐square‐meter paint facility will be located near the Gulfstream Savannah Service Center, the largest facility in the world dedicated to business jet maintenance. Additionally, 2015 will see the opening of our new worldwide Product Support Distribution Center in Savannah, Georgia, and the completion of our new service hangar in Brunswick, Georgia.
Georgia CEO: How does Gulfstream interact with the local community?
Larry Flynn: Gulfstream has a robust community relations program. One of our biggest initiatives is the Student Leadership Program, a community initiative we launched in 2008. The program is designed to equip students with tangible skills that will allow them to explore options beyond the classroom. Gulfstream, along with 40 other area businesses and some 120 community volunteers, works to encourage higher grades and bring about personal development in ninth- through 12th-grade students in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System. Additionally, we work with the students to develop life skills, such as budgeting, etiquette, interpersonal communication skills, overcoming challenges, interviewing and presentation skills. Then we move on to life after high school, exposing the students to the options available to them after high school so they can make education decisions about their future. The Student Leadership Program has been extremely successful. In 2013, 97 percent of the students enrolled in the program graduated from high school.
We also sponsor a program known as Live Well; Be Well, which is dedicated to helping the community make better choices regarding their overall well-being. The inaugural programming featured a lecture series open to the public and a grant funding program to address areas of Savannah that lack access to healthy, affordable food. For the speaker series, Gulfstream identified four key areas that have been successful in making long-term changes to live healthier lives: leadership, finances, physical health and wellness, and motivation. Speakers have included internationally known experts, such as motivational speaker Tony Robbins; financial guru Suze Orman; health and wellness experts Dr. Oz, Lisa Oz, Dean Ornish and Andrew Weil; journalist Maria Shriver and renowned life coach Martha Beck.
Another program we support is volunteering. To help make volunteer opportunities accessible to employees at all our sites, we launched the Gulfstream Community Volunteer Program, which coordinates company-sponsored volunteer events with nonprofit organizations. In 2013, Gulfstream employees volunteered more than 3,800 hours during four volunteer days.
In addition, we annually assist more than 60 nonprofit organizations in the greater Savannah area and across the United States, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In 2014, we donated $1 million to the capital campaign for the new wellness program and center at Children’s Hospital at Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah.
Georgia CEO: Tell us a little about your personal and career background? Who are some important influencers in your life?
Larry Flynn: I grew into this business. My dad was a TWA pilot for 38 years and taught my two brothers and me how to fly at a very early age. I went to school at the University of Kansas, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in manpower management. After school, I worked as a general manager for AMR Combs and then as a regional vice president for Signature Flight Support. I went on to be the vice president of location-based services for Stevens Aviation, where I managed six facilities and oversaw service on various models of corporate jets. I joined Gulfstream in 1995 as vice president. The rest, as they say, is history.
In terms of influencers, my father was a big influence on me. When I was a kid, we spent a lot of time with his friends, who were airline pilots all over the world. They would come to dinner and tell stories dating back to the DC-3 days and up to the B747.