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posted: 10/22/2018 1:00 AM

‘We are a trusted partner to airlines, militaries and original equipment manufacturers’

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  • John M. Holmes, President & Chief Executive Officerat  AAR

    John M. Holmes, President & Chief Executive Officerat AAR

 

Q: Describe your company.

A: AAR is an independent provider of aviation services to commercial and government customers in over 100 countries. The company was incorporated in 1955 and today has revenues of approximately $1.8 billion with more than 6,000 employees worldwide. Our aftermarket expertise and award-winning market solutions include maintenance, repair and overhaul of all major aircraft types, including military and their components including the supply of parts for airlines and government fleets. We are a trusted partner to airlines, militaries and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) delivering competitiveness so they can focus on transporting passengers, cargo and parts around the world.

Q: Do you plan to hire any additional staff or make any significant capital investments in your company in the next year?

A: In 2017, we completed an award-winning remodel of our world headquarters located in Wood Dale, just west of O'Hare. We created an amazing space for employees to enjoy and feel inspired each day to fulfill our purpose of Doing It Right.

We recently on-boarded over 700 new and incumbent employees for a 10-year, multibillion dollar contract with the U.S. Department of State where we provide flight operations, maintenance, logistics and enterprise support operations around the world. We are also investing capital in a joint venture that is constructing a new heavy maintenance (MRO) facility in India to serve the country's growing commercial aviation market.

Q: What will your company's main challenges be in the next year?

A: One of the aviation industry's biggest challenges for future operations and growth is the lack of a qualified workforce. From pilots to aviation mechanics, there is currently a very tight supply and, as the current workforce retires, there is not enough experienced talent to fill open positions.

AAR operates the largest maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) network in the U.S. consisting of five heavy maintenance facilities located in Duluth, Minnesota; Rockford, Illinois; Miami, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. We have been working to address the shortage of aviation maintenance techs (AMTs) or aviation mechanics, for years now.

We are pursuing a variety of initiatives to address the issue. For example, we partner with community colleges and aviation training centers near our MROs to develop curriculum, provide on-the-job training and jobs after graduation. Locally, part of our decision to recently open an MRO in Rockford was nearby Rock Valley College's commitment to enhance its aviation maintenance curriculum and build a new facility at the Rockford airport to provide a talent pipeline. In addition, we are trying to change the negative perception of hands-on labor held by the next generation of students and their parents. We are investing in programs to expose young people to aviation careers and encourage them to take STEM courses. We host events and programs for middle and high schools in cities, including Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago, where we operate our MROs to show students, their teachers, and parents that a career in aviation is good-paying and rewarding.

Q: What's the hottest trend in your industry?

A: The hottest trends in aviation include the digitalization of services and processes. AAR is working on specific technology applications such as the use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality for on-the-job training with AMTs, remote maintenance applications, line maintenance, and MRO process improvements.

Q: If you had one tip to give to a rookie CEO, what would it be?

A: I am a rookie CEO!

Q: Do you have a business mantra?

A: Doing It Right. At AAR, we are constantly searching for the right thing to do for our customers, employees, stakeholders, vendors, partners and communities where we live and operate, every day.

Q: From a business outlook, whom do you look up to?

A: I am always attracted to the power of will. I admire leaders who do not give up, no matter what, and press forward with their ideas. Whether that's Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King or Jeff Bezos. It is amazing what a relentless focus on a basic idea can achieve.

Q: What is one interesting fact about you or your company that most people may not know?

A: Company: The founder of AAR, Ira Eichner started the company in the 1950s by selling an aircraft radio from the trunk of his Studebaker, talk about humble beginnings!

Q: What do you like to do in your free time?

A: I love spending time with my wife and our 3 little kids. We live in an apartment in downtown Chicago but have a little house over in Michigan that has become haven for us. Whether we are biking, hiking through the forest, playing in a creek or laying on the beach, it is a wonderful retreat for all of us and true 'together' time.

Q: What book is on your nightstand?

A: Sadly, my laptop is on my nightstand. But, on my wife's nightstand (currently) is Chernow's book on Alexander Hamilton. She's about halfway through it, so I look forward to reading that when she is done.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A: Our 3-year-old Henry likes to come and visit us each night and once he wakes me up, I rarely get back to sleep.

Q: If you were not doing this job, what do you think you would be doing?

A: I might have stayed in investment banking. I had a really good experience. Outside of that, I would have loved to have hosted the Late Show.

Q: What was your first paying job?

A: When I was 8, I started my first business - John's Battery Company (JBC). My grandfather had bought me a bunch of rechargeable batteries for my toys from Radio Shack. I had more batteries than I needed, so I rented them out to my sisters, parents and friends. There was a weekly rental fee plus a recharge fee.

Q: What is one funny thing that has happened to you in your career?

A: Back when I made my first strategy presentation to our board of directors. I had prepared for weeks to present the big plans for my group and the presentation led up to a big crescendo of ideas and billion dollar goals. When I finished, the board just sat silent. No one moved. I jokingly said "So do you guys usually applaud at this point?" One directly looked at me and said, stone faced "Usually we do." Needless to say, that got a big laugh from the group.

Q: Two people to follow on Twitter and why.

A: I'd like to feature two nonprofit organizations where I serve as a board member, Columbia College Chicago and the Lincoln Park Zoo.