““Last year, complaints about airlines increased 22%. There were probably more complaints, but the airlines lost them.” ”
BJT Mangement Series: Gary Dempsey
Given his level of expertise and proven effective management, Gary Dempsey could be forgiven a big ego. Instead, he is a humble, dedicated leader with a deep understanding of all aspects of aircraft management and customer services, maintenance and safety. Dempsey grew up working on a dairy farm in Delaware and went on to become an FAA licensed pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings as well as an aircraft maintenance technician with inspection authorization. Today he is the president of Flight Services for Jet Aviation, The Americas. Here, some insight into his leadership.
I don't really see it as the employees working for me. I work for them. I make sure they have the training, supervisors and managers to support them and what they have to do. If they aren't getting the resources they need, they won't be able to do a good job focusing on customer service. It's that simple.
Employees need to understand their roles and responsibilities and how they positively affect the company. When you are trusted to do your job well, you build confidence.
People need to have confidence in themselves and in their leader. You can usually see this in the first interaction between a leader and an employee, and it's not something that can be faked.
When you first go into a company, you need to evaluate the "as-is" [situation]—the team, the numbers, the statements—very carefully. Then you can start establishing mutual goals and work towards them one step at a time.
You can evaluate an organization just by walking in [to its offices] with its current leader. If the employees look away, if they are not smiling or move away from the center of attention, you have a problem.
On the other hand, if you and the leader go into a room or a maintenance hangar or a flight operations center, and everyone is smiling and has positive self-esteem, you can tell it is not just because their boss is there, but because they are confident and motivated.
By the way, if anyone tells you that they have all the answers, you better run.
We hire very, very slowly. Anyone being considered for customer service or the front line goes through a long process of screening and background checks and interviews. We have really focused and honed this process in the past five years.
Everyone at Jet Aviation knows that customer service comes above all else. We support our employees with five-star hospitality and concierge training. We give our team members the tools they need to know every detail involved, including where to stand, what to say, how to handle any situation.
Having different personalities in the workplace is not a bad thing. You need a mixture of all kinds of people—those who will bring up ideas, those who are not afraid to challenge. People with all different backgrounds and reference points.
I call our mechanics "doctors." They fix everything.
Jet Aviation is a worldwide operation, and the diversity makes it quite interesting from a cultural perspective. The amazing thing is that the standards and processes—especially where customer service is concerned—are the same everywhere. We all have the same goals.
To be a successful leader in a country other than your own, you need to first study the history, politics and laws. I have found that understanding what drives the culture is even more important than learning the language. Especially in places that are not used to a democracy and therefore don't automatically trust a leader. You have to earn their trust, show them that you have taken the time to learn about their culture.
I grew up on a dairy farm and that shaped a lot of who I am today. We worked seven days a week. I honestly did not even know there was such a thing as a job where you work only 9-5, five days a week.
What I value in my employees is essentially what I also value in my friends. I value employees who trust the company and are loyal. There are going to be good times and bad times, but if the employees trust the company and each other—and maintain loyalty to both—we will get through the bad times and come out stronger. It's the same with friends. There will be good times and bad, but a friend remains loyal and sticks with you.