“People sometimes ask me what the biggest perk of being president is. No. 1 is the plane. ”
Sikorsky Aircraft's Jeff Pino
The large lawn in front of the Sikorsky Aircraft headquarters building just north of the Merritt Parkway in Stratford, Conn., contains a not-unexpected windsock and helipad. When his destination calls for it, Jeff Pino, Sikorsky's president, walks out of his office to a waiting S-76 helicopter, climbs into the cockpit and flies away, often to Keystone Helicopter in Coatesville, Pa., or Schweizer Aircraft in Elmira, N.Y. Both are owned by Sikorsky and are easy half-day roundtrips by helicopter. By car, they could absorb an entire day and maybe even require an overnight.
For longer journeys-for example, to visit Sikorsky's primary military customers in Huntsville, Ala., or the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland-Pino will fly on one of parent company United Technologies' business jets. "You can't go to either place commercially and be back in one day," he explained. "In fact, most of our customers are based where there isn't a great deal of airline infrastructure."
This travel could be a metaphor for Sikorsky today and its current president's biggest challenge. The builder of both civil and military helicopters is growing. Last year alone, it added 650 engineers to work on seven ongoing development programs. Production is at an all-time high, as is employment, now nearly 13,000. Revenues were $3.2 billion in 2006, up from $2.8 billion in 2005, and are expected to reach $4 billion by next year. But the company's main facility in Stratford is blocked on all sides from further expansion. So in addition to needing to increase the flow of materials and parts into its supply chain, Sikorsky must also find and sometimes acquire new places to build components and assemble its helicopters.
How Pino is leading Sikorsky to handle this growth, what he has learned about management and his views on success are the main subjects of this interview.
How would you describe your management style?
I learned leadership in the U.S. Army, but I think my style is more consensus building than what you may consider military-style leadership. That said, I do think military-style leadership often gets a bad rap. Also, as much as I try to do the standard things-like empowering people and pushing decision-making down to the appropriate level-I'm not afraid to step in with my opinion when I see something going slowly or off track.
Who or what most influenced that management style?
The Army formed the core. It taught me intense, rigorous planning, attention to detail and taking care of your soldiers slash employees. I've been lucky. At Bell Helicopter, I worked for Jack Horner, Webb Joiner and Terry Stinson. When I came to Sikorsky, Dean Borgman was president, and of course, George David was and still is chairman and CEO of United Technologies. So my management style has been molded by a lot of really great industry leaders.
Mr. David has an impressive reputation. What have you learned from him?
One thing George does is boil things down to their essence-into a one-sentence understanding that allows him to place it in context. The second thing he does is to listen for the "Aha!" When we're pushing technology or the state of the art, he looks for the difference, not what he calls "the normal, customary and ordinary." You can't help but learn the higher executive thinking he illustrates.
Can you give an example of an aha experience you have had?
Sikorsky has been focused on growth this last year and part of this is reorganization of the supply chain. My first aha was the amazing amount of work you have to do prior to making a major change in the supply chain. The second was the X-2 [Sikorsky's high-speed helicopter project]. I like what we're seeing in the analysis of its [expected] performance and the assembly of the demonstrator.
You mentioned Sikorsky's growth and one of your development programs. How is the company handling these strategically?
We have a strong executive committee that runs the company day to day. Each June we take these committee members and one high-performing individual from each of their organizations to a two-day, off-site meeting where we don't decide anything but rather gather data about the internal and external environment. Then, for another couple of days, we go through a strategy-alignment phase, trying to align the goals and objectives of the company with that environment. Later in the year, we apply financial realities to the plan, which sets up the goals and objectives. And, finally, we check signals at the end of the year to be sure our five-year plan is still in line with our 10-year plan. All told, the executive committee is together about 10 to 12 days a year. Every three years, we revise our five-year plan.
What do you consider the main role of the CEO or president?
You have to help guide the vision. In my view, everybody doesn't have to be going exactly zero-nine-zero [degrees], but they have to be going in an easterly direction.
Second, you've got to create the environment so that everybody can work toward that vision. This involves the physical places you work, setting up the supply chain and the cultural environment of the company.
Third, you have to do some management of the business: the typical boardroom metrics, program reviews and so on.
The first two are more in the leadership category. I think many of us tend to manage too much and have to force ourselves to lead. To check myself, I literally go through my schedule at the end of each week and mark an "L" or an "M" next to every meeting or block of time to see if I was leading or managing.
What are the three worst mistakes a company leader can make?
Number one is failure to communicate. I don't know how long I can do this, but right now I speak personally to every employee every six months. I don't mean in my office, but at town hall meetings. I spend a lot of time communicating. I answer every e-mail employees send me. They know if they can get eight or more of them together in one place and they want to chat with me, I'll chat with them.
Number two is failure to lead. I know my responsibilities as a leader are to make the hard calls and to assist in the debate.
And the third is not involving the workforce in the decisions you're trying to make. When we have to redesign a production line, we ask our workers to do it now.
Does Sikorsky use Six Sigma or another such program?
United Technologies has a proprietary operating system called Achieving Competitive Excellence, or ACE. I was in Six Sigma at Bell and I think ACE is more robust because it uses the statistical analysis that Six Sigma uses, but it really pushes down the operating tools to every person on the floor.
What is your typical workweek like?
I don't have one. But I do try to accomplish the managing part of my job-the standard reports, staff meetings, operations meeting and so forth-in the first day and a half of each week. This leaves the rest of the week for leading. And I travel quite a bit-about 30 percent of the time.
I know you're an active pilot and that you also have access to UTC's flight department.
That's correct. In fact, probably 95 percent of my travel is on corporate aircraft. I could not do what I do without it.
What's your routine when you fly on the jets?
I spend 60 to 70 percent of my time working. It's so convenient. The phone's right there and I have Internet hookup. The rest of the time I spend relaxing or catching a movie. Also, I ask people to come with me on the aircraft if possible and we use the time for business. If I travel alone, I feel I'm losing efficiency.
What advice do you have for middle managers with their sights set on the head office?
I tell people, "Everybody is in charge of something. Don't worry about the other employees on your right and left, or whether or not you're going to get promoted. Make the thing you're in charge of the best it could ever possibly be. And you will be seen."
Secondly, while you're doing this, it doesn't hurt to act like you can do the next job. A good amount of operational excellence and a presence that commands attention are important as well.
What challenges wake you up at night?
Actually, nothing does. But if I understand your question, I think it's harder to efficiently manage growth than it is to manage a mature business or a down cycle. That's what I think about the most.
What do you do to relax?
I fly an Extra 300 [single-engine, aerobatic airplane] about 75 to 100 hours a year. I still fly a lot of aerobatics but I've opted out of air shows and competitions. I'm also a member of Airshares Elite, so I fly a Cirrus SR20 to keep my IFR [instrument flying] skills current. And I fly an S-76 whenever I can.
I enjoy motorcycle riding and anything that involves a ball and a stick. And really strange for me, after buying a home here in Connecticut, I enjoy working around the house.
To what do you attribute your personal success?
That there were people who were willing to give me the next job when I was maybe 70 percent ready to do it. I suppose there's some luck in this. But also, I didn't have to get my second degree and I didn't have to take the risk of going from program management to sales, which I did at Bell. If you combine these with my goal to make whatever I do really good, I have to believe that's part of it. Finally, if you're not passionate about what you do for work, don't do it.
CEO Files Résumé: Jeffrey P. Pino
Position: President, Sikorsky Aircraft
Previous positions: Spent 17 years in various roles with Bell Helicopter Textron, last serving as senior vice president. Joined Sikorsky in February 2002 as senior vice president of marketing and commercial programs. Was named president in March 2006.
Military service: Retired as a master U.S. Army aviator after 26 years of service, 10 of them on active duty and the rest in the Reserve and National Guard. Last position was as a development test pilot/project officer at the Yuma [Ariz.] Proving Ground.
Education: Graduated from the University of Arizona in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Obtained a master's degree in business administration (via distance learning while in the Army) from Webster University, St. Louis, in 1985.
Personal: Age 52. Born in Aberdeen, Md., into a military family. Single.