“You’re only an entrepreneur if you almost didn’t make payroll. ”
BJT Management Series: Susan Aselage, president and vice chairman of Sabreliner Corporation
Susan Aselage has been with St. Louis, Missouri-based Sabreliner since its inception in 1983, when she became its second employee. Today, nearly 200 people work for the diversified aviation-services company, which manufactures parts for new and used fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft and repairs and maintains existing aircraft. Aselage, who manages the company’s day-to-day activities, is also leading its charge into VIP completions for Blackhawk helicopters, three of which Sabreliner recently delivered to the king of Bahrain and the king and crown prince of Jordan. In her spare time, she is an accomplished equestrian. Here, she talks about her management style and relentless focus on customer service.
I am originally from Boston, and I started my career in New York City. It was a big adjustment moving to St. Louis. When you talk to people in New York and you say you’re from St. Louis, you can just see them trying to remember exactly where it is.
Our organization is very flat. I believe that each employee is individually responsible for the success of the company and the wellbeing of his or her colleagues. It’s not just me sitting on top making all the decisions. Ideas have to come from everywhere.
There is no job that is more important than anyone else’s. A mechanic’s job is just as important as my job. I cannot do his job. Maybe he can do mine, but I know I cannot do his. My main task as president is to provide others with the tools they need to do their jobs.
Problems do not get better with age. When thorny situations arise, you need to jump on them as soon as possible, because little things will escalate to big things if you do not deal with them immediately.
You can plan only so much and we have had a series of unexpected challenges. When those happen, you just have to deal with the facts in front of you and move forward.
I carry two iPads and one iPhone, so I am always totally connected and I have a detailed calendar.
There are two groups of people you really need to pay attention to: the customers and the employees. They both involve a lot of soft build. People are not something you can neatly map out on a spreadsheet.
I am wary of customer surveys and focus groups, because one-on-one with the individual customer is always where you get the true answers. I really enjoy being with customers, talking with them, seeing what is going on.
I look for people with heart, because they will always go the extra mile. Those employees are hard to find, so if you do find them, you keep them.
When you ride horses and especially if you are competing in a horse show, somebody has to be very calm and patient, and that has to be you.
The most important thing a leader can do is model integrity 24/7, even when people aren’t watching. You have got to do the right thing even when nobody knows, and it has to be consistent throughout your life.