Larry Flynn, President of Gulfstream Aerospace
Larry Flynn, President of Gulfstream Aerospace

BJT Management Series: Gulfstream's Larry Flynn

Our 2013 interview with the CEO of Gulfstream

Larry Flynn communicates well to large groups and knows how to control the room during press conferences, even when the main language spoken is not his own. General Dynamics undoubtedly took note of that talent when it named him president of Gulfstream in 2011. Today, he oversees more than 14,000 employees worldwide—including approximately 8,400 in Savannah, Georgia—and also serves as vice president of parent company General Dynamics Corp. Flynn, who joined Gulfstream in 1995, credits much of his management expertise to years of intense study, dedication and hard work. He is by all accounts an honest and direct leader with a deep appreciation for his colleagues, employees and community. Here, we get insight into his background and leadership style.

My father was a big influence on me. Growing up, 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 up to the B747.

I was basically born into the 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.

It has been fascinating to meet people all over the world and learn about their cultures firsthand. Everyone I meet is very proud of two things: their family and their country. 

We are the largest employer in Savannah and taking care of the community is a big part of our culture. Between employee contributions and Gulfstream we have given $14 million to United Way since 2006. United Way has the largest reach in terms of helping people in need, and they run that organization with very little overhead. So if you spend a dollar, that dollar gets spent helping people.

Five years ago Gulfstream created the Student Leadership Program in Savannah. We picked 150 freshmen with a goal of getting them to graduate from high school. Of the first class, 96 percent went on to graduate.

This is a team sport and we learned that a long time ago. To have the number-one brand you have got to take care of the employees and stay focused on your service and the reliability of your airplane. At the end of that day, that's the formula.

There is a very detailed continuous-improvement employee program at Gulfstream. It encourages teamwork and drives innovation in every department. Each employee, from shop floor to the highest levels of management, is given basic training and encouraged to participate in improving all aspects of the company.

You are only as good as the team you develop. We are a metric-driven company. We work closely with each person to set annual goals to help them professionally and to print a roadmap for them for the next 12 months.

Your Ideas at Work is the name of an internal initiative we have where every employee is encouraged to give us ideas on how we can improve. More than 66,000 ideas came in last year. I am continually impressed by the things our people come up with.

Nothing replaces videotaped training for public speaking. I have done intensive training several times, most recently within the past couple of years. You would be amazed at what you discover about yourself speaking in front of a group when you see yourself on tape.

Be prepared. You should always know more than the audience you're presenting to. Be yourself. And practice.

Gulfstream has a very robust and active customer advisory board. We do a lot of surveys at every touchpoint—servicing, building and delivering the airplane. We are constantly getting feedback and we take all of it very seriously.  

Each interaction with our customers is a moment of truth with the brand. 

A lot of my good friends own successful small businesses and I admire the way they run them. One of my best friends is a home builder and he thrived during the economic downturn because he is a true entrepreneur. He is agile and creative.

There is a real entrepreneurial spirit at Gulfstream. People make decisions as if it were their own company.

My father was in the process of building an airplane in his garage right up until he passed away last year. He was 91.