Do Good Work, Treat Customers Like Family

November 10, 2022

You probably won’t see the leader of a large defense contracting firm or any other publicly traded company put on a big heart-shaped costume, whether it’s at a meeting of BBJ operators or during a visit to a children’s hospital.

But Jerry King, founder and chairman of King Aerospace, often does. Partly it’s because he has a good sense of humor but even more so because it demonstrates – snug red pants and all – that having a servant’s heart at the family-owned company is valued and lived out.

The philosophy that work – whether for the military or operators of a BBJ VVIP aircraft – is more about making a difference than making a dollar permeates King Aerospace. God, Country, Family are top of mind for the King family and their team and embodied by a streamlined structure.

Have a question or concern when doing business with King Aerospace? Then you can get company leaders, including Jerry King and his son, President Jarid King, on the phone and obtain answers.

“We’re just a lean and agile team. We’re not saturated with layers that handcuff our ability to make decisions,” said Steve Sawyer, general manager of the Ardmore, Oklahoma, facility. “For me to get a decision on the highest level thing takes one phone call. I can call Jerry or Jarid and say, ‘I want to do this, are you good with it?’ And it’s done.”

California’s KaiserAir has sent its aircraft, including its colorful Hawaii shuttle 737s, to Oklahoma for work for about a decade.

Genuine culture, genuinely good work

One longtime customer is KaiserAir, which from California operates charter aircraft, 737 shuttles to Hawaii and two FBOs. Descended from the flight department of industrial titan Henry J. Kaiser’s empire, the company has been separate since the 1980s.

KaiserAir has sent its Gulfstreams and Boeing 737s to Ardmore for maintenance – primarily C-checks – and paintwork for about a decade, encompassing at least 20 visits, said Glenn Barrett, vice president of maintenance. Work quality has always been impressive, as has responsiveness. Barrett sees direct links to a servant philosophy.

“The thing that really attracted me to them, honestly, was the culture and the buy-in of employees into that culture,” he said. “There is also a sense of ownership through all the layers. You won’t get somebody who will back away from the ownership of their job and the work they’re putting out. That’s a big deal in this business.”

“A key part of their success is the genuineness of the company. That genuineness is consistent from top to bottom,” Barrett said. “And let me tell you, that’s really hard to pull off.”

Glad you’re here, glad you chose us

Ensuring customers know they’re valued involves gestures big and small. They include providing offices and meals for customers and crew staying the duration during work in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and the new facility in Bentonville, Arkansas.

“The most important element is customer service,” Sawyer said. “They’re away from their home, and they’re here for a month or more to monitor their airplane. We treat them like family and that sets the correct atmosphere and standard. Kindness is always contagious.”

Steve Sawyer, general manager in Ardmore, Oklahoma, dedicates time every day to check in with King employees and obtain project updates.

The touches include snack-filled gift baskets and even a spontaneous and goofy personal touch like members of the military recently received in Arkansas.

One security official, on a scouting visit to the mammoth Bentonville facility, joked they’d need walkie-talkies to communicate. So the next day special projects manager Kay Roby-Bragg handed out toy walkie-talkies.

When the security contingent returned with an aircraft for scheduled work, Jerry King asked one member about the toy. “This buffed-up guy pulled out his phone and showed me his 3-year-old boy, who was all excited about the walkie talkie. And it’s like, wow, King Aerospace has touched this young man’s family.”

The welcoming atmosphere goes both ways. King’s wife, Barbara, was on the tarmac in Bentonville when the government special operations aircraft arrived for the facility’s first project. Barbara King was first aboard, welcomed for a “cockpit inspection” that left her “giddy.”

When a military special operations aircraft arrived in Arkansas, Barbara King, center, special operations manager Kay Roby-Bragg, left, and VP of Administration Pat Brooks were there to greet it and its crew.

“Every time I walk into this hangar, one of these Air Force guys pulls me aside and tells me they’ve never been in a finer facility or been treated better in their careers,” Jerry King said. “I’ve been here for months, and I’m watching everything. And that personal commitment is felt by our employees and our customers.”

Closing the loop instead of circling around

Robert “Woody” Nolan, president of Denmar Technical Services, remembers the Kings making time to meet with them before first having work done. “It closed the loop on the process,” said Nolan, a retired Air Force brigadier general.

“I felt like I was doing business with my own company,” Nolan said. “They include you in the process and, unlike some, they delivered. What’s special is they are not focused on the dollar. They are focused on the customer.”

“You feel like you’re part of the family,” Nolan said. “The employees feel like they have a vested interest in the business. They’re being cared for and not there just for the paycheck.”

And leadership is present. “I make it a point to check in with everybody in the organization each day,” Sawyer said.  “It never ceases to amaze me how much you learn by walking around and just saying hello to people. I try to save my working time during the day for getting out and learning about projects and getting updates and asking questions. To me, one of the most effective preventive actions is leadership being visible.”