September 1, 2020

Being a United States government defense contractor can be “bittersweet.” As a defense contractor I can live my passion of service to God, Country, and Family. This role allows my company or team to live our mission statement of making a positive difference in the lives of those we employ, serve and encounter while earning a fair profit.

Being a defense contractor or subcontractor is not for the faint of heart. There are lots and lots of rules, regulations, and proposal requirements. Being awarded a contract is often an 18-month process and requires volumes of proposal responses. I often say, “No pain, no gain.” Despite the lengthy process, winning a new program contract allows us to make a positive difference through our warrior spirited service as we touch more lives.

As I look back over the past 28 years, we have been very successful in taking over aviation programs or projects that have problems and making those programs successful. Our true sense of program ownership causes us to focus on how we can meet our customers’ and employees’ expectations in a complex, rule filled environment. For me, it is like cracking a safe or putting a puzzle together! It does my heart good to figure out how to meet the military or government customer’s stated and non-stated expectations in all that we do, even if it’s not within the stated “Statement of Work.” We strive to avoid having to charge for the little things that do not cost us but mean greater service to those we serve.

It is important to me to learn about the men and women who deliver the service that we provide. I want to know their “why” in life and what is important to them. Aligning everyone’s individual “why” with our crusade of making a positive difference through our service to God, Country and Family does my heart good! It is our leadership’s role to be the wind beneath the wings” of those we support. It is these feelings and beliefs that make my adrenaline flow like I am 16 years old, not 67. This is the sweet part of being a defense contractor for me!

Now I will discuss the bitter part of being a defense contractor or subcontractor. As I write this, we are losing 24 King Aerospace aviation professionals because our prime contractor on a program lost a re-compete for a military special operations aviation program. The loss of this contract was not due to our performance. In fact, a representative of the customer took it upon himself to reach out to us and tell us “We hate to see you leave. There has never been another firm I’ve dealt with better than King Aerospace over my many years on the program.” The bitter part of being a subcontractor is that we get terminated due to no fault of our own. For me, we were blessed to be able to demonstrate how service from the heart can make a difference. We were blessed to have these people and their families as part of our team and family even though it’s not forever. We truly value and appreciate their relentless service and look forward to one day having them join us again.

In the world of government and military contracting, there is always someone who promises they can do the work cheaper, faster, and quicker. Too often once the contractor gets the contract, they forget the promises made and the bidding process repeats itself. Hopefully, the decision makers learn from the shallow promises made and realize that cheaper is not always better. Hopefully, customers and employees remember how a servant leadership company is different than most other companies through service of a cause greater than self. The government and military contract selection process is not perfect and has some unique challenges, but it works. I often say, “Winners aren’t whiners” and we are thankful to be able to participate in the process.

The sweet side of being a defense contractor for me is being awarded a new contract. It is not about new revenues or profits. It is about the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of others! Too often defense contractors get new contracts and all they do is hire the previous contractor’s employees and simply change one company’s shirt for another; little else ever changes! It’s not unusual for new contractors to promise to cut employees’ wages in order to win the contract and then ask the employees to work for the lower wages because the company had “to sharpen its pencil” to win the contract.

At KAI we ask three questions before we will even pursue any contract. The answer to all three questions must be “yes” or we do not pursue the program. The questions are:

    1. Does the government or military have a reason to change contractors?
    2. Can we pay the people fairly and still earn a fair profit?
    3. Can we make a significant difference for the employees and customer?

When we pursue a new contract, the positive differences we propose will need to be significant and immediately noticeable to the employees and customers. The process for seeking positive change often begins long before our proposal is ever submitted. We strive to identify areas where we can touch lives long before the proposal is ever written and submitted.

We are honored, thankful and blessed that at the writing of this blog we have been awarded a new contract to support a military special operations fleet of aircraft starting in September. We will be adding more than 200 new team members at seven domestic sites and five international sites.

Our leadership team is in the process of meeting with each proposed new team member. Transitioning to so many new sites at one time is challenging enough during normal times. The challenges in today’s environment are greater than ever. We are having to deal with coronavirus safety measures, military and various state and country quarantine rules in addition to significantly reduced airline schedules. But KA’s “No Excuses” culture is full throttle moving forward and all is on track.

Our goal is always to try to hire all the previous contractor’s personnel on new programs if they share in our principles and values of service to a cause greater than self and are technically competent. Our leadership team is in the process of sharing our expectations and what it takes to earn the right to wear the KA gold wings with the new candidates. Countless people have heard me say “Working at King Aerospace is like being part of the Navy Seals. It is not for everyone and it does not mean those who do not make it aren’t good people. We’re just not for everyone.” These sorts of introductory statements help set the tone of expectations and are one step in the focused process of making a significant difference very quickly on new programs. We also ask new candidates three questions: 1) How can we make things better for you and your family at work? 2) How can we improve the level of service we provide to the customer? 3) What would you like to share about anything?

Over the past twenty plus years, when asking those three questions, I often have heard words to the effect:

“I’ve worked as an aviation defense contractor for 30 years and I’ve worked for 5 different companies and you’re the first to ever buy me a meal, ask me what I think or even come here to meet with me.”

Recently our leadership team went to one of the sites to host an open house and meal with the site personnel. Upon return to my office, I found a note on my desk from one of the employees at that site. An excerpt from the note:

“On behalf of our site, we wish to thank you for the wonderful meal and opportunity to meet all of you today. When returning to the site after lunch there was a note of distinct wellbeing in the group and excitement about being part of the King Aerospace family.”

As Dizzy Dean, the once famous baseball player and announcer use to say, “It ain’t bragging if you can back it up.” It is my sincere prayer that we always do what we profess and meet the expectations of those we employ, those we serve and those we encounter, with God’s favor.  Know that I will never rest as I strive to serve God, Country, and Family! God Bless America!

Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.