What It Means to Earn Your Wings

May 13, 2021

Back in 2012, when Jeff Barstow started interacting with the King Aerospace team in his role as Boeing Business Jets chief operating officer and director of business operations, he noticed a number of things. Team members seemed guided by something other than money. They looked to turn every challenge into a win-win for all. And they wore shirts emblazoned with wings. He asked Chairman Jerry King how he could get one.

“Jerry didn’t go into any details,” said Barstow, “but he let me know that I couldn’t simply ‘get one.’ A couple of years later Jarid told the wing story to me. Of course, at the time, I had no way of knowing I would someday earn my wings.”

In early May, at a small ceremony at the King Aerospace home office in Addison, TX, President Jarid King presented Barstow with his wing-emblazoned shirt. It came after months of evaluation by peers and team members who served as advocates for Barstow after he joined the King Aerospace management team as senior vice president.

“The entire process has been almost overwhelming – but in a good way,” says Barstow. “I found it energizing and humbling. It’s put me in a reflective frame of mind. I had planned to live up to and, whenever possible, to exceed the team’s expectations of me. I could never have anticipated how much the ceremony and encouraging remarks would move me.”

That’s Jeff Barstow at the end of the table. Members of King Aerospace and Boeing Business Jet masked up and met recently to discuss projects in the works.

When Jerry King founded King Aerospace in 1992, he emulated legendary Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher’s culture of commitment. Like his mentor, King wanted to build a company dedicated to servant leadership and doing things right always, even when no one was looking. King created the wings to visually express the company’s desired ethic. Treating others with respect. Acting honestly. Earning trust. Problem solving. Working as a team. Striving for quality in everything.

Significant Outcomes

All new team members go through a probationary period. New hires must demonstrate proficiency in their position and a commitment to the company’s Cornerstone Principles. Three peers meet with each probationary team member to determine if they’ve earned the right to fully represent King Aerospace by wearing its gold wings. This committee gives specific examples that they’ve observed or experienced for each principle. Anyone on this review committee can vote to extend the probationary period if the candidate falls short or can move to terminate the candidate’s employment.

“Everyone takes these reviews seriously,” says Jarid King. “If you fail to earn your wings, you need to move on. We can’t fly as high or as far unless all of us have wings.”

Once achieving peer approval, a wings ceremony is scheduled and conducted in front of team members. Customers often attend. Like others before him, Barstow verbally pledged his commitment to King Aerospace’s principles and to ensuring customer satisfaction. He also signed a pledge card. The room resounded with applause as Jarid King presented Barstow with his first shirt embroidered with the gold wings.

“Jeff personifies our dedication to serving out of love,” says King. “He joins a global team working to keep the wings gold in service to God, country and family.”

Keeping Standards High

Because team members earn their wings, they can also lose them. If team members fail to live up to the Cornerstone Principles or leave the company, the shirts get returned. The wings are removed and retired. They are displayed in a small chapel at a private ranch King Aerospace uses for corporate events and customer getaways.

“You do not get to keep the wings,” Barstow said. “That gives the wings even greater meaning. One glance tells you that person works for King Aerospace and represents all it stands for.”

The wings serve as a constant reminder to uphold the Cornerstone Principles.

“We lift up and inspire each another to serve others and make a positive difference,” says Jarid King. “We also hold people accountable. Sloppy work, disrespect and other offenses tarnish our gold wings. We are vigilant in protecting them.”

Read more about Jeff Barstow’s thoughts on the King Aerospace difference. https://kingaerospace.com/six-questions-with-jeff-barstow/