Rick Adams spoke with the new president and CEO of TRU Simulation + Training in an exclusive interview for CAT magazine.
Ian K. Walsh is a black belt, a Six Sigma ‘Top Gun’ Black Belt, that is, and he’s looking to bring that sort of disciplined process improvement methodology to the amalgamation of the three formerly disparate and entrepreneurial organizations - Opinicus, Mechtronix, and a segment of AAI - which Textron brought together two years ago to form TRU.
A dozen years ago, Walsh took over as general manager of piston aircraft engine manufacturer Lycoming, which was suffering from post-9/11 fallout, quality control issues, and leftover bitterness from an employee strike over outsourcing. Walsh assembled new leadership, including putting two union leaders on the team to improve communication, and transformed Lycoming into a nationally recognized supplier for operational excellence.
“We had a shared objective,” Walsh recalled. “We recognized that despite all the bad history, 95% of what we wanted to accomplish was shared. We wanted to be a high-performing culture. We wanted to be profitable. We wanted to serve customers. We wanted to be the best at what we did. And once you get those identified, then I think what happens magically in the right ways is the organization aligns around that. If you can understand and agree upon and communicate those shared objectives or shared outcomes, then you can get a lot of great traction and performance.”
“When I think about TRU, and the pieces of TRU, the first thing you have to recognize as a leader is that there are differences. Geographies, cultures, background experiences. To think that everybody thinks and acts the same way is wrong. The essence of creating a high-performance environment, culture, workforce … you’ve got to recognize the differences but unify them under shared things,” Walsh offered.
Walsh came to TRU last year from Textron Systems’ Weapon & Sensor Systems business. One of the first things he did in the role was attend the annual course on the fundamentals of flight simulation which has been taught for more than 30 years at Binghamton (New York) University’s Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science. One of the instructors is Jim Takats, who preceded Walsh as TRU president/CEO and founded Opinicus in 1988. Takats is now TRU’s senior vice president, Global Simulation and Training Strategy.
“I was amazed at how complex and advanced the technology is today and what goes into physically building and designing a simulator,” Walsh remarked. (His initial exposure to simulators had been as a US Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra helicopter pilot from 1989-96.)
“You’re trying to achieve a level of realism and a true-to-life flight experience in something that’s on the ground. In a simulator, you have to account for every little gust of wind or bump on the ground.”
Walsh said he has always felt a strong connection to aviation. “My father is a pilot, so I grew up around airplanes and flying with him. It’s always been part of my DNA, a deep interest, a passion. I started flying when I was 14 years old, soloed, flew in the Marine Corps, and I’m still flying today. I love being in the air, the three-dimensional part of it.”
A Quick Study
Walsh has gotten up to speed on TRU’s business rather rapidly. Last fall he presided over the opening of TRU subsidiary ProFlight’s new East Coast pilot training center in Lutz, Florida, north of Tampa International Airport. The facility offers Level D Citation CJ3 and King Air 350i/250 Fusion flight simulators and is adding CJ4, Grand Caravan and Citation Latitude devices with a target of up to a dozen full-motion sims by 2018.
The original ProFlight center in Carlsbad, California is adding a CJ3+/M2 device. Bell Helicopter 429 and 525 sims will be deployed at a new TRU location in Valencia, Spain, slated to open this year. Expansion in Brazil in 2017 and Singapore in 2018 will offer more Bell customer training options.
There’s also a new 35,000-sq-ft aircraft maintenance training center in Wichita which aspires to offer maintainer training on all Textron Aviation (Cessna and Beechcraft) aircraft.
“We have a unique situation in that we are now part of Textron, which makes the platforms, and now we have a sister business that makes the simulators to support training the aircrews on those products. That is a very nice trifecta that nobody else can really claim,” Walsh commented.
Walsh said TRU’s strategic focus for now is to build simulators to support the current Textron OEM product lines. “There are a lot of new opportunities because we are building new platforms, and we want to be the provider of simulators and the training behind them. We will be positioning simulators geographically around the world to support our customers, no different than what we do on the aviation side.”
“What’s really nice about the training side is it’s a customer experience business. It’s face-to-face,” said Walsh. “We’re excited to provide a more customized experience, a deeper experience, a better overall experience not just from the device side but from the course side and the instructor side.”
The air transport sector is operated primarily by the colloquially known “TRU North” operation in Montréal, Canada (the former Mechtronix). “I think the environment on the air transport side is unique. It’s a very competitive business, as you know. You’ve got a lot of big players. Doesn’t matter if it’s the OEMs who have their own training, or independent training centers who have a lot of hardware and are trying to keep their business cases healthy, trying to source product at the lowest possible cost,” Walsh explained.
“I think, to be brutally honest, on the procurement piece, it’s nasty right now. What was good about my last job, on the defense side, at least there’s a level of due diligence that is required and audited in terms of a company’s ability to design, build and support product. In this environment, it’s really about price, quite frankly.”
Walsh suggested, “I think the differentiator happens after the sale. We know from some of our current customers that with some of the other players, depending on where they are and how they’re organized, that can be an issue. One of the things we’re doing at TRU is to really focus part of our strategy on the services and support side.”
“There are customers who have simulators from competitors; depending on the situation, they may be looking for a new supplier. A lot of regional Tier 2 and Tier 3 players are very open and interested, aggressive about sourcing simulators, and those are the kind of folks who are very interested in talking with us,” Walsh said. “There’s a lot of market out there. We just want our fair share.”
“We can move fast. We can give more personal attention. We’ve got really strong engineering and program management to really design a best-in-class simulator.”
Walsh concluded, “We want to be the leader in aviation simulation and training by preparing our customers for true-to-life experiences. We’re not saying we want to be the biggest, we’re just saying effectively we want to be the best at what we do.