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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Face to Face: No Replacement

By Andrew Parker, Senior Editor [aparker@accessintel.com]

Yes it’s been said before, but meeting people one-on-one, in person, is becoming a lost art. Many of us know a few people that we’ve worked with for months—or even years—that we’ve never actually met, or even seen. One of my colleagues always jokes that a phone call equates to around something like 100 e-mails, and an in-person meeting is worth at least 200 phone conversations. Those figures are exaggerated, of course, but the point is there’s so much that can be gained from face-to-face contact.

With all the various topics and daily developments in the helicopter industry, sometimes drilling down to a particular subject for a monthly column can be challenging. For this November print cycle, it’s been easy, after traveling to Duxford for Helitech 2011 in late September (see photos) and going to AUSA in October (see Rotorcraft Report).

In a refreshing departure from communicating mostly via e-mail and phone, I had the chance to meet some new faces and re-connect with old friends during the trip to Helitech. In producing the Helitech Show Day [accessintelligence.imirus.com/Mpowered/book/vheli11/i1/p1] from the show floor, it reminded me of my newspaper days, with the feel of an onsite, intra-day news desk. The biggest difference was sound of helicopters approaching the airfield, and running outside soon after hearing the rotors get louder to snap a picture of the birds coming in.

The static display at Helitech was impressive, with more than 40 helicopters including—to name a few—the AgustaWestland AW189 mock-up, Apple Intl’s Bell JetRanger, Cotsworld Guimbal Cabri G2, Enstrom 480B, Eurocopter EC135, Heli Air Design HAD-1 prototype, MD Helicopters MD902, PremiAir Sikorsky S-76, PZL W-3 Sokol and Sloane Helicopters Robinson R66.

After heading back to the states and regrouping from the trip, it was time for AUSA, which is a little closer to our home base—although with D.C. traffic, it didn’t always feel that way. The agenda was packed with briefings from Lockheed Martin, ITT, Clearfix Aerospace/3M, Honeywell, EADS North America, Northrop Grumman and others, followed by the unique opportunity to sit down with Bell Helicopter President & CEO John Garrison.

As expected when talking to the head of any large company, Garrison spoke very highly of the manufacturer’s efforts in working to diversify its commercial, military and aftermarket offerings while experiencing an overall flat or downward turn in the marketplace. He launched right into a discussion about the V-22 and the benefits to the military.

But it wasn’t Garrison’s glowing perspective of Bell facing challenges in a down economy that made me sit up and take notice. It was the way he spoke, his body language, confidence and—you could almost feel it—faith that the company will continue to grow and prosper despite the realities of the current economic situation, with some sectors getting hit harder than others.

Garrison’s term, “laser focused” is a good way to describe the pairing down of the company’s stable of helicopter models. But there’s something I picked up only by being in the same room with him. Not only is the company focused on those types going forward, but Garrison himself is laser-focused and determined on making sure that happens—something that I could have never inferred over the phone.

Sure, Garrison came firing out of the gate with clichés and heard-before statements promoting the present and future of Bell’s product lines, but his personal conviction adds a lot to the equation. All talk aside, his drive is clearly affecting the senior management of the company in a positive way, and there are some market indicators to back up what he’s saying, as evidenced by Bell’s continual high placement in industry customer support surveys.

This brings me back to my point. A funny thing happened while at AUSA—the “Blackberry outage” of 2011. Not being able to get e-mails and stay in touch with the rest of the world during the tradeshow got me to thinking about the importance of face-to-face contact, and for companies to continue sending their employees to industry events.

You’ll never be able to fully pick up somebody’s “vibe” from e-mails or phone calls. Videoconference or Skype, maybe a little—but there’s something about being in the same room that has no comparison.

Maybe turning off the cell phone or mobile device once in a while is a good thing.

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