Proudfoot Interview Airline/Aviation MRO

Interview With St. John Cameron, MD Asia, Regarding Aerospace MRO

Dennis Santare (MD, MRO Americas): Hello everyone. I’m talking with St. John Cameron, our MD from Asia who recently, with his team, completed a project for a major aircraft aerospace MRO in Asia. We learned a lot, the client gained a lot, and we wanted to take some time to share that with you. Welcome St John, it's great to have you.

St. John Cameron (MD, Asia): Thanks very much Dennis.

(Click here to listen to the full interview)

Dennis Santare: Cheers. We'll jump right into the questions. To start off with — maybe tell us a little more about the project, the type of client, maybe a little bit about, you know, the footprint and layout and what they do, and why they felt they needed some outside help and selected Proudfoot for the job?

St. John Cameron: This client operates in Asia for narrow and wide body maintenance for some of the world's leading airlines, and also has a major home carrier that it supports, and the existing operations are already considered to be world class. But the CEO wanted to step up the rate of continuous improvement because he was under price pressure from his key client, and, also, they needed to free up more MRO hangar bay days to meet the increasing demand. So, this project was aimed specifically to focus on reducing turnaround time for heavy checks with an initial target set at 10 percent with no extra cost, so utilizing the existing resources. And why we were chosen? Well, we've developed a capability for MRO work throughout this region over the recent years, but in the words of the CEO, he said that Proudfoot won because they realized we're not just making strategies, but we're very practical, very hands on, and making changes happen by working side by side with the staff, right on the shop floor. And that was a differentiator for him.

Dennis Santare: Yeah. We're hearing a lot from the MRO community in terms of being people centric and combining LEAN tools with a people-centric transformation approach in order to deal with a lot of the variability that is inherent in MRO. What do you think were the biggest takeaways from the project as far as those trends and insights that we can apply globally to the MRO sector?

St. John Cameron: I think to summarize it, it's probably about the value of time. Giving back time is really, really key in an industry like this. Servicing and maintaining aircraft is a vital part of the global commercial aviation business. The longer an aircraft sits on the ground, obviously, the less time it's in the air and in revenue. An efficient use of hangar slots is really critical in a market like Asia where there is such a high growing demand for capacity. It's very expensive capacity. It's hard to find the staff, and hard to train the staff, and more hanger days means significant opportunities for revenue improvement for the airline and for the MRO itself. So, the growing fleet size in Asia means this project was necessary to do.

Dennis Santare: And it's a good takeaway for other MROs that are looking at improving capacity — before building a new hangar before building more floor space, see if you can get more aircraft through the same footprint, right? Thank you for that. What do you think will be most helpful in making this implementation sustainable for them going forward?

St. John Cameron: I think what we're finding after years and years of delivering change alongside our clients is that sustainability is going to be all about the people. Using our methods, our LEAN Forward transformation tool box, we really take our clients’ people on a transformation journey to make sure that we get really good engagement right at the beginning — great discussion, good, clear alignment, and commitment to the improvements being developed by the people, in their own business, at the point of execution, on the shop floor. That's so fundamentally key to sustainability.

In this case, we co-ventured with the existing LEAN team that had been established a few years before, and we commenced the project with a Jump Start training to switch up the focus from the LEAN systems to LEAN performance management, which was really putting the tools into action at the point of execution. And the joint team was structured as a win-win team between the MRO and its major airline client, which was a very interesting mix of people because it gave us the ability to look at the whole value chain from end to end — from long range planning with the airline’s engineering department, right through the day of input, all the way to invoicing and payment. So that worked extremely well, and it meant that both organizations were taking on the challenge of looking at reducing the aircraft turnaround time for their mutual benefit. So, the opportunities that came through our aerial development program — which takes typically four to six weeks to get everybody on the ground understanding the need for change — really helped them prioritize and identify the opportunities, and to quantify them. Because the second part of sustainability, it's all about measurement — figuring out what operational indicators are going to be impacted, and tracking those right through to the financials is really key to sustainability.

Dennis Santare: I could not agree more, especially the last part. You know, having served in MRO businesses for about eight years it's a very numbers driven culture, and it needs to be, right? Margins are very thin, especially on the commercial aerospace side, and it never ceases to amaze me how focused the businesses are on every single number — and I think our approach as Proudfooters, tying operational results to financial outcomes, it really resonates within the industry. I know you're an experienced consultant, obviously, and you've seen a lot of projects in Asia, but in MRO specifically, did you learn something personally from this engagement that you could share?

St. John Cameron: I think it's probably reinforced something that I inherently know that almost all projects kick off with the management of the business expecting to find really high levels of resistance to change from their people. In our experience, once you've kicked it off, and you've worked with them for a few short hours, and engaged them in a few exercises at the beginning of the program, they start to understand the need for change very rapidly. And if they can do that, then they align well around the challenge that's being set by the business.

Transformational change is not something that you can delegate down into the organization. You really have to have critical transformation leadership from the top. I find more and more the senior executives are a bit uncomfortable with this because it's not their day job, so it's a personal challenge for them, but it's also a personal challenge at all levels of management because they're concerned about the day-to-day operations. And moving and changing direction and pace is something that they don't often experience. So, we were there to equip and coach them at the senior executive level, all the way up to the CEO, as well as the people right down on the shop floor. So, it's a personal journey and a team journey and a company journey that everybody needs to understand, “what's in it for me?” Because that will drive the pace of change and the sustainability. 

Dennis Santare: Fantastic. It's always important to keep learning. I appreciate your insights, and I appreciate the time you spent tonight. Thank you very much, St. John. Hopefully everyone will learn a great deal about the project and what Proudfoot can do for clients like yours. Appreciate your time.

St. John Cameron: My pleasure. Thanks Dennis.

Dennis Santare: Cheers.

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and readability.

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