Working week - Brent Wouters

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Brent Wouters has been chief executive of Cirrus Aircraft for one year and president and chief operating officer for two. He originally joined the leading four-seat piston manufacturer as chief financial officer

Where did you work before joining Cirrus in 2002?

I started my career at Delta Air Lines designing and building simulators for its flight training programmes for about four years, but I also spent two years as an aircraft engineer. I eventually left there to work for Andersen Consulting (today called Accenture). I wrote inventory management software, primarily at Lockheed Martin, on what was ultimately its F-22 production line. Then I went to Salomon Smith Barney as an equity analyst.

brent wouters, chief executive cirrus aircraft, cirrus aircraft
 © Cirrus Aircraft

After that, for three years I worked at International Payment Services using my expertise in credit card and check processing. I completed mergers and acquisitions to roll up about a dozen different payment companies backed by a private equity firm.

What was appealing about the opening at Cirrus?

The principals at the private equity firm that invested in Cirrus reached out to me about the opportunity, which combined several aspects of my background and passion. I have loved aircraft and travel since I was a little kid. But I have a bachelors in maths and physics, and I have a masters degree in aerospace engineering and an MBA. So this provided an opportunity to leverage all aspects of my experience, including my technical experience in aerospace and information technology, as well as my operational experience and knowledge of debt and equity financial markets. But the real draw to Cirrus was the unlimited potential of the business, with the market-leading product, a tremendous value proposition and massive opportunities to expand in the USA and worldwide.

Have there been challenges leading what was a family business?

The transition to a professionally run business really began when I arrived. There was a great deal of resistance to building the infrastructure and implementing consistent processes, as well as achieving acceptable financial results. But over the past two years, the drive for increased operational sophistication and financial discipline has accelerated tenfold. For years Cirrus management believed if you built more aircraft then customers would come.

Today, we recognise we must become a world-class sales and customer service organisation in addition to our incredible product innovation capabilities, and deliver consistent operational and financial results to compete successfully and grow shareholder value. The cultural changes required are still developing.

What changes have been made?

We have implemented an entirely new strategy that begins with "customer first, aircraft second". We are focusing on increased worldwide presence: seven years ago we were in three countries, today we're in 50. We are expanding our markets to include not only our traditional single aircraft customer, but also institutional and fleet customers. And we have focused our product innovation capabilities on completing the Vision SF50 Jet as well as enhancements to the SR22 line.

The best parts of your job?

I love the diversity of issues and decisions I deal with. One minute it's sales strategy and the next it's customer service capabilities. Then it's legal strategy followed by manufacturing or operational issues. And after that it's dealing with some culture around the world, which is where my real passion lies: growing this business internationally.

And the worst?

I'm not the traditional nurturer, I just have high expectations and I hold people accountable.

I think the part I struggle with is getting people to move at Brent speed.