Ruth Harkin's appointment last year as United Technologies vice-president international affairs and government relations, and chair of United Technologies International, makes her UTC's highest ranking female executive. During her visit to Farnborough - her first time at the air show - she spoke to Karen Walker.

Q What is your key purpose at Farnborough?

A Our company always holds a big reception for our colleagues and suppliers in the aviation world. This year we have also hosted five US senators, including the chairman of the Senate appropriations committee. That is pretty important because the US Government is our largest client - some 16% of our business is with them.

This is an important show because it gives us another opportunity to see our suppliers and our customers.

There are numerous meetings going on in this chalet involving people from each of our major divisions - Hamilton Standard, Pratt & Whitney and Sikorsky. The emphasis is not on consummating a sale, but to continue the discussions and negotiations.

Q Can you talk about the culture change that has been going on at UTC?

A This is something that was really started in the early 1990s by our chairman, George David, and initially focused on process re-engineering. It is a step-by-step programme.

Attention was focused by a couple of facilities where, quite frankly, the situation was about as bad as it could be in terms of productivity and managements.

He looked to the Japanese and some of the things they have done and in fact hired a Japanese person to come and assist him go through all our facilities.

Q United Technologies also has several commercial businesses outside of aerospace. What do they bring to the table?

A If a commercial government entity wants to buy engines or helicopters, then because of our long history in that country as a company, they know that we are in it for the long term. There can be some direct and helpful trade-offs. For example, we have been doing business in Russia for over a century. Otis put the first elevator in the Kremlin. It demonstrates that we are there for the long term.

Q What are your priorities internationally ?

A It is important internationally to understand the culture and political system of the region you are dealing with and to have up to date knowledge on how its government works at any one time. In Western markets, that's fairly easy, but in emerging markets - which make up 16% of our total business - failure to visit governments regularly can cost you. Things can change in a matter of days.

Q Which of these markets are most important to UTC?

A China is for certain the most important for the reason that it is the largest market. It is a country that is extraordinarily important to all our divisions. But other markets are also important, such as Canada and France. We are also seeing a lot more action in Latin America.

I am scheduled to go to Russia at the end of this month and meet the prime minister - whoever that might be! As I said, flexibility is very key in this business. I have a lot of confidence that they will be able to work through the current crisis, although it will certainly put off any major things they were going to buy. We employ over 9,000 Russians. We will proceed cautiously and understand what the new rules are if there are any. But Russia's top priority is aerospace. We believe Asia will also come back. Again, it is important to be flexible and take the long-term view.

Our goal is never to walk out of a country, but to stay and work through the issues. Some of the companies out there are now priced very attractively and we do have cash, so there may be opportunities. Joint ventures give you access.

Q What about consolidation within the US? UTC has not really been a part of this latest industry activity - could that change?

A It depends on the opportunities that present themselves. I can't say we would not be interested in opportunities in the future. But any consolidation or merger that we would be interested in, it is safe to say, would be very close to what we are doing now.

Source: Flight Daily News