INTERVIEW: Tony Balestracci - servicing Textron's customers

How did you start out?

Growing up, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to aviation. However, after high school I joined the military and took a competency test that identified aircraft as a good fit for me. I completed a 14-week training to learn systems, theories and lift. During my second year, I worked under a crew chief who really pushed me to pursue additional qualifications. I got my crew chief [qualifications] during my third year, which allowed me to start crewing my own airplane. I was only 20 when I was responsible for my own airplane and was able to travel all over the world on Boeing KC-135 aircraft.

After the military, I started with Cessna and have been with the company for the past 26 years. I received my A&P license through K-State Salina and then received my bachelor’s degree in business administration from Friends University in Wichita.

How did you work your way up?

During the past 26 years at Cessna, now Textron Aviation, I’ve been given many great opportunities. I started in service as a mechanic on the floor and during that time finished my bachelor’s degree. Then I accepted a position in production as a manufacturing engineer and became a foreman. Eventually I was able to oversee many facets of production, including components manufacturing, precision assembly, running production lines and delivering product. After my time in production, I came full circle back to service and now lead the service centre network. It’s pretty cool. I have to pinch myself!

What are your current duties?

As vice-president of Global Customer Service, I lead our global network of 21 factory-owned service centres and oversee a team of more than 2,000 employees. Elevating and enhancing service for our customers has been a key focus for our service team. Recently, we have introduced several improvements to supporting our customers, from improving communication quality and frequency and offering concierge services at each of our service centres to increasing aircraft and mobile service units dedicated to unscheduled maintenance events.

How did you handle the Beechcraft acquisition?

Combining the Cessna and Beechcraft service organisations as part of the integration into Textron Aviation was a significant undertaking. With the help of many great leaders throughout the organisation, we successfully combined eight US Cessna facilities, seven US Beechcraft facilities and six facilities in Europe into one global service organisation. And we did all of this without shutting down any business or reducing our focus on quality or safety. So far, that success feels like one of the biggest highlights of my career.

What's the most enjoyable part of your job?

I enjoy spending time at the various facilities across our network interfacing with the leaders, employees and customers there. It’s very satisfying to see the facilities succeed because of the good leaders we have in place. Getting to know our employees throughout the network is also rewarding. Without talented and happy employees, it’s hard to take care of our customers.

What's the most challenging part?

While the people are rewarding, the people can also be challenging. Everyone has a life outside their jobs and every day can’t be perfect. I try to coach my team through the emotional piece so we can solve the problems. It’s also important to stay motivated. We all wear a lot of different hats, and it takes a team of great leaders to move the organisation forward.

Any advice for young professionals?

My advice is not to sell your energy and your efforts short. Understanding and learning a lot of things early on will give you more options as you mature in your career. Get out there and experiment and manage your career. Don’t assume someone else will manage your career. I wouldn’t be where I am today if, as a mechanic, I hadn’t been open to opportunities in manufacturing, engineering and production.