Posted 3 years 219 days ago ago by jhadmin
Joe Braddock, the executive vice president of Southeast Aerospace Inc., a leading maintenance, repair, overhaul, and parts business, has many roles outside of work: husband, father, charity volunteer, and musician. However, when playing that last role, one doubts his band’s set list contains the classic Paul Simon lyrics “I am a rock; I am an island.”
Throughout the hour-long interview for this profile, Braddock refrains from the siren song of self-adulation in a very non-island way. “It’s the employees who make our company,” he says. “We have a lot of talent here, people who have families and want to do a good job. As a company we try to take care of them and be humane, but it’s not about any one person or me. No person is an island.”
Take that, Paul Simon.
But Braddock’s still not done deferring. “I can’t take all the credit for where I’m at or who I am,” he says. “Obviously, my family played a big part.”
One transformative family role was played by Joe’s father, John Braddock, who built a respectable decades-long career reviving aviation repair stations around the United States that had fallen on hard times. The Braddock family traveled the country, and in the process Joe and his older brother (also John) grew up in aviation.
By the early ‘90s, the family was living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the patriarch was ready to try something new. He called a family meeting for his wife, Marianne, and their two sons. “We met in the living room of our old house. Dad told us his plans to start Southeast Aerospace and asked us for our help. He wanted us to be on board,” says Braddock. “We all just kind of looked at each other, but our family unit was tight enough to where we all said, ‘OK, let’s try it.’ We respect our father a lot.”
At this time, Joe was just entering Florida Atlantic University, where he would eventually earn a degree in geography. However, more pertinent to the fledgling company than knowing that Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, was the youngest son’s communication skills.
During high school, he had worked at Birch Radio Research, spending many hours on the phone gathering ratings for the broadcast industry. By the ripe age of 19, Braddock was providing classroom and call center training for all Birch’s new employees. His father took notice. “He knew I was decent on the phone,” says Braddock. “He’d hand me an aviation directory and say, ‘Call all these King Air operators and try to get them to send us their PC boards for repair.’ That was my first trial-by-fire introduction into the industry.” To further that introduction, while in college Braddock also obtained his pilot’s license.
Southeast Aerospace launched in 1993 in a one-room office in a strip shopping center. The four members of the Braddock family were the entire company. Marianne handled administrative duties; the Braddock boys sold. “We had a small repair station at the time with literally one bench,” Braddock recalls. “We’d peddle parts, take the profits, and reinvest them into the repair station until we built it up.”
The family business built up indeed. Today, Southeast Aerospace has approximately 130 employees who work out of 100,000 square-foot facilities in Melbourne, Florida, as a middle-market company. Father Braddock retired in 2014. Older brother John ascended to president and CEO.
Joe’s responsibilities as executive vice president include sales, marketing, and business development. While Southeast Aerospace’s impressive growth testifies to his success in these areas, his start wasn’t exactly auspicious. The young man would attend major exhibitions like Heli-Expo and NBAA, without always being properly equipped. “I was nervous. I didn’t know anyone, and nobody knew who I was. I’m not even sure if I had business cards back then,” he says with a trace of bemusement.
Yet, even without an abundance of confidence—or cards—Braddock dug deep and persisted. “I forced myself to go up to people and ask them questions about their families, etc. It was nothing too personal, but I wanted to get people talking so that we could continue the conversation. I just threw myself into the fire. I don’t see a lot of people today who want to do that, because they don’t want to take risks. Something ‘bad’ might happen. So what? If someone’s a jerk, they’re going to be a jerk anyway. If someone’s nice, then they’re going to be nice.”
Loyalty & Respect
Later, he created a questionnaire to guide his conversations, and today he helps prepare his employees for their business encounters, drawing upon the real-world lessons he learned. For Braddock, experience is the best teacher. “What’s on someone’s resume isn’t necessarily what’s most important to me,” he says. “If they come in with a good attitude and are willing to listen, learn, and believe in what we’re trying to do, then everything else just works out. We really just try to find people who want to grow, learn, and excel.”
Loyalty is another attribute Braddock highly values. “So many people these days just want to job hop,” he says. “They want a job as a stepping-stone to go somewhere else. Well, the grass isn’t always greener. We look for people that want to grow with our company. We have people who started in shipping who are now our purchasing directors. We have someone who started as a receptionist who is now our top salesperson.”
Braddock also believes that respect and listening are keys to interacting with others. “I always try to treat people like I’d want to be treated,” he says. “I know that sounds basic, but I really feel if you listen and genuinely care about what the person talking to you is saying, you really can get far. It’s important to engage people and ask questions like ‘What does that mean, exactly?’ Treat people with respect and human dignity. So many people only want to hear themselves talk and want to be right all the time. Take a step back.”
Body & Mind
Braddock tries to step back from strain and stress by engaging in activities like yoga, meditation, and interval training several times per week. The executive believes these body and mind routines help him prepare for—and recover from—his long, eventful workdays. Another therapeutic pastime is playing stringed instruments and woodwinds in his home studio. Then, when he gets an entire day off, “It’s first and foremost about my wife and two teenage boys,” he says.
Braddock puts in approximately 10 hours each workday at Southeast Aerospace, making phone calls and carrying out marketing duties. He even engages in tackling information technology issues, doing “whatever it takes to get the job done,” he says. Yet, Braddock stresses he’s not tangled up in technology. “I believe in management by walking around. A manager, or leader of any type, can’t do everything from behind a desk or computer,” he explains. “You really have to engage people. Even in this day, where everything is about email and text, you are so much more efficient if people can hear and see you in person. Setting an example in person is huge.”
One challenge Southeast Aerospace has in common with most aviation businesses is rising costs and increasing regulations. The company is AS9100 and ISO 9001 certified, and ITAR compliant. “If you are accredited or certified at all, compliance costs are going up,” Braddock says. “Government and other regulations just keep increasing. As a result, we find more people (in the industry) exploiting loopholes and cutting corners to compensate for increasing costs. It’s hard to compete with that without being a whiner or whistleblower, and we don’t want to be that.”
Another rather surprising concern Braddock has is too much technology being introduced into aircraft. “I hate to say this because we are a heavily avionics-driven company, but I’ve been reading that it really hasn’t drastically improved safety or decreased incidents. We’re getting away from people really knowing how to fly aircraft hands-on.”
When reminded that a recent Rotorcraft Pro survey found that only 40 percent of active helicopter pilots thought that more advanced technology had definitely made flying safer, Braddock replies, “It’s like a veteran pilot told me, ‘There’s too much heads down, not enough heads up.’ A good study for someone to do would be to determine when technology becomes more of a distraction than a benefit.”
While challenges and concerns abound, one growing opportunity Southeast Aerospace sees is in refurbishment and repurposing programs for older airframes like the Black Hawk. The veteran-owned small business is also finding engineering and manufacturing opportunities for items like kits and harnessing.
Another opportunity is in the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “drone” sector. “We’ve reached out to some of these companies, just to figure out what our place would be. Whether it would be for training, repair or support, I don’t know, but I look at it as an opportunity instead of a threat.”
Seeking opportunities rather than fearing threats is the spirit upon which the Braddock family launched and built their business. Even when there are dark days, they find rays of hope. “There’s no need to point fingers and complain, instead let’s figure out what the solution is. I really think that one of our keys to success is that we never sat around in doom and gloom. Even after 9/11 we didn’t say, ‘Well, that’s the end of business or the world as we know it.’ Instead we asked, ‘What’s next?’ I know this all sounds basic, but you really have to live and breathe being solution-oriented every day.”
Braddock then leaves us with this philosophy, passed down from his father that guides him today. “My mantra is, I won’t ask someone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.”