A corporate turnaround specialist appointed to the top job at Inc. says his top priority is to revive–not sell–the struggling manufacturer of business jets, general aviation turboprops and military trainers.
Robert S. “Steve” Miller was appointed CEO on Feb. 7, replacing longtime chief executive Bill Boisture, who will remain as chairman of the company’s operating subsidiary, HawkerBeechcraft Corp. Miller, the chairman of AIG, has more than three decades of experience as a senior executive at Chrysler, Ford, Delphi, Bethlehem Steel and Waste Management.
In an interview hours after he arrived at Hawker’s headquarters in Wichita, Miller said his experience in helping companies deal with difficult market conditions would benefit Hawker as it slogs through a three-year-old downturn that has decimated sales and backlogs of small and medium-sized business jets. He said that Hawker Beechcraft “absolutely” could survive as a stand-alone company and dismissed speculation that its private owners–Canadian investment firm Onex Corp. and Goldman Sachs, which paid a top-of-the-market price of $3.3 billion five years ago–might sell off the civil side of the company to a Chinese entity.
“There is no plan in my kit bag here to sell this company or any of its pieces,” Miller said. “You can never say never, but China is principally of interest to me because it’s a great and growing market.” He noted pointedly that the mills at Bethlehem Steel, a company he ran and revived, “continue to operate to this day.”
The new CEO said it was too early to predict when Hawker could return to profitability. He said that Boisture would continue to lead Hawker’s legal challenge against the U.S. Air Force, which excluded its AT-6 from a competition to supply trainers to the Afghan air force and selected’s Super Tucano for the contract.
Boisture’s demotion comes less than two weeks after he took over as acting head of the company’s military business following the abrupt retirement of Jim Maslowski. One of the best known executives in business aviation, Boisture has held the top jobs at Butler Aviation, SimuFlite and.
Miller, an aviation buff who earned his pilot’s license at age 16, acknowledged that his prior understanding of Hawker Beechcraft was based largely on its reputation. But he does have corporate experience in business aviation, having managed Chrysler’s purchase of Gulfstream in 1985 and its subsequent spin-off five years later.