After 21 years in executive roles at Pratt & Whitney, 48-year-old David Brantner swapped the OEM for the new position of president of GKN’s Aerospace Division. He spoke with ShowNews’ Angus Batey ahead of Paris to explain what he will bring to the role, how the company looks to him now that he’s inside, and what challenges the division faces as it seeks to maintain and build on its market position. 

You're able to import knowledge of what OEMs are looking for into the heart of GKN's operations. What other things are the company expecting from you, and what else do you feel you will bring?

This company grew very rapidly in aerospace via acquisition, and it got to a scale where we're not a small company any more, so the OEMs expect a little bit more out of you. For example, we have 11 different sites that deliver to the 787 program: imagine being the Boeing 787 program manager and having 11 different general managers to talk to, potentially. I can now represent us to the customer at a level that they're accustomed to. But I also spend a lot of my time speaking at the different sites that we have and preaching the virtues of end-to-end life-cycle program management, saying, “This is what our customers need us to do. We have to do this for them.” And people are reacting well to that.

What's the biggest priority?

One thing that I'm bringing to the company is that you have to perform before you can even ask for new business. So the first thing we need to do is execute on our programs. I can't go in and talk about the greatest new thing we can do for you if you're waiting for 10 parts and you don't have them today. That's the number one killer to anything, if you're not performing. And we have some of those issues – we're not clean. Great, we'll work on that. But secondly, it's not just what that part can do or how much less it can cost, it's how much performance it adds to (the customer's) product. I understand a little bit more about that than some of the new people do, and so now we're telling people, “Look, don't think about it as being $10 less, think about it as saving one per cent more fuel.” That multiplier's huge. And that's where this company's positioned right now, because we can make technologies that do that. We're lighter, we're stronger, we can run hotter, with all of those technologies.

Do you have a clear sense yet of what you want to change?

Taking us from a collection of multiple factories that were kind of cobbled together into a truly large OEM program model is the first thing to change. I think there are a lot of people who don't understand how wonderful the portfolio is. We have the widest capability of technology for any tier one supplier: there is nobody out there with our scale who does metallics, composites, transparencies, on engines and aircraft, with the breadth of additive manufacturing and new technologies that I've seen. To me, making sure the customers understand what we have to offer them is the most critical thing that we need to change.

The company has grown quickly, and you will presumably have work to do to make sure the enabling functions around the different technology groups are all keeping pace with the rate of expansion.

We know where we want to go with the program model and technology insertion, but the model that was in place – very decentralized, very lean, very low structure – you can't abandon too quickly. You'll be caught in the space in the middle, where you won't have attention to the detail that's going out in the far-flung enterprise, and you'll still be disappointing your customers. And that's the biggest fear. We're putting it out in front of us all the time. We're migrating towards this model that's a lot more customer-focused, customer-friendly and customer-flexible, as a strategic partner, but we still have our eyes on the details everywhere in the operation. There's a lot less bureaucracy here. There's no politics. We're still operating like that, but we recognize that some bureaucracy is necessary and constructive – that muscle on the spine – so we're putting that in place. That's really why I'm here.