Meeting the Challenges of Growth Head On.

This Executive Q&A is also available at the SmartBrief Leadership page

Running a business is never easy, particularly in an environment of rapid expansion and industry consolidation. Successfully meeting robust demand with quality products and services means having the right strategy and creating the best possible working environment.

Following is an exchange with Sam Symonds, president and CEO of Co-Operative Industries Aerospace & Defense (CIA&D), about changes in the industry and how he and his team are moving quickly to adapt and take advantage of opportunities.


Q: Your company has been growing quickly. What opportunities are you finding in the industry?

Yes, we’ve experienced significant growth in our wiring harness and interconnect business – 26% over the past two years alone. With the change in administration a few years ago and the renewed emphasis on rebuilding our military, CIA&D has benefited from new business opportunities along with our existing legacy programs (spares). Primary contractors such as Lockheed and Raytheon had programs on hold, which have now been released and are entering production. The industry is growing overall from these domestic initiatives and increased global demand.

Consolidation in the commercial aerospace industries has also led to opportunities. Mergers and acquisition activity among the airlines, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MROs) providers has opened the door for us to offer our expertise with our niche services. Customers are able to offload their harness repairs and other services while they focus on their core competencies.


Q: What are some of the challenges this growth presents?

We find ourselves facing both production and quality challenges. Some of these acquisition and development (A&D) programs are new enough that they are still in the development stages, so the product changes are continuous, which can make production demanding. Additionally, these prime manufacturers are eager to get their new systems in the field to prove the design, so turn-times are critical as well.

We currently have a high quality rating with minimal product returns (RMAs). Our goal, of course, is to maintain this level of quality. Increased volume demands that we keep strict control over our IPC/WHMA-A-620 manufacturing and inspection standards. Assisting in overall production is an MRP-II computerized manufacturing control, EDI, just-in-time inventory management and bar coding so as to maintain our certified supplier statuses.

The supplier pipeline is also a challenge. There is such a surge in the industry right now that many of the vendors are unable to keep up with the demand for components and piece parts. This makes our inventory management a crucial piece of the puzzle.

As for capacity planning, that is an area where we have a lot of leeway. Since our facility relocation and expansion, we have a great deal of available floorspace with room for expansion. This comes in handy as our harness product can range in length from 3 inches to 300 feet.

All challenges aside, this is an exciting time in our industry with huge growth potential.


Q: What do you tell clients, particularly large ones like the US military, about the benefits of working with a smaller company?

This is a subjective topic for many of our customers. One of our biggest benefits is our ability to respond quickly during the development of new products. We also offer value added services. For example, we do a lot of build-to-print work, but as a service to our customers, we have a full engineering staff that can review and offer design improvements if needed.

In addition, our rating as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) can be an advantage to the military and the prime contractors. Requirements set down by the government can incentivize them to look to companies such as ours to fulfill those set-aside program conditions.


Q: Given the current labor shortage, how do you recruit workers in a competitive environment?

This is our biggest challenge. It’s a tight job market, and balancing the need for labor and the lack of availability due to low unemployment and competition from larger companies is tricky. As an added problem, we have to deal with turnover, primarily of entry-level hires. As mentioned earlier, maintaining our quality levels is extremely important to us.

To attract candidates, we’re becoming more aggressive with our starting wages. To our advantage, CIA&D has historically been conscious of balancing work and home, so that is a big plus. I’m also proud to say we have a good working environment – clean, well-lit and friendly.

We also have employee recognition and activities in place to make it an enjoyable setting. This has led to a large number of experienced, longtime employees. The employee-minded programs that CIA&D participates in each year and a competitive benefits package, combined with the positive attitudes of our long-term employees, helps new prospects make the decision to give small business a try.


Q: What advice do you have for managing rapid growth?

As much as we all like growth and opportunity, one must always be aware of capacity and capability.

CIA&D has so much more opportunity for growth – currently more than we have the human capacity to perform. This unfortunately causes us to turn down business or work with our customers to control the release of business, if their schedules can accommodate it.


Sam Symonds has been president and CEO of Co-Operative Industries Aerospace & Defense (CIA&D) for 16 years and has 40 years of experience in the aerospace and defense industry. Prior to his current role, he worked at Simmonds Precision, Hercules Inc., BF Goodrich Aerospace and Amphenol Aerospace.

To learn more about the CIA&D product line, check out our Product Overview page.