Institutionaizing Inspiration

April 10, 2014
The aviation industry is segmented into distinct categories: Commercial/Air Transport, General Aviation, and the Military. All three segments are highly regulated by and subject to oversight by an extensive network of governmental entities such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Effectively conducting business in any one of the industry’s segments involves a steep learning curve…especially since aviation-related products must, by virtue of the environment in which they are operated, comply with extremely stringent design and fail-safe standards.

Because of these extraordinary requirements (and a continuous proliferation of new regulations and certification requirements), the industry relies on a fairly limited number of key manufacturers and suppliers who have met or are able to muster the resources to satisfy the government’s complex criteria. The high cost of entry has limited the field of competitors. In order to remain competitive and profitable in a very challenging environment, the companies that have survived vie not only for customers but for the most intelligent, talented, knowledgeable, and well-connected personnel to gain a competitive advantage in their respective market segments.

A significant number of the major aviation enterprises also serve customers in all of the industry’s segments, requiring their senior leadership teams to be well-versed in the unique regulations, operating environments, competitors and technological requirements of each one. The backgrounds, training, expertise, institutional knowledge and networks of the key leaders of the industry’s premier companies are considered extremely valuable and are the basis of spirited competitions among industry rivals.

Aviation’s history is actually built on a foundation of familiar and exceptional leaders. Many of the industry’s first generation of founders, inventors, and pioneers worked together during the early stages of their careers, gaining diverse insights and building long-standing relationships that they carried with them as the industry grew. That heritage is what continues to make the aviation community—even though it’s now worldwide—a familiar and closely knit one. It isn’t that far removed from those early trailblazers. Many of their protégés remained actively involved in the industry well into the latter half of the 20th century and mentored or influenced those who are currently heading its major firms and organizations. Relationships forged in this industry have endured. The roster of notable company leaders is remarkably short and their legacies have been passed to a group of successors who not only know of each other- in many cases, they know each other personally.

A significant percentage of the technological advances in aviation have come as the result of an underlying commitment by its leadership to share concepts and improvements in the interest of promoting and ensuring safety. It’s extremely interesting to research the history of major developments in aerodynamics, propulsion, control and communications in aviation. Many of the concepts and features were invented by competitive entities, some even on opposite sides of geopolitical conflicts, but the bond of aviation in an inordinate number of instances, overcame and outlasted the political differences. It was because the common bond of aviation and long-standing relationships transcended nationality and diverse cultures, obscured political differences and ignored competitive barriers that many of the most important advances in safety have been integrated into virtually every current aircraft or regulatory standard.

Today, advancements in virtually every aspect of aviation from aircraft design to systems integration is moving at immeasurable speed. The industry is developing so rapidly that even those who have been a part of it for a long time are having trouble keeping pace with the changes. New talent is imperative, but the “spool up” time required to become even mildly conversant with a very narrow portion of the extremely complex organism that is aviation, is growing. The companies that will succeed and grow in the coming decade will be the ones who not only attract the brightest and most creative talent, but those that also retain the priceless institutional knowledge, expertise, experience and, especially, the relationships among their leaders that make cooperation, creative collaboration, and mutually supported advancements in technology, infrastructure and communication possible.

Government Shutdown—Better than the Alternative!

October 2, 2013
The iconic American humorist Will Rogers used to joke about how much better things were in Washington when the Congress was on holiday. That was 80 years ago. If he was around today, I’m pretty sure he’d include the other two branches of the government in his assessment.

In the Fall of 2013 the representatives of the American people are virtually tripping over each other trying to see who can be first or most prominent in putting their own ambitions ahead of the good of their constituents. But, when it comes to ignoring what the public wants and has consistently expressed as their desire, even the Senators and Representatives have to take a back seat to the Executive Branch and, most obviously, the President.

Barack Obama made his reputation in Illinois as an agitator (although he lists it on his resume as “Community Organizer.”) He learned the political craft in the home of Machine Politics, Richard Daley (I and II) and the people who tell their potential electors to “vote early, vote often.” Chicago is known for having innumerable citizens who have cast more votes since they died than they ever did while they were breathing! Illinois is the state that boasts “Most of our governors serve two terms—one in office and another in prison!” Elected officials in Illinois often have special vanity license plates—because they have colleagues or personal experience making them. So, is it any wonder that Barack (I vote “Present” ) Obama parlayed a short and undistinguished stint as a State Senator into an even shorter and unremarkable partial term as a US Senator into the President who can’t make a decision but can spend most of his time flying around on the world’s nicest personal jet telling people they need to share the wealth! Those who don’t agree get to have their phone calls screened by the NSA and their taxes audited by Lois Lerner!

This year alone, the American government, led by the office of Executive Threats (also known as the White House), has managed to implement the totally ridiculous and bizarre strategy of sequestration. The ever popular Congress offered a bill to the President that said, in effect, it would force its members to compromise or regulatory and legislative pestilence will be visited upon the American people in the form of just plain stupid restrictions and budgetary limits that NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would ever let go into effect. To top off the stupidity, the President signed the legislation! When it became obvious it might actually go into effect, he engaged in an ongoing debate with himself before finally deciding to blame anything bad that happened on the Republicans.

Now he’s taking the same tack with the government shutdown which has been perpetrated over an inability to even talk about how to finance the governmental goofiness with either a budget (there hasn’t been one since 2009) or continuing resolutions. Mr. Obama is saying that his healthcare plan (everyone is entitled to wait in long lines to pay exorbitant fees to see doctors they don’t know) is more important than jobs, peace in the Middle East, the national debt and citizens visiting open air monuments in Washington. If you don’t acquiesce he may even issue an ultimatum—a red line in the sand, if you will—before going off to play golf. (Nothing, as it turns out, is more important than that!)

All of this brings me to the point of asking a simple question: if the foregoing is anything close to an accurate reflection of what’s going on while the government is operating—WHAT’S SO SCARY ABOUT SHUTTING IT DOWN?? I submit that we are safer, more reasonable and unhindered by loathsome interference on weekends, when government offices are closed, elected officials are NOT legislating and posturing in front of cameras and microphones, and the Executive Branch is carting Susan Rice and John Kerry all over Washington and New York to appear on Sunday talk shows. (The situation can become more troublesome when they actually arrive on the sets and start talking!) Anyway, I’m with Will Rogers—let’s let the leaders of the government go on extended furlough! Let the people who work for a living, who understand the concept of SERVING their neighbors and earning their compensation honestly, run things. Let the Greatest Generation visit the National Monuments, let Army play Air Force in football and let the country take a break from career bloviators calling each other names! I’m seriously thinking that the only thing better than a Government Shut-DOWN would be if the Government would Shut UP!


March 8, 2013
The White House Budget Office decided the best way to get stubborn, misguided politicians to work together was to threaten them with something they would NEVER consider under any circumstances if they didn’t reach agreement. They chose the term “sequestration” for mandatory budget cuts that were so ridiculous no one would dare let them be triggered by partisan intransigence…and then they went back to demanding things the Republican-led House would never agree to and waited for them to cave. For their part, the House leadership managed to undercut the process by conducting two separate—but not coordinated—negotiations that went no-where. A delegation led by Majority Leader Eric Kantor ran amok while trying to negotiate with the Administration while Speaker John Boehner attempted an end-run by dealing directly with the President. When, unbeknownst to his colleagues, the Speaker actually gave ground regarding additional taxes, the President demonstrated previously unparalleled cheek by upping the ante by hundreds of millions more. At that point, two things became obvious: 1) The President’s arrogance towards Republicans knows no bounds—he’s definitely out to destroy them; and 2) he has decided that, with a media that will support him no matter what he does, he can dump the blame for sequestration on the GOP and flog them with the results by purposely mandating that the mandated cuts are made in high profile areas that inflict maximum pain on the public. Now that sequestration has been implemented, the White House and the Democrats are pounding away at their opposition with unrelenting force. Meanwhile, Republicans are forming a circular firing squad and blasting away at each other. Score another one for the most vitriolic White House in memory.

Sequestration used to be a term applied to juries that were forced to remain behind closed doors until they could agree on a verdict. I’d prefer that definition be applied to this situation: We should insist that negotiators from both parties be sequestered in an uncomfortable and preferably poorly-ventilated room without the benefit of room service, telephones, PDAs, contact with the outside world of any kind, until the can reach agreement on a realistic, thoughtful and sensible budget.This administration and the United States Senate haven’t been able to do that since 2009. They haven’t even come close, because the White House sends up proposals that are not only dead on arrival, they stink like they’ve been decaying for months. When the President’s budget is defeated 99-0, it’s pretty obvious he wasn’t serious.

Speaking of the Obfuscator in Chief, he also should be sequestered until he demonstrates some leadership and fiscal responsibility. He should NOT be allowed to get into the world’s greatest business airplane, Air Force One, and traipse all over the country uttering campaign slogans and fomenting Apocalyptic fear—all because of the Republicans—when he has offered no specific plan for consideration and spent two full years since his staff hatched the idea and he signed it into law, to deal with the possibility of sequestration. He didn’t take it seriously during the entire two year period, even insisting during the Presidential election debates that
“it’s not gonna happen!” Let’s restrict him to the White House or Capitol Hill until he shows some leadership and seriously addresses this country’s fiscal challenges. He should not be allowed out again until he focuses on lowering something besides his golf handicap!

Finally, what kind of leadership and representation is it when the Executive and Legislative branches of our government come up with a hair-brained scheme to “punish” themselves for not collaborating by forcing unnecessary and harmful cuts on their constituents. No elected official should have the right to run for re-election if he or she can’t figure out how to offer practical and useful solutions to the inevitable problems that result from millions of people living together. Sequestration really is SEEK-FRUSTRATION as far as the American people are concerned. We’re all dismayed by their performance. It really does seem the time for term limits has arrived…but don’t count on the House and Senate to EVER address that issue!

Obama’s Ground-Based Campaign

August 17, 2012
Abe Lincoln stayed home—even from the first Republican Convention, and let his surrogates traverse their regions of the country, campaigning for him. Both the Roosevelts—Teddy and FDR—spent a lot of time speaking off the back end of trains to crowds overflowing the local station platform. Even with the advent of television, candidates have spent an increasing amount of time getting in front of voters in key swing states. Meeting face-to-face is still the preferred choice for decision makers when the stakes are high. Some would say that the Election of 2012 is about as high as those stakes can get.

That means, of course, that politicians from both major parties will be descending on “battleground states” in their campaign planes more often than dusk. The evening news will be filled with shots of office-seekers disembarking from their private or chartered aircraft at general aviation and hub airports all over the landscape. Probably the most ubiquitous of all these incumbents and challengers will be the current leader of our nation, the Campaigner in Chief, Barack Obama. In his case, the campaign plane has a very distinctive paint job…and a set of rules that go with it, that dictate how it can and should be used and how the expense of employing it should be covered, since the costs associated with operating Air Force One are taxpayer funded.

The ultimate “business jet,” the Presidential plane not only transports the nation’s Chief Executive and his staff, it even accommodates a substantial contingent of media representatives, all of whom recognize it as one of the great perks of the Presidency. In his first weeks in office, President Obama looked for any excuse to use it, once even taking it to a speaking engagement in Virginia, about an hour’s drive from the Nation’s Capital. He moved aggressively to get out among the people affected by the challenging economy in order to reassure them. In Elkhart, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan, Fort Myers, Florida and Peoria, Illinois, he was there to shake their hands, pat them on the back and tell them that you understand what they’re going through. Then he got back on his private, publicly-funded jet and went back to Washington.

Conspicuous by its absence on the list of towns he chose to visit however, was the place where Air Force One was completed, the Air Capital of the World, Wichita, Kansas. That’s where more than 13,000 people who worked in the city’s airplane manufacturing plants at the time of his election are now looking for jobs. Butt, in light of comments he and members of his administration have made repeatedly throughout the past three+ years, it has become painfully obvious that the President thinks the use of a private aircraft is actually a bad thing. For instance, any company or organization who received TARP funding was expected to sell or hangar its corporate airplane and find some other way to travel among its various locations. Those with multiple locations in some of our country’s smaller towns were apparently expected to drive there, since airlines also began reducing the number of cities they served in order to save funds. Those who could, of course, utilized the airlines to get to the nearest big city airport and then rented cars to get to their sites, even though it often extended their travel time by hours—or days—to do so.

In Wichita, our air service allows us to fly to a number of cities nonstop, but they’re not all that close to the plants our local corporate executives need to visit. Fortunately, we CAN get to hub airports like DFW or ORD or DEN and the layover between flights isn’t usually more than a couple of hours. It’s conceivable that some of our local business types will actually be able to visit more than one location in a single day if they plan accordingly and don’t run into any challenges that require them to alter their schedules. In the past, when they could fly to an airport close to their outlying facilities, work on the airplane and discuss proprietary subjects without fear of being overheard, a change in plans, when necessary, didn’t actually disrupt their schedules or productivity too much, and they were actually able to visit multiple sites and still get home the same day. But that, of course, falls under the category of “fat cats riding around in their private jets” according to the President and Vice President, so that type of inequality must be eliminated! On the bright side, though, it’s bound to provide a stimulus to the hotel and motel business.

Meanwhile, the President and VP, the movie stars and high-dollar donors to their campaign who utilize their private airplanes while publicly bashing businessmen who fly in a company airplane, ignore the impact of their rhetoric on one of the nation’s most important international industries. They bad-mouth the thoughtless users of corporate aircraft, because they should, in their minds, be “spreading the wealth” rather than trying to make more of it to pour into development of their products and services.

Members of Congress and the Administration actually keep straight faces these days as they traverse their districts, states, or the entire country and burn incalculable quantities of air-fouling fossil fuels in their quests for votes. In the process, they also ignore some pretty important facts: It was they who caused the economy to crash in the first place by insisting that balloon loans be given to home buyers who really couldn’t afford what they were buying; it’s their refusal to develop our own oil reserves because they are in places where caribou roam that forces us to rely on foreign sources; and it is their policy to deny drilling rights anywhere near our shores to domestic energy companies while permitting foreign governments to drill, drill, drill that has more than doubled the price of a gallon of gas since Barack Obama was inaugurated!

Those who have no jobs find it hard to take solace in the fact that this President has appointed czars to oversee everything from banking to pollution who, while being compensated at obscenely high levels, are, for the most part, creating yet another layer of bureaucracy and regulation. It’s especially galling to someone who was laid off from a job building productivity tools like airplanes when they hear their former employers and customers criticized and vilified by multimillionaires who have little or no experience in the private sector and don’t produce any products or provide any recognizable service!

It’s also discouraging to have some government flak explain that $250,000 a year makes the earner “rich” (and therefore evil) and $500,000 per year is obscenely rich and should be taxed heavily. Those who were actually striving to make sums like that to cover their adjustable rate mortgages (with the impossible balloon payments looming) will, in the hopes of the Obama Administration, repent from their egregious self-centered motivation and just default on their loans so that the Administration can bail them out. Vice President Biden, himself a relatively poor man by today’s politicians’ standards, says it’s our patriotic duty to share the wealth, and that, if we do, we will find hope we can believe in and, working together, we can change our difficult circumstances. ( He usually pauses at this point in his speeches to wait for the expected response: “Yes, we can!”)

Some other members of the Obama administration, such as Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner, have done their best to set an example for the rest of us by giving up some of their rights, too, such as paying taxes, while helping to craft and present a stimulus package that is defined in a way that virtually anyone should be able to easily understand and support—provided that someone is a PhD in Economics who believes Entitlements are the key to job stimulation!

The positive balance of trade airplane makers in Wichita have enjoyed for many years apparently isn’t nearly as important to this Administration, in the long run, as implementing a formula for health care that purports to cut costs by prioritizing who gets treatment based on their likelihood and longevity of survival. According to Obamacare supporters, a positive trade balance won’t help us return to prosperity nearly as quickly as implementing what the Supreme Court identified as another overwhelming tax program and creating coverage that will weed out large numbers of doctors who will be forced to give up their practice because the government-mandated limits on compensation for services rendered won’t even cover the costs incurred to deliver the care!

Building new bridges and restoring wetlands were originally identified as projects that would provide thousands with much-needed employment, but they turned out, in the President’s words, “not to be as shovel-ready as we thought,” and didn’t stimulate the economy after all. That has certainly been the case in Kansas, so we hope the President will come to Wichita and see how his poll-driven rhetoric has affected real workers. Maybe, during the course of the campaign, he’ll climb onto his big, black, Canadian-built bus and lead a motorcade to the Midwest. He would, no doubt, choose the bus, Ground Hog One, over Air Force One since flying in his ultimate business airplane would obviously be an example of selfish excess.

Maybe such a trip would be preferable, after all. It would actually give him a chance to use the roads, the infrastructure and all the other things that government provides. Those are, according to him, the reasons that independent entrepreneurs have been able to succeed. In a recent speech he told business owners they didn’t build their companies alone. Entrepreneurship, creativity and the investment of untold hours of individual effort and personal investment aren’t what results in success or builds small businesses into larger ones with lots of employees and potential, according to the Discourager in Chief. The real key to success, according to him, is government infrastructure and oversight. Any suggestion that the business founders and operators, themselves, were the key to success, just won’t fly—much like the businessmen in their corporate aircraft—if this Administration has anything to say about it!

The De-Valuing of Ethics

April 25, 2012
It was with dismay that I learned of the recent death of Charles Colson, a man who went from “President Nixon’s attack dog” in the 1970’s to a moral and ethical paragon of American society during the latter half of his life. An eloquent and insightful ex-Marine, he worked his way into the inner circle of the ill-fated Nixon White House only to be set up as the scapegoat for its indiscretions by the President and his chief confidants, Bob Haldeman and John Erhlichman. The seven month prison sentence he served for violating the rights of Daniel Ellsberg turned out to be a watershed experience for him, however. He was transformed by the power of Christ into an active and highly regarded advocate for prison reform and the Christian worldview. The former Presidential advisor who was, by his own admission, not encumbered by ethics, became the conscience of America…or at least a leading voice on ethics in politics, in business, in the academy, and in daily life. Unfortunately, he also witnessed the decline of ethical behavior in virtually all of those arenas.

Colson once communicated to a philanthropic colleague who donated $5 million to Harvard for the study and advancement of ethics in business that the gift was “a waste of money.” He noted that Harvard and the Harvard Law School had long before abandoned the concept of absolute truth and Godly standards which are the foundation of any ethical pursuit in favor of practical relativism. As a result, the curriculum the University created to educate its privileged, high potential students focused on pragmatism, clever rationalization and the avoidance of detection or embarrassment when conducting business rather than the definition and adherence to standards set by the ultimate authority and ruler of the Universe. Colson conceded that he couldn’t even generate decent questions from an audience at Harvard when he once lectured on ethics, “because they didn’t even understand the premise.”

I once witnessed something similar in my own experience while attending a Paris Air Show years ago. While acting as a host for visitors to my employers’ chalet, I welcomed a delegation of government dignitaries from the United States, including a well-known Congressman who was accompanied by a striking blonde. It became obvious that the lady in question was traveling with the unmarried Congressman on this official trip and sharing his accommodations. When I mentioned to our VP of Government Affairs (an ironic title under the circumstances) that their obvious and indiscreet arrangement, at the taxpayers expense, was not prudent…or morally defensible, he offered me some “Beltway Wisdom.” “It may not be ‘moral’—but it’s not unethical, either,” he explained. Apparently, in the eyes of even the “Family values” crowd in Washington, the media, and therefore, most of the public, the arrangement was acceptable and would not result in any adverse political consequences. He turned out to be right.

I raise this discussion about ethics because it seems that the subject has been detached from what were once known as “biblical standards,” and as now defined, devalued as a consideration in the workplace and American society. We find great concern among many in our national discourse over what they deem politically incorrect, but there’s an incredible lack of outrage over what evangelicals still refer to as “sin,” albeit in lower tones so as not to offend. It was a significant loss to our society and a measurable blow to our collective intellect when Chuck Colson passed into eternity. We can be grateful for the compendium of knowledge and insight he left in the form of writings, recordings and people he influenced—many of whom are now part of the Kingdom thanks to his example. But, it would be considered inappropriate to suggest that the message he espoused should be proclaimed publicly as a tribute to his memory, even if for only a day. In today’s culture it would probably elicit a response something like, “It might be moral…but it wouldn’t be ethical.” Chuck Colson’s passing isn’t the only thing we have to grieve.


January 6, 2012
Tough news greeted the Wichita Aviation community with the coming of the new year—Boeing will close its Wichita facilities over the next 24 months. After 83 years, the “Air Capital of the World” will be without one of its biggest aviation entities. The decision gives new, and unwelcome, meaning to the terms “movers” and “shakers” as it applies to the corporate giant. Their move definitely shakes things up in Wichita and in Kansas.

The local community feels betrayed—and congressional representatives and the Governor have all voiced a sense of dismay over “broken promises” from Boeing that they would build the KC-46 Tanker in Wichita. While these feelings are understandable and justified, based on impressions Boeing cultivated during the tanker competition, all of the government leaders would agree that a business should NOT be compelled to do something that is economically detrimental because of government perceptions. The crux of this situation is that Boeing utilized the clout and voice of the state of Kansas, its state and federal political leaders and the commitment of its workforce to influence the eventual decision…and now the company is taking another direction. It’s a great disappointment to all of us in the community and the aviation industry because Boeing’s considerable presence will be missed and impossible to replace. Local charities just took a tremendous hit. The city’s reputation as the “Air Capital of the World,” just lost some of its luster. The state’s major educational institutions face the loss of a key collaborative partner. Boeing’s protestations notwithstanding, the local economy will be severely impacted in a negative way, too…not to mention the workforce that will soon be faced with the prospects of relocation (the best alternative in most cases), retirement (for those who can qualify) or joining the already-swollen ranks of the unemployed. It’s hard not to be angry, but my dominant emotion is dismay. I feel for the workers who have given their professional lives to Boeing and who identify strongly with the company. In a few months, for many of them, they won’t have that relationship anymore. Loyalty to the company can be a powerful force in motivating people—and when it is no longer reciprocated—a huge deflator! When you’ve worked most of your life for one company it never feels right to work elsewhere.
I also can relate to our government officials; they worked tirelessly and took a lot of heat for their support of Boeing. They were overjoyed by the positive outcome that promised more jobs in Kansas. They feel they should be able to trust Boeing as much as they long to be trusted themselves! Silence, whether prudent or not on the company’s part, became deception and that never yields a good result. Finally, I can understand and even relate to Boeing, where the cost of doing business is a huge consideration. It has had to walk a fine line as studies were undertaken, alternatives considered, and decisions made. Timing, as always, is everything. Once the decision was made it was imperative that it be revealed in a proper and appropriate way. Like a physician with an ominous test result, they found themselves with no really good way to utter the bad news. Now, silence isn’t deception, it’s just the most prevalent reaction to the announcement we all feared. It’s easier to handle than tears…but it represents, in a graphic way, the void we all feel at the loss of Boeing in Wichita!

Consulting: It works better when you practice what you preach

December 14, 2011
The most effective salesmen are the ones who practice what they preach. I wouldn’t buy a Ford from another car dealer who drove off in a Mercedes, even though I know they’re considered two different categories of cars. I guess I’d also find it hard to take a communications consultant seriously when he talks about “staying current” if he only updated his website once every decade, too! Obviously, I’m not talking about myself here: in my case the interval between updates of my website has only been eight years. I still have a two-year cushion before an entire decade has passed!

Actually, Franson Consulting was originally founded in1996, but we just didn’t get around to establishing a website right away. During those first couple of years websites were pretty rare and exotic. Media relations meant mostly news organizations, publications, and trade groups. “Facebook” was slang for a model’s portfolio and “Tweets” were still only exchanged between birds. Back then, we were focused almost exclusively on providing media and public relations services, copywriting and editing on a project basis to a diverse set of clients, including some with little or no connection to aviation. Since my background during nearly 30 years in corporate public relations had been in aviation-related companies, we faced a bit of a learning curve when dealing with non-airplane related subjects. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot and proved that the basic principles and fundamentals of good communications are universal and work regardless of the subject matter.