Robert Geckle, chairman and CEO of Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, recently spoke with ExecutiveBiz regarding the core values that drive the company’s culture as well as how Airbus is addressing the challenge of recruitment and talent retention in the highly competitive federal marketplace.
In addition, Robert Geckle discussed the company’s strategic goals for the rest of 2022 and the new market opportunities coming in the defense sector. Geckle also talked about the key attributes of Airbus that brought him to the company and what he hopes to accomplish as CEO during the latest Executive Spotlight interview.
You can read the full interview with Robert Geckle below:
ExecutiveBiz: Why did you want to take on the role of CEO back in Oct. and what were the attributes of its mission that attracted you to the role? What do you hope to accomplish with the company?
Robert Geckle: “I’ve been with Airbus for the last 15 years. I began working for the company when the defense arm was known as Airbus EADS as its external counsel and my focus was to help EADS do inbound mergers and acquisitions as well as cross border investments in the U.S.
When I joined the company back in 2005, I loved the aerospace and defense industries. It was an exciting adventure to work for a multinational company like Airbus. Since then, I’ve done two rotations in Europe and a few different roles here in the U.S. I’ve been lucky enough to do a lot of cool things in the group.
The most rewarding projects for me have been when we’ve been able to take some really discriminating technologies, bring them to the U.S. and ‘Americanize’ them for our end user, specifically our defense and security-oriented customers.
For example, our work building the Lakota helicopters, the militarized version of the H-145, for the U.S. Army down in Columbus, Mississippi. These aircraft are proven in excellence, and we are excited to be migrating from our renowned UH 72A to our newer, UH-72B model for the Army and other customers. Every U.S. Army aviator trains in a Lakota, a fact we are exceptionally proud of.
Platforms are just the beginning though. Airbus U.S. still has a lot of untapped potential in the U.S. market in the short, medium, and long term.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are your strategic goals for the coming year? Are there any new markets that you’re keeping an eye on in the defense sector?
Robert Geckle: “The first six months of this role were really about ensuring a smooth transition. Previously, I was heavily involved in operations and legal, supporting our former CEO and directly interfacing with the board of directors. It’s a different dynamic and mindset when you’re the chairman or CEO, especially in terms of decision making, learning to trust your team members, and encouraging collaboration.
The most important part of leadership is being authentic. The good news for me was that I had already been with Airbus U.S. for the year prior to my transition into the CEO role so we have been able to continue a steady course in terms of evolving an established strategy for the last six months. Airbus U.S. has continued to grow into a full-fledged defense company with the processes and expertise that we need to pursue highly classified business.
We are fortunate that Airbus is already well known as a proven platform company, both in the commercial and defense markets. People think excellence when they think Airbus. They think about safety and greater performance, which has laid a solid foundation for our defense business across the United States.
The momentum that Airbus U.S. has built has been exceptional and we’re already seeing it pay off in some fascinating ways with some significant government customers. We’re seeing growth in critical areas like communications, intelligence, satellites, and surveillance. There’s a lot of promise, especially in the mass production of small sets that we are building in Florida.
One of our most promising platforms is our stratospheric unmanned pseudosatellite. That’s a huge potential growth area for us, especially if you look at how the DoD is projecting for the future of its near-peer warfare. It is all going to be data-centric and based on creating a massive network of data, with sensors and communication systems for our warfighters.
The areas of satellites, surveillance, unmanned systems, communication terminals and others are critical spaces that are absolutely relevant to what the Department of Defense needs in the coming years. Airbus U.S. is ramping up our offerings in these areas. This is where I see our growth coming from as we move forward.
Synthetic aperture and radar technologies are becoming more necessary in both the commercial and defense sectors., Airbus U.S. has a number of proven technologies available to meet those needs.
In fact, we are extremely excited to have recently signed a study contract with the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to establish an understanding of their requirements in a classified environment so we can then adapt our capabilities to meet their needs.
Study contracts continue to be a great opportunity to understand that inside of a classified environment.
We’ve been doing a lot of blocking and tackling for the past few years and our team has done an excellent job. I feel like our future is bright- we have a sound strategy, excellent products, and a great team.”
ExecutiveBiz: What are the core values that are important to your company’s culture? How has your team developed its workflow and worked to address the uphill challenge to recruit and retain the best talent in the deferral marketplace?
Robert Geckle: “We just finished an exercise where we set out to define and align our core values and mission statement. As we went through that process, we distilled everything down to our mission to ‘provide trusted capabilities to address our nation’s toughest challenges.’ That really resonated with the team and it makes my job easier because it illustrates to our people why our work is so important in fairly simple terms.
It’s obvious that our people are customer focused and genuinely want to help the Department of Defense work with the cutting-edge technologies. It’s not difficult to find the motivation at our company for our people to engage with and deliver for our customers.
Also, we work as hard as we can to treat our employees as well as we can, especially with the new aspects of remote work and working to build a positive and supportive culture.
People are really at the core of our mission and we strive to deliver to the warfighter and care for the employees delivering on that promise. For example, because of the pandemic, we saw that a hybrid work set-up was working best for our people. Adaptation is critical and we are always looking at the geography of where we should be setting up new locations for our people and our business objectives.
Airbus is working to build that culture around our mission statement. We want to be an agile, innovative and customer-centric organization with a ton of technologies and massive shareholders. All of our choices are oriented toward accomplishing that goal and that is only possible if we are engaging our people and bringing out their best.”