Was being an entrepreneur something that you always wanted to do?
I really haven’t spent many years with a “real job.” I started my first business when I was 13 – a lawn and landscaping business in my neighborhood. Believe it or not, I had an active budget and sales funnel at the age of 14, distributing flyers and collecting new accounts. I purchased two pickup trucks and employed six workers by the time I was 17. That carried me through my early 20s, at which point I emigrated to the USA. Once moved, I opened another commercial level, landscaping, and lawn business. For a few years, I had started and operated an advertising company before taking on Custom Aerospace. Being an entrepreneur has always been in my DNA.
Can you tell me a bit more about Custom Aerospace? What value do you provide your customers?
We manufacture flight and critical components for extreme environments. What we offer our clients is the capability to process complex, High-Rel componentry, at a good value. Quality is the most important aspect of everything Custom Aerospace does and in this market segment, it’s either perfect or it’s scrap.
What is your competitive edge over others in your market?
As an organization, we have always focused on how to separate ourselves from our competitors, which manifests in several ways. One of those is the certification process – AS9100, the CMMC for cybersecurity and now MBD (Model Based Definition). Essentially, we can maintain these types of certifications because we have grown strategically to support the overhead required to sustain such demanding standards. Currently operating with 70 staff under 67,000 square feet of manufacturing space in two locations we are large enough to service the demands of any tier-one client, but small enough to react to any market-related challenges.
Equipment deployment is a big differentiator in our market segment. Currently, we are completing a remodel of one of our facilities, into which we are installing capital equipment, with the capacity to machine high tolerance five-axis componentry that is unparalleled in scope in central Florida. With the recent acquisition of two large-volume, five-axis, Zimmerman bridge Mills, we can now provide complete machining capability to all the prime launch vehicle companies located in and around Cape Canaveral. We targeted this end market to provide machining capabilities to clients such as ULA or Blue Origin and anyone who’s making lift vehicle componentry. With these high tolerance machining centers, we now can make five-axis components up to 21 feet long and 12 feet wide. This alone minimizes the competition when your client base can now requisition parts of this size. Soon there will be no contract machine and fabrication operation in Brevard County, capable of servicing the part sizes that Custom Aerospace can provide.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while growing your business?
Capital requirements are by far the most demanding challenge Custom Aerospace has ever faced. For 2022, our budget indicates that we will grow by 45%, which in of itself is a great problem to have, but the capital structure to achieve such growth is very demanding. During the life cycle of any project, we must finance all costs associated with manufacturing for 90 to 150 days. Capital intensive businesses such as Custom Aerospace, carry with them financial challenges including equipment, human talent and WIP balancing. If you couple these with our growth curve that has a decade-long yearly average of over 20%, capital requirements remain our most challenging demand.
What are some of the goals you have for your company?
Our most immediate goal is to complete the modifications to our second facility to be fully operational by June – that’s what we call our Custom Aerospace Heavy Division. This facility will operate two large capacity 5 axis CNC mills, capable of machining parts up to 21 feet long 12 feet wide and standing 6 feet high.
Our more medium-term goal is meeting budget for this year. We have a robust budget, and my team of managers are continuously improving the workflow and performing “over the horizon” initiatives, to foresee upcoming bottlenecks, which assists us in achieving budget.
Long-term, I’ve always desired to operate the largest contract manufacturing and engineering solutions company in Brevard County. You can measure that in a lot of ways, but my vision since I was a younger man was to provide all the local Tier-One Primes, a partner/supplier located in Brevard that they can bring the hardest projects to. Custom is currently a 70-team member operation, my vision is 500+.
Tell us about the company culture at Custom Aerospace.
Years ago, I changed my management strategy. In the beginning, to be honest, I was more young and brash, more demanding of the staff. I managed in a way that wasn’t considerate of where the staff were at in their life and I didn’t keep in mind their own personal goals. Now, I approach the team with more compassion and understanding. I’m in the business of creating leaders not followers. I’m not in the business of telling them how to do their job, but providing them a platform, the tools, and the vision so that they can perform to their highest abilities. It’s important to me to be there to guide them. I set a vision, I give them the knowledge that they need to achieve that vision, and then I follow up at the end to make sure that those visions were completed. If they didn’t, then I help them fill in the gaps. This is never a pass or fail; in my mind, it’s about how I can help them. If they are successful, that means I did my job right. We have a real team environment. If you were to come into Custom Aerospace, you’d feel it. No one person is above anyone else, we all know our level of authority, our responsibilities and we are all accountable to the team. We’re all friends inside and outside of work, which helps build a great culture.
Do you have a proudest moment so far as CEO?
That’s a tough question to answer because there are so many. There are so many accomplishments that I tend to take them in stride. But when I see my team, my managers, do their jobs well and they realize that they are doing what is asked of them with excellence, that fills me with pride like no other. When I can see that I’ve helped them become who they can be, both professionally and personally.
What does it mean to be selected as an Honoree this year?
It’s a proud moment for us all. When we were selected, it was all high fives and a little bit of disbelief. I’m honored, but I’m happy for the staff because they’re the ones that do all the work. They see that our company has a strong growth curve and being honored this way really strengthens that and brings validation to this belief.
Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I’d like to thank all the people who have chosen to connect themselves to me, my partner Pete Statile, our employees, and clients. I really feel honored that the individuals who work for Custom have truly chosen to follow me and put their livelihood in my hands. I want to honor them for that and thank them for believing that I’m a worthy leader.