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Soaring to Business Success

For a time, Penn Yan Aero had requests to refurbish so many piston airplane engines a year, it looked like the local business could easily double output – and profits.

Middlebrook shows students an airplane engine

The typical piston engine is rated to fly 2,000 hours, and rather than replace an entire plane after notching all that flight time, most owners elect to refurbish the engine. But pushing 400 engines a year through the rebuilding cycle didn’t net the results CEO Bill Middlebrook was seeking. Plus, his employees were working “crazy hours, hated each other and no one was happy,” the Class of ’95 alum said. So what would a business-savvy professional recommend when the service is in great demand, but supply is limited?  That’s the question Middlebrook posed to a group of graduate students in the Keuka College Master’s of Management, concentration in International Business program (MSMIB) during an April visit to his family’s Penn Yan facility.

“Raise the price!” students chimed in unison, as Middlebrook and Dr. Yang Zhao, assistant professor of international management, affirmed.

The company’s shift to a more manageable – and profitable – strategy to repair or refurbish between 300-350 piston engines a year, at higher prices, resulted in restored employee morale, reasonable 8-hour days for all, and still-satisfied customers, Middlebrook described. Little did he know, however, that his management decision then, and successive ones to keep Penn Yan Aero operating at the same site where it’s been since his grandfather started the business in the 40s actually ensured the company could still survive after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Great Recession that started in 2008-09.

“Half of our business evaporated overnight,” Middlebrook told MSMIB students, explaining that formerly lucrative customers could no longer sustain expensive weekend hobbies such as flying small Cessna or Piper planes.

“So, 40 employees will now do what?” asked Middlebrook, describing how Penn Yan Aero had to regroup.  

Middlebrook tours students through Penn Yan Aero.

After adjustments for some lost talent, the company’s focus has shifted to servicing engines for planes used in flight schools, businesses, some international customers and a few private executives still maintaining their “toys,” Middlebrook told students. But the aviation market is getting smaller, he said, describing how Penn Yan Aero’s biggest competitor in Long Island was purchased by an engine manufacturer who bought the plant, then shut it down. Further, today’s shaky economy carries other challenges, Middlebrook said, pointing out some $20,000-$70,000 worth of repaired engines sitting on shelves inside the plant because Penn Yan Aero does not ship back to customers without first receiving payment.

“It’s tough,” Middlebrook told students, adding there could be as much as $150,000 outstanding in accounts receivable.

When asked by a student what numbers would tell him to change the nature of his business, Middlebrook replied that Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit him from repairing any other non-flight engines in the same facility where airplane engine repairs are made. So Penn Yan Aero continues to excel at its meticulous service and reputation for quality. For example, Middlebrook expects his sales reps to be constantly updating customers directly on the status of their engines, and he considers it a “bad day” if a customer has to call to inquire on an engine status.

Touring the facility with students, Middlebrook explained numerous quality-control procedures in place and introduced employee veterans averaging more than 15 years each with the company. Students observed the “cart” system that ensures each engine and all its parts travels together from cleaning station, to parts, to assembly, to testing area – an approximately  7 – 10 business day process – before the engine is ready to ship back to the customer. While an engine manufacturer may specify which parts must be replaced, Penn Yan Aero has an additional list of its own, Middlebrook said. 

While the company has made several investments in technological processes through the years, little about the piston engine technology itself has changed since the 50s and 60s, Middlebrook said. During his tenure, Penn Yan Aero moving its engine testing area from outdoors, on the back of a flatbed truck, to an indoor, soundproofed space where employees no longer have to endure the rigors of cold weather. Middlebrook makes use of security cameras and a large, flat-panel TV in his office, but it’s primarily to help track the location of various engines in repair or to observe if a group of workers are huddled over in one shop, it may be a sign there’s a problem with a machine Middlebrook needs to investigate. Elsewhere, flat-panel monitors display the status tracking of each engine currently in repair.

MSMIB students join Bill Middlebrook '95 in the heart of the Penn Yan Aero facility.

But no matter how the family business has changed through the years, Middlebrook told students, some business principles have remained the same.

“As my grandfather always said, ‘Take care of your customer, and they’ll take care of you.’”

KC Volunteers Help Penn Yan Neighbors

Spurred on by a desire to help nearby neighbors recover from the devastation of Tuesday night’s storm, dozens and dozens of Keuka College students and staff got to work Wednesday clearing out muddy debris in the village of Penn Yan.

A morning email alert sent to all members of the campus community served as a call for volunteers. Due to travel warnings in effect, the College announced shuttle runs every two hours to safely transport any willing workers to posts in town. Rev. Eric Detar, the College chaplain, said he and two other staffers rode in on the first shuttle at 11 a.m.

(Photo by staffer Justin Krog)

About a dozen volunteers – mostly students – arrived on the 1 p.m. shuttle but after additional emails from the vice presidents of student affairs and academic affairs encouraging student and faculty support, more volunteers arrived at the shuttle pickup area outside Saunders hall. So many showed up to work, the original schedule was scrapped and shuttles started running every 30 minutes.

A shuttle filled with volunteers takes off from campus at 3 p.m.

“I bet we’ve had between 75-100 volunteers help out,” Detar said by phone about 4:15 p.m. from his post on Main Street. “There’s 10 students walking by me right now, covered in mud.”

A student volunteer hauls salvage out of the Once Again Shoppe (Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

The first local business to receive help was the Once Again Shoppe, where volunteers salvaged what they could from thousands of dollars worth of damaged toys stored in the consignment shop’s basement. The toys were earmarked for the annual Christmas for the Needy annual benefit drive – a hallmark in the Penn Yan community – and most of them had to be thrown away in giant dumpsters, Detar said. After the damaged goods were removed, volunteers used Shop-Vacs and shovels to tackle the mud.

“It was just so sad to see all the hard work get ruined, because [Christmas for the Needy] is a huge part of this community,” said Mitch Leet ’16, who has served two years as a community service advocate for the College, and just this year, coordinated the campus’s Angel Tree gift drive. “We were asking people what others could do to help them replace this inventory.” 

Detar said College relief efforts were concentrated mostly on local businesses, with College volunteers laboring to removing debris from flooded basements and other low-lying storage areas hit hard by the storm. Workers came to the aid of those at Calvary Chapel of Penn Yan, Deano’s Outdoors store, and the Penn Yan Diner, where some nine feet of water had rushed through the basement, Detar said. The diner is operated by College alumnae Carrie Ahearn.

(Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

“Right now, they’ve got an assembly line sending stuff up – it’s mud and trash – from the basement to the dumpster,” he said. “We’ve been working in Long’s bookstore, too, and there’s tons of stuff that needs to be thrown out. Plus, we’ve had students walk through the streets with grocery carts, distributing bottled water and snacks. They’ve talked to some families and helped them a bit.”

(Photo by staffer Justin Krog)

Leet and a handful of other student volunteers wound up at the Sampson Theater, where some sets were so waterlogged, “they had to be trashed. It was just awful – people were sinking through the floorboards. The theater wasn’t in great condition to begin with and now this.”  

Volunteers clear out sets and props from a muddy Sampson Theatre (Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

Freshmen Rachel Hurley and Laura Alderson, both occupational science majors, reported for service around 3 p.m. and were also part of the group helping clean out the theater. The two found themselves in a nearby barn, helping unload pickup trucks carting wet wood and salvaged set pieces from the theater into temporary storage.

Hurley said seeing photos online of the devastation prompted her to action. Much of this storm damage reminded Hurley of the flooding many in her hometown of Sayre, Penn. experienced about three years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, she said. At that time, much of the Southern Tier, including cities like Binghamton and Owego, N.Y., were under water for weeks. Alderson’s hometown lies in Warren Center, Penn. and she said she felt awful for those in Penn Yan who could not even leave their houses because the mouths of their driveways were washed away in the storm. 

Rachael Ford'16 and other students help salvage set pieces at Sampson Theatre (photo by M.A. Leet '16)

“I feel like I’ve taken advantage of all their amenities at Tops or other stores and now I actually get to give back and help them out,” Alderson said.  “On the way back, we were riding in the back of the pickup truck and there were several citizens in Penn Yan sitting on their porches, waving to us and calling out ‘Thank you kids, so much!’ It was precious.”

Closer to campus, the handful of volunteers Leet served with Wednesday wound up at a West Lake Road home, assisting an older couple whose garage had filled with debris as water rushed down the steep hills across Route 54A and through their backyards.

Flood damage along West Lake Road (Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

“The water is not rushing as much now, but there are still ‘waterfalls’ coming down in some places, and the road was just filled with debris. We had to hold hands to get across it, and I forgot for a second we were walking in the middle of a road because there was so much water,” Leet said, adding that the couple asked for help documenting the damage for insurance purposes. “They just had mud everywhere in the garage. I took pictures of everything.”

College staffer Chevanne DeVaney, right, and Tracy Iversen '16 carry damaged goods out of the garage of a home on W. Lake Road. (Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

Despite the devastation, working together with fellow students to help neighbors in need, helped Hurley bond with those in the campus community, she said, adding how many faces she was happy she recognized today.  

“I think that we realize we can all come together to help people out,” Hurley said.

Penn Yan Academy students assist a W. Lake Rd. resident carrying damaged furniture out of a garage. (Photo by M.A. Leet '16)

Community service is a hallmark of Keuka College with numerous clubs and groups conducting service projects and fundraisers throughout the academic year. The College even hosts an annual county-wide day of service, in conjunction with the Yates County Chamber of Commerce, known as Celebrate Service … Celebrate Yates (CSCY). The strong focus on community service has helped earn the College a spot on the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past seven years.

Photo by M.A. Leet '16

Detar said College relief efforts would continue Thursday and officials were waiting to hear if support would also be needed at Camp Good Days and Special Times in Branchport, which had reportedly been hit hard as well. Additional emails from campus officials indicated volunteer service shuttles will again run every half-hour, starting at 9 a.m. with the final shuttle returning to campus at 5 p.m.

Costa Rica Provides Plenty for Field Period™

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of features on recipients of the Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award. The award, named after the late 1963 Keuka graduate, is supported by Brown’s family and the Class of ’63. It is designed to assist students who pursue a culturally-oriented Field Period™.

Brittany Gleason

Like many people, Keuka College junior Brittany Gleason has a bucket list. And like many people, traveling is among the items on the list.

Thanks to receiving the Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award, Gleason had the opportunity to cross ‘traveling’ off of her list during her January Field Period™. The mathematics major and Carthage resident traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica, where she took classes at Centro Cultural de Idiomas (CCI), a cultural language center.

“To me, traveling means learning and experiencing new cultures and broadening my horizons,” said Gleason. “It also means meeting new people and forming lifelong friendships. I was excited to push myself and get as much out of the experience as possible.”

But she was not the only Keuka student who traveled to Costa Rica for her January Field Period™. Sophomore Kathryn Zawisa, another recipient of the Judith Oliver Brown Memorial Award, went too, intent on learning more about how Costa Rican small businesses are run.

Gleason, Zawisa, a marketing and management major from Amsterdam—and four other Keukonians—participated in Finger Lakes Community College’s (FLCC) study abroad program. During the Field Period™ each conducted, Gleason and Zawisa had the opportunity to improve their Spanish language proficiency, and develop an understanding and appreciation of Costa Rica’s culture. They also had the opportunity to tour sites of interest and be housed with a host family.

Kathryn Zawsia

“It’s been my dream to travel to a Spanish-speaking country where I could use what I have learned,” said Zawisa. “Taking Spanish classes since sixth grade has transformed into a minor at Keuka. Not only have I enjoyed learning the language, but I’ve also found myself yearning to learn more about the culture. Costa Rica gave me the opportunity to understand the Spanish culture and feed my interest.”

It was also a chance to practice community service.

“I have been involved in my community from an early age, so when I heard we were going to work with young girls, I jumped at the chance to help,” said Gleason.

She worked at a social services organization which provides room, board, and schooling to adolescent girls who have been removed from their homes due to domestic violence, neglect, and or abuse.

Gleason enlisted the help of her fellow Enactus teammates to ask the College community for donations for the girls. Together they collected pens, pencils, erasers, markers, colored pencils, notebooks, stickers, ponytail holders, headbands, and barrettes, among others. Zawisa also intended to donate part of her award money to a Costa Rican charity.

“I believe I am a driven and passionate student, which is shown through my interaction with others,” said Zawisa. “I hope I displayed this passion while in Costa Rica.”

Part of that passion was the desire to compare how a small Costa Rican business is run versus an American one.

“My family owns two small businesses in New York state so I already know much about how to run one,” said Zawisa. “But seeing what differs in Costa Rican businesses, instead of reading it online, was an unforgettable opportunity.”

And she was not just interested in how the businesses are run.

“I wanted to learn the differences of communication in a Spanish-speaking country such as nonverbal cues, inter-gender communication, and more,” said Zawisa. “Learning these skills could put me one step ahead of other Spanish minors because I’d not only know the language, but I’d also know how to approach, and speak to, a native Spanish speaker.”

Added Gleason: “Being at Keuka has given me the confidence and knowledge I need to be a productive member of society. I believe traveling to Costa Rica was a life-changing experience, especially because I learned more about the world while helping others in need.”

A Tale of Two Field Periods

According to two Keuka College juniors, the Field Period internships they conducted in the human resource divisions of different global corporations were the best of times.

While she went to a Boston bio-tech company of 5,000, he went to the U.S. headquarters (Pittsburgh) of a global chemical corporation that employs 17,500 people. Both are juniors, both worked May – August 2013, and both were paid – an uncommon occurrence in the arena of collegiate internships.

She is Sini Ngobese, a business and organizational communication major from Durban, South Africa. He is Devon Locher, a business major from Baden, Pa. Both students are pursuing human resources (HR) concentrations in their business majors, while Locher’s second concentration is in marketing. While Ngobese conducted her Field Period at Biogen Idec, Locher conducted his at Lanxess, a corporation focused on development, manufacturing and marketing of plastics, rubber and specialty chemicals. While she researched best-practice policies for redrafting an internal human resources (HR) manual, he worked on internal surveys covering employee and international intern integration into the city and company culture.

Locher said he was able to visit a production site in Ohio once which allowed him to see some of the manufacturing side of the company – with its setting and safety protocols – as well as the corporate side. The Pittsburgh workplace was positive and upbeat, he said, and while Locher already conducted two HR-related field periods, confirming that HR is the field he wants to work in, his two prior internships were at much smaller corporations.

At a prior Field Period, Locher learned he didn’t enjoy accounting work, but at Lanxess, no two days were ever the same,” he said. “There was always something different going on, even if some of the tasks were the same. That’s what I liked about it.”

In addition to developing what turned out to be a 30-page PowerPoint for managers to review, Locher also researched other company plans to ensure affirmative action laws and other HR standards comply with a wide variety of state and federal guidelines.

Locher with VP of HR Ludovico Martin, of Lanxess

“I learned a lot through research,” Locher said. “I think that’s why Keuka does the Field Period, because you can only do so much in the classroom and then you have to get out out there and work and see how it applies.”

According to Ngobese, Biogen Idec is the second largest bio-tech company in the world, manufacturing drugs for those suffering from autoimmune diseases.  Ngobese was stationed in its Weston branch office, although the company has locations “all over the globe,” she said.

Ngobese said her duties focused on the capture and synchronization of all U.S., European, and Canadian HR policies, to be shared on a new self-service portal for employees.

“It was, by far, the greatest career experience I’ve had thus far and truly fulfilled what the Field Period mission and vision strives to achieve,” said Ngobese. In addition to confirming her career aspirations and the type of company culture she hopes to find, Ngobese said her Field Period also helped her find a professional role model: Elizabeth Abbott, her supervisor.

“All of us were “wowed” by Sini’s professionalism, communication, work ethic and work product,” said Abbott. “Sini has many strengths, but her ability to communicate effectively, professionally, clearly, and persuasively in both written and oral communications is what really stands out to me. I was proud to have her represent my department and proud to call her a member of my team. She will be a strong contributor, I believe, wherever she goes.”

Thanks to Abbott, Ngobese said she now knows exactly what kind of female leader she wants to be, and has a clear sense what future purpose she can have within the HR field. She befriended other HR interns and was able to benchmark herself against those coming from bigger schools and gain confidence that she could still hold her own with them. The experience was so fulfilling, Ngobese may be invited to return to intern a second time, and if so, that would be in the company’s Cambridge, Mass., offices where the HR department will be moved.

Ngobese with fellow Biogen Idec interns at a Red Sox game in Boston, one of several company-provided treats for interns.

“It was intrinsically rewarding in that it truly helped me see that this is what I want to do as a career for the rest of my life,” she said. “I woke up thrilled to go to work and that really was an amazing experience for me.”

Snapshot of a Graduate: Jose Cervantes

Editor’s Note: Where can a Keuka degree take you? This is the seventh in a series of snapshot profiles on members of Keuka’s Class of 2013.

jose, degree, 2013, benefit, value, graduateJose Cervantes ’13 was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco-Mexico, but grew up in Horseheads. With aspirations of working for Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) in its Madrid, Spain branch office, Cervantes earned a degree in business management with a marketing concentration and will pursue a second degree through Keuka: a master’s of management with a concentration in international business.

Cervantes played midfield on Keuka’s men’s soccer team in his junior and senior years after transferring in from Corning Community College, where he played as a sophomore. He’ll compete one more year for Keuka while grad school is underway. Indeed, sports have played a major role in the internship experiences Cervantes pursued through Keuka’s Field Period program. His senior year internship was conducted at Watkins Glen International Speedway.

“I benefited the most from the Field Periods,” Cervantes said of Keuka. “Having [job] experience before graduation is a great plus in the ‘real world.’”

While grad school is underway, Cervantes will branch out in his new role as restaurant chain supervisor at Garcia’s Mexican restaurant (his family’s business), where he will also oversee marketing.

To explore what might be in your future with a Keuka degree, request more information.