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.
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.
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.
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.’”
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.
“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.
“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.”
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 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.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of profiles on new, full-time faculty members who have joined the Keuka community.
Perhaps it’s fair to say that Angela Narasimhan is intent on expanding the borders of possibility, whether those borders be in political science, motherhood and family life, or long-held traditions about college education.
Indeed, Keuka’s newest assistant professor of political science went beyond borders to pursue her collegiate studies, moving from Washington, D.C., to Romania, where she spent a year in language school before earning her B.A. in political science from Babes-Bolyai (pronounced “Bobbish- Boyea”) University in Transylvania, Romania. That was followed by a master’s degree in political science from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. And while her Ph.D. – also in political science – is from Syracuse University, Narasimhan maintains a particularly global view on American politics.
“I wanted to study post-communist transition, but I was very interested in American politics from an international perspective. My dissertation was on globalization and the Supreme Court, and how different American institutions are dealing with globalization,” she said, adding that her studies have also touched on American politics, public law and public policy.
“We have many individual rights. We have the strongest, most enduring constitution, and we’re very inclusive, very democratic. These are all important, unique things that many Americans take for granted,” she said. “At the same time, we also lag behind other countries in certain things, and there’s a lot of fear of globalization undermining American values. However, the world is increasingly interdependent. We have to deal with other countries on a more direct basis, and we’re expected to have a global set of abilities to compete.”
Prior to coming to Keuka, Narasimhan taught political science at Idaho State University and the Unversity of North Dakota. She and her husband, Kamesh, who hails from India, moved to be near her parents, who had retired to Central New York.
“I’ve been to more rural places than Keuka and Keuka is more diverse than some places,” she said. “Keuka has this international program reputation, so I was excited to come to a place where students do travel and get out in the world, but it’s not just traveling abroad. Once you work in a real-world environment, you start to understand the practical skills you can take away. I like that. I like to teach to the real world; that fits with my personality. Experiential learning is a contact back and forth between practical and theoretical and that’s how my academic pursuit has always been.”
Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of profiles of new, full-time faculty who have joined the Keuka community.
Back in the fall of 2006, Dr. Yang Zhao served as an academic adviser to four international students attending classes on the home campus in Keuka Park. Today, some 79 international students from 12 countries attend classes here, learning how to compare and contrast America with its global neighbors in background, economy, and leadership development.
This fall, after earning her doctorate and serving several years as an adjunct professor for Keuka, Zhao became part of the full-time faculty, teaching courses in economics and leadership to graduate students in Keuka’s Master of Science in management with a concentration in international business (MSMIB) program.
Her studies in China focused on economics, and she holds a B.S. in economics from Shangdong University of Finance and an M.A. in economics from Dongbei University of Finance and Economics. While teaching in China’s Qiqihar University, Zhao published seven research articles relative to strategic planning, management, marketing, economics and business to help entrepreneurs and companies to better serve their community. In 2003, she won the Outstanding Young Professor award, for the Hei Long Jiang province of China. During that time, she also served as an academic coordinator for the Keuka China Program (KCP) and assistant professor at Qiqihar University.
Here in the U.S., she has added an M.S. in management from Keuka, and just this summer, completed an education doctorate in executive leadership from St. John Fisher College. In addition to her many years of experience in international education, as a full-time and adjunct professor, Zhao has also spent seven years as a local business owner and entrepreneur working in property management. Her connection to the local business and community network, as well as related marketing and financial management skills, help provide what international learners and domestic students are looking for when they study at Keuka, she said.
“As a business leader, you have to understand the entrepreneur’s point of view, to understand how to help students start thinking as a future leader, not just a manager. That will help students to be successful in their career development,” Zhao said.