A successful lesson in listening
Striving to understand all aspects of the business. Ask those who know Levaero Aviation president/CEO Robert Arnone best, and this is precisely how they describe his quiet, effective leadership style, corporate philosophy and commitment to a growing client base.
“Rob is the first one to tell you he doesn’t know all aspects of the business,” notes Steve Davey, Levaero’s vice president, COO-DOM and Arnone’s long-time business partner. “Rob seeks input from the others, no matter what the project. “I have watched him sit and ask customers to explain certain areas of the business he doesn’t understand until he fully understands the complexities; he listens and absorbs.”
Levaero Aviation is northern Ontario’s largest maintenance, repair and overhaul facility and is a multi-faceted “one-stop-shop” for everything Pilatus. The company provides national support to its Pilatus customer base, and to operators seeking specialized, often mission-specific, solutions. It’s also the exclusive Canadian sales and service centre for the Pilatus PC-12 and PC-24 aircraft. Levaero also specializes in aircraft acquisition and sales, parts and maintenance and aircraft charter and management services.
Arnone has more than 18 years experience in the aviation field. He graduated from Thunder Bay, Ont.’s Lakehead University with an honours bachelor of commerce degree and later attained his professional designation of chartered accountant. He joined Levaero as the vice president of finance and was named president and CEO in 2006. Constantly seeking ways to innovate, Arnone was instrumental in the re-branding of the company in 2015 to Levaero Aviation (formerly Pilatus Centre Canada).
In the first of Wings special Visionaries series, Arnone shares his vision of Levaero’s ascension, his thoughts on leadership and the future of the aviation industry in Canada. For an extended version of this piece, as well as the audio interview, please go to wingsmagazine.com.
Q. What is your strategic vision for the company and are things progressing as planned?
“We set forth to create a one-stop shop centre here, a turn-key solution. And from day one when Steve and I acquired the business, the focus was on the PC-12. But towards 2014, we realized we have an underserviced market. We wanted to expand our capabilities. So, we rebranded the company and now offer everything an operator needs – the equipment, right down to operating it for that client, providing the appropriate support and anything that falls in between.”
Q. What are your customers telling you about the operation?
“We continue to build a portfolio of repeat clientele which in itself says a lot. We service clients from all across North America, notably California, Alaska, into the Caribbean and as far away as South Africa. The clients who operate their own equipment turn to us for support; they really know their needs. We need to capitalize on our experience and identify what their future needs may be – whether it be maintenance related or aircraft related.”
Q. What makes the Pilatus aircraft lines so appropriate for the Canadian market?
“It delivers range, it is capable of carrying cargo, it’s exceptionally reliable. It has short-field take off and landing performance, even on gravel and dirt. And it does so in the comfort of a pressurized environment, comfort with speed . . . and it is very economical.”
Q. How are the 90-plus Canadian operators deploying the PC-12 and the PC-12NG? What’s the market for the new PC-24?
“The PC-24 is a larger, faster, longer range offering than the PC-12 and it maintains the performance characteristics that made the PC-12 so popular. We have some operators that have opted to go with a PC-12 and a PC-24 in their fleets. The order book is strong, it is sold out, and it has only been open for the first three years of production. The biggest trend with the PC-12 is its continued popularity and deployment in a variety of different verticals.”
Q. How is Levaero innovating in all areas of the business?
“Anyone in aviation can appreciate the fact that innovation and aviation are not necessarily in sync. We don’t move with vast expedience; there are baby steps. We’ve tried to encourage our entire team to think outside of the box regardless of what facet it is, whether it be in maintenance, administration, charter bookings or anything that we do. And technology plays a big part in it. For example, our financial software is fully integrated with parts ordering, inventory control, on the floor with work orders. They are small steps, but in the end, it all counts.”
Q. How would your employees describe your leadership style?
“I certainly don’t see myself as the smartest guy in the room. A leader has to surround themselves with people who can offer a diverse and unique skillset. If you are the smartest person in the room, or you think you are, the only thing you’ve accomplished is building a weak team – and that will lead to failure. My success, and this organization’s success, is our ability to put together a vast skillset for everyone to capitalize on it.”
Q. Do you have any mentors that have helped shape your leadership mantra?
“When I entered into aviation, a client who became a very dear friend of mine and a mentor, was Faan VanTonder. He was a resident of South Africa and we became dear friends. He has since passed away. He would always refer to the balance sheet of life. Every transaction has to be a win-win. Both parties have to come away from the table to be truly successful. I have taken both of these philosophies and pride myself that my balance sheet is measured by integrity and honesty – and I like to think it is asset heavy.
“I would also be amiss if I didn’t say my partner and long-time friend, Steve Davey. He has helped shape my career in so many ways. Without Steve by my side, we would not have done what we have today.
“Another person who continues to be a force in the Pilatus world is Chris Finnoff of Finnoff Aviation in Boulder, Col. Chris has 40 years experience in aviation and he was one of the original CEOs of Pilatus business aircraft, the U.S. subsidiary of the manufacturer and the OEM. I often think of what he has done and his innovative way of thinking. This has helped shape what I do and how I do it.”
Q. What is your most important aviation memory and why? Do you have a favourite aircraft?
“The logical thing for me to say is when both Steve and I acquired what was V. Kelner Pilatus Centre in Thunder Bay. We became the owners and turned it into Pilatus Centre Canada (now Levaero Aviation). But I continue to have fond memories dealing with me clients. Over the years, I have met some really interesting people from all around the world. As for my favourite aircraft? Anything in my service centre is my favourite aircraft.”
Q. Levaero has always been a strong advocate for the development of future aviation and aerospace leaders – participating in the Wings and Helicopters Careers in Aviation Expos for example. How important are these programs to the future development of the industry?
“It’s hugely important to us. We have done similar things with local expos (in Thunder Bay). We also have an aviation program at our local college and apprenticeship programs. It is extremely important – as an industry – to attract the most passionate and skilled students. Otherwise, we will just fall short at the end.”
Q. In what ways can we work as an industry to grow the Canadian aviation and aerospace footprint both here and abroad?
“We are not going to go very far unless we can attract more talent to our industry. We have a massive shortage of pilots and it will not get much better in the near future. The shortage of AMEs is just beginning. We need to attract the high school entrants when they are deciding on their careers. Companies like ours need to get more involved at the grassroots levels – the pre-college career decision time. It is after all a very passionate and sexy industry.”
Q. What keeps Robert Arnone upat night?
“We have built a solid foundation for this company so I don’t lose a lot of sleep in that regard. But I have often found myself springing up in the middle of the night, showering and coming to work because I want to. I still love what I do and I am excited on Sunday night to come back to the office. I can’t see myself not doing this. But there will be a day when a change happens. And when that day comes, I want to make sure Levaero’s legacy continues.”
Q. What are your future goals for the Levaero Aviation Group? For Robert Arnone?
“Steve and I have often sat down and talked about what’s next. The cliché that comes out of that discussion is we’re not done yet. We’re not done building. We still think there is a vast, untapped market for what we do. We know we do it well. We service our clientele, we do it with honesty, we have integrity. We do it right and we keep getting more referrals. We want to capitalize on that and keep building that market, whether it is national or international. We are also seeking out opportunities. Ultimately we want to continue to grow and strengthen. We are committed to the Levareo group and positioning ourselves in the industry.
Personally, I love what I do and the people I do it with. I don’t see myself going anywhere soon. But there will be a day – and when that day comes – I want to make sure Levaero’s legacy continues.