Lynn Nichols, CEO of Yingling Aviation, knows a few things about turning a business around.
When he acquired Yingling 11 years ago, the company was in trouble.
Customers weren’t happy, employee morale was in the tank, and the company was technologically behind.
Even worse, Cessna Aircraft was calling off its relationship with Yingling, a Cessna service center and parts dealer.
“It was a company that really was sick with the flu,” Nichols said.
Nichols spoke about transforming Yingling at the Downtown Rotary meeting at Botanica today, where he was the keynote speaker.
Before buying Yingling, Nichols had lunch with then Cessna president Gary Hay and its chief financial officer at the time Mike Shonka. He showed them the list of things that were wrong and what he wanted to do.
He told them he needed three years to turn it around.
“By the time we finished the salad, I had Cessna’s approval,” Nichols said.
One of the first things he did was form a customer advisory panel to hear from customers and noncustomers what changes needed to be made.
He put those needs on a big board in the lobby so customers could see what changes were in the works. He drew a red line through each one as they were completed.
The company also underwent a $1.5 million renovation done in six phases over 14 months.
Change didn’t happen overnight.
“I don’t believe in the two-by-four approach where change is introduced in one fell swoop,” Nichols said.
Change is difficult, and turnover was high in the midst of it.
Today, Yingling employs 140 people — 40 percent more than it did in 2000. Revenue has grown 400 percent.
It’s one of Cessna’s top three service centers and its largest parts distributor.
It performs nondestructive testing, and does work on aircraft used in special missions for homeland security and law enforcement applications.
It provides round-the-clock fueling services, and it recently became a Cessna aircraft sales dealer for five models.
Yingling also operates a propeller division. Part of the work it does is overhauling and repairing Predator unmanned aerial vehicles for the Department of Defense.
It operates a Cessna pilot center giving flight instruction and it serves as a reassembly center for
Cessna Skycatchers built in China. Skycatchers are shipped in crates to Yingling, which then assembles, flight-tests and delivers them.
Last year, Yingling delivered 30 of the light sport aircraft. This year it will deliver more than 160 and next year, it plans to deliver more than 200 Skycatchers.
“We are ramping up pretty fast with this aircraft,” Nichols said.