Smooth flying for copter company here

Posted: January 14, 2014

In an Italian courtroom, the former chairman of Finmeccanica SpA, the parent company of the AgustaWestland Philadelphia factory, is on trial, accused of bribing officials in India to buy 12 military helicopters in a deal worth $770 million.

The international press is following the deepening scandal, known as Choppergate. But in Northeast Philadelphia, the fallout is nonexistent, its chief executive, William Hunt, says.

"There's no effect for us, because we're on the commercial [nonmilitary] side," said Hunt, 52, acknowledging that the investigation has been tough on company executives in Italy and the United Kingdom, "where AW101 is built."

In Philadelphia, the factory is gearing for expansion with rotorcraft orders on the rise and a promise to build a new model, the AW169 line, in 2015.

Question: Why did an Italian company choose Philadelphia?

Answer: There are two things. There's a strong connection with the Italian heritage here. The second connection is that the rotorcraft industry is very strong here. You don't just have Boeing, but going back, the roots of rotorcraft, and Sikorsky Keystone in Coatesville.

Q: Do you speak Italian?

A: None. Ciao.

Q: Is that a problem?

A: Just when I joined in 2006, the company made the decision to adopt English as its official language. I don't think it has impacted the business as much as I think it has prevented some intimacy in . . . relationships.

Q: Philadelphia used to be a headquarters town. Now we often house regional or national headquarters. How do you manage in that environment, where decisions from afar can lead to expansion or closure?

A: The company made a $45 million investment into this facility. Our job is to pay back that investment. My focus to the team has always been that the best way that we can assure ourselves that we are viewed in the right way by the parent company is to perform and meet all our goals and objectives.

Q: How has that gone?

A: Year over year, we've been able to meet those expectations and, in fact, we've been able to beat them.

Q: For example?

A: We cut AW139 production time by 15 percent in 2013. Our performance overall was certainly a factor in landing the AW169 production.

Q: Can you pilot a helicopter?

A: Unfortunately, no.

Q: Do you like to fly in them?

A: For some reason my equilibrium has changed, so I have problems.

Q: Is it embarrassing to you that you might throw up in the product that you make?

A: I would say that it would be, if I did, and there's a potential, but I feel like I would be able to overcome it. I don't get embarrassed by a lot of things.

Q: Why do you like helicopters?

A: I'll never forget the first day I was out on flight deck and I heard the aircraft flying and the thump of the rotors. You could feel it in your chest. [I thought], 'This is fantastic!'

Q: You travel to Italy monthly for management meetings. How's the food?

A: Fantastic. Every time I go, I gain weight.


WILLIAM HUNT

Title: Chief executive, AgustaWestland Philadelphia Corp., since 2006.

Hometown: Edgewater Park.

Family: Wife, Norie; children, Christopher, 29; Nicole, 27; Brianna, 26; Michael, 25; Lindsey, 21.

Diplomas: Archbishop Ryan High School; Spring Garden College, manufacturing engineering; Villanova University, master's in business administration.

Prior job: Rose through the ranks at Boeing in Philadelphia.

Prize possession: Full suit of knight's armor, named Herman.

Special talent: Organizing closets.


ABOUT THE COMPANY

AGUSTAWESTLAND

PHILADELPHIA

Business: Helicopter manufacturing, service.

Headquarters: Northeast Philadelphia.

Helicopters delivered, 2013: 74.

Models: AW109, AW119, AW139.

Production exported: 45 percent.

2012 plant revenue: $771 million.

Employees: 560.


MORE ONLINE

William Hunt, on doing business - Italian style. www.inquirer. com/jobbing


jvonbergen@phillynews.com

215-854-2769

@JaneVonBergen

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