Albert was interviewed by AdvisoryCloud on 07/11/19 as part of our Featured Advisor Interview series.
AC - Tell us more about your main areas of expertise for being an advisor?
AB - To answer that question I'll first frame which industry expertise that I'm bringing to the table and that is specifically aviation and furthermore utility helicopter operations — over 30 plus years of experience in that industry always having both piloting and management responsibilities as a base manager, safety officer, assistant to the director of operations, quality assurance, and eventually Safety and Quality. Within that industry, I was directly supporting, in a broader sense of mining, onshore oil and gas exploration, forestry, firefighting, and tourism such as heli-skiing.
So within that industry background, I have a lot of experience training senior staff to manage safely and creating researched risk analyzed policy and procedures. I've implemented safety management systems in several countries, which is a United Nations ICAO initiative that is then regulated within various countries for aviation and adopted by other industries. Flight ops Quality Assurance, risk analysis, including root cause analysis, cognitive interview skills, and creating successful corrective and preventative actions come from my training as an accident investigator. Management of change, both structure and guidance, which also then stems into emergency response systems and training for large scale organizations and projects. I'm seasoned in international travel and accustomed to doing business with foreign governments while navigating the inflections of other languages, tricky...
AC - Describe your main motivation for being an advisor?
AB - I think this comes from such a long career in one industry which has become rare. You get to a point in your career where you want to give something back in a broader sense than can be achieved in a singular management role within an operator. Having had a lot of exposure working directly with boards of directors I understand the teamwork that must exist within that construct, how to stay within your wheelhouse while supporting that team and understanding how to support a CEO directly. A successful board must be a smarties box of expertise bound by mutual respect that knows when to send the management team back to do their homework. Because of my years of experience in safety and quality, I've always had a direct conduit to the accountable executive of an organization, and I understand how to help make them successful both from above and below. I started flying commercially very young at 20, and now at 51, I'm at a point where I know that I can bring that knowledge to the table, helping organizations be successful, navigate difficult situations. That's very satisfying to me.
AC - Elaborate on the types of situations, challenges, or decisions, you feel you could add the most value to as an advisor?
AB - I've had a lot of success both planning and guiding companies through large management of change, entering into completely new markets in a different country and navigating that regulatory structure, or really understanding and researching the risk involved in the decisions as they make changes, so that's one area. Improving a safety culture, because safety cultures are not always good, through three different organizations over about 15 years, it's been one of my ongoing challenges. I have had a lot of involvement in helping form and then focus on a management team and employees on a common strategy within a company. That training and experience came from merger and acquisitions which I'm currently involved in with the company I work for now; we've just bought 49 percent of a U.S. company and recently purchased a company of equal size in Western Canada. Facing that challenge from conceiving that it's the right strategy, to following through with due diligence, and then actually pulling the trigger on a merger/acquisition is something that I can bring to a company in transition from an advisory standpoint. Preparing for worst-case scenarios and mitigating poor outcomes when they do occur is something I have a lot of experience with.
AC - Do you see any disruptive trends on the horizon in your industry or position?
AB - I see three specifically. One is unfolding in front of us which is drones in terms of the helicopter industry, the other one has been underway for a few years which is a pilot shortage, and the third one is systemic to our industry where management teams lack actual education or proper training in their roles although the expectations and outcomes of course always remain the same. Even high-level clients have come to recognize that the helicopter industry doesn't have an extremely mature level of management; they look to what companies are doing to address that.
For drones, there is a widespread fear that of course, this is going to replace aircraft and therefore work but having seen other big trend changes within the industry from flight data monitoring to G.P.S. and satellite tracking, etc., all it's really done is add to the business and reduce risk. The smart people are moving forward by pairing a drone company into an existing helicopter company because they have the shared client's required safety standards. Drones are primarily being limited by regulation to the line of sight, the user and the drones still have to be flown to remote operational locations typically with helicopters.
The pilot shortage is a lot trickier; Canada's facing what the US has been facing for a few years where airlines are taking commercial helicopter pilots and transitioning them into the fixed-wing world. They've scooped up reportedly over a thousand out of the commercial helicopter pool in the U.S. just in the last 18 months or so with this strategy. Overall, there are higher standards required by clients in terms of the number of hours and expertise level with fewer people entering the industry, which is then difficult to get into the workforce, and the experienced pilots are drying up. There is no current solution from the regulator or the industry itself for the current and worsening pilot shortage.
AC - Tell me about the most impactful project or decision you’ve been involved in as an executive.
AB - I had three written down here quickly, I think the purchase of the second company and merger with the U.S., having brought that along with the team from conception to execution is a pretty impactful issue for the future of the company I'm currently working with. Which, within a declining market, had to face a difficult choice of downsizing to match the market conditions or expanding carefully into new more lucrative and stable markets. We made that choice, and we executed this successfully.
In a broader sense, over the course of my career, I've been redefining what flight ops quality assurance is in the VFR helicopter industry, to the point that a lot of the material is becoming industry best practice and uses as quality assurance or auditing tools. As I see those career efforts starting to percolate out and amongst my peers and industry, I feel that makes that a pretty impactful project.
Lastly, many years ago, almost charging ahead where I might not have belonged, was my first board experience where I was to form a company to make an unsolicited bid for a small airline with additionally about six helicopters losing money in Papua New Guinea owned by an ex-prime minister who was divesting himself of all of his assets there. Just the formation of the Constitution that governed that board, the due diligence required within the company and of the local competition, and teaming to write a successful five-year financial plan in order to get $21 million in loan guarantees from the Deutsche Bank as the board treasurer at that time was an exceptional challenge. Although it was a 10-month effort, and we failed to negotiate a fair purchase, as an impactful project specific to my career, it launched me in a new direction of possibilities. I'm proud that we made the prudent decision not to buy for ourselves and on behalf of additional investors, a local farm consortium in fact, and didn't cut our noses off to spite our face.
If you are interested in speaking with Albert Baetens about this topic or others, you can book a meeting with him through his AdvisoryCloud profile here: