Kansas Native Named Cessna CEO

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June 01--Textron has selected a native Kansan and aviation veteran to lead Cessna Aircraft, the company announced Tuesday.

Scott Ernest, who worked at GE for 29 years, has been named Cessna's president and chief executive, Textron, Cessna's parent company announced Tuesday. He replaces Jack Pelton, who retired in May.

Textron chairman and CEO Scott Donnelly said he wanted someone who understood the aviation industry, its regulatory environment and its challenges.

"It's a fairly complicated industry," Donnelly said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.

Donnelly, also a GE veteran, had been Ernest's boss several years ago.

" (Ernest) has great fundamental leadership skills, enjoys developing people and has a real passion for the industry," Donnelly said.

To move Cessna forward, the company must accelerate new product and service development, strengthen manufacturing and sourcing operations and intensify its global expansion efforts, Donnelly said.

Ernest has an "extensive track record of success in these areas and a reputation as an outstanding leader," Donnelly said.

Cessna has gone through a difficult cycle, he said.

"Now is the time to move on driving out costs and (improving) efficiency and doing that when production rates are low," he said.

In addition, "there's still a lot to do in our operations in terms of driving profitability of the business."

Cessna faces a competitive market, made more so by Brazil-based Embraer, Donnelly said. The company is committed to refreshing and upgrading its product lines, Donnelly said.

Cessna is working on new products -- some that have been announced and some that haven't, he said.

"The market is starting to come back," Donnelly said. "Customers are very interested in where we're going and what our offerings are."

Cessna must also capitalize on an emerging market, he said.

"I think people will see a lot of exciting things in the business," Donnelly said.

Donnelly called Pelton a "great guy" who "did a lot of things really well with the business." He ran Cessna "in the best of times and in the worst of times," he said.

The change of leadership was "more of an issue of where the business is today," and taking "a new look at the business in terms of how we move forward."

Ernest, who wasn't available for comment Tuesday, most recently was vice president and general manager of global supply chain for GE Aviation.

His career there also included a stint for GE at Strother Field near Winfield.

Ernest was born in Topeka and is enthused about returning to Kansas, Donnelly said.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Akron and a Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of Cincinnati.

Frost and Sullivan aviation analyst Wayne Plucker said Ernest was a leader at GE Aviation.

"He didn't shoot for the moon and fall short," Plucker said. "He made measured improvements, measured organizational changes that really put GE Aviation in a very good spot."

Ernest takes a long-term view, he said.

"I think that's probably a good thing for Cessna," Plucker said.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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