Adam CEO hits the ground flying

The aircraft company's newly named leader has two big tasks at hand: speeding up production and certifying a planned-for jet


John Wolf, the newly named chairman and chief executive of Adam Aircraft, takes the helm with a couple of big challenges in front of him: speeding up production of planes and getting certification of the company's new jet under development.

The company, which has grown to about 700 employees, has racked up about 400 orders for its planes, including its A500 propeller plane in production and its A700 very light jet, or VLJ, under development - a two- to three-year production backlog.

"(The backlog is) good from the standpoint of a lot of production that we can look forward to. It's not good from the standpoint of the wait time for a customer," Wolf said. "It's difficult for us to market future airplanes when the deliveries are so far out."

Timing in the new VLJ market is essential, said Gerald Bernstein, partner at the Velocity Group, an aviation consulting firm.

"It's time to get models into customers' hands so those people that are waiting in the wings and decide to get reports from the buyers get a chance to hear about the A700," rather than hearing about competing jets such as the Eclipse or the Mustang, he said. If potential buyers commit to other jets, "then you've sort of lost out on the whole first wave."

Wolf replaces company founder Rick Adam, who is leaving to pursue other business opportunities. Adam will remain on the company's board.

Wolf, 63, has previously worked as an executive for McDonnell Douglas and Fairchild Dornier. He was responsible for program management, development, launch and manufacturing of various commercial aircraft. He joined Adam Aircraft's board earlier this year.

He and Adam Aircraft president Duncan Koerbel "are the leadership to move from a development company, which is what Rick started, to a production company," said spokeswoman Shelly Simi.

Before Adam founded Adam Aircraft in 1998, he formed a software company called New Era of Networks. Earlier, he was a general partner with Goldman Sachs and Co.

"Some people are more entrepreneurial and good at getting things started, and others are good at running things. It's rare to find both skill sets in the same person," Bernstein said.

Centennial Airport director Robert Olislagers said Adam's departure is a loss for the company but that "I suspect that he will pop up somewhere else with even greater and better ideas."

The company is implementing a system called "Make Production Fly" to revamp its production process. With certification of the A700 expected in 2008, the company plans to increase its employee head count by more than 50 percent by the end of 2009 to more than 1,000 employees. Wolf will also focus on developing a plan to extend the product line beyond the A700.

"It's hard not to get excited about what's going on at Adam Aircraft," Wolf said. "It's absolutely on the leading edge of technology."

The company has an unusual corporate culture. It eschews offices and has only two administrative assistants, he said.

"There is no doubt that the two primary elements that most of the people are involved in here - certifying an airplane and ramping up production - both of those require lots of hours. So it's not leisurely," Wolf said.

But neither is it bureaucratic. For example, Wolf said, the company recently found additional space for a tooling department, signed a lease and moved into the space in less than a week.

"We've combined a lot of youth with experienced management people that have been joining the company since last year," he said. "We're focused on the things that really matter, as opposed to many of the trappings that companies can get into if they're not careful, and I credit Rick Adam with establishing that culture."

Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi can be reached at 303-954-1488 or kyamanouchi@denverpost.com

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John D. Wolf

Age: 63

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