Bob Fleschert: 2019 Team Leader of the Year

April 15, 2019
The director of GSE maintenance at Airport Terminal Services shares his knowledge and honesty to help his team work together.

At Airport Terminal Services (ATS), if someone needs an honest answer about ground support equipment (GSE) or requires help with a challenge, Bob Fleschert is willing to lend his expertise.

From humble beginnings as an entry-level GSE mechanic, he has gained hands-on experience during his nearly 40-year tenure with the company on his way to becoming director of GSE maintenance. Now he serves as a walking encyclopedia of GSE knowledge and delivers consistent, straight-forward advice to the ATS maintenance team.

Although he can be “brutally honest,” his team knows he’s approachable and always ready to ask what he can do to help.

“He’s a subject matter expert,” explains Brian Wood, vice president operations and customer service at ATS. “He started as a mechanic, so he’s turned wrenches. He’s a great troubleshooter. He’s a lifeline for a lot of people.

“He’s just down to earth. He’s approachable. He’s a consistent leader,” he continues. “I don’t think anybody’s afraid to call Bob and ask a question. He’s not going to put you down. He’ll spend the time. He walks people through things. He’ll show you, if he’s there. He’s great at finding solutions when you think you’re against the wall.”

“He’s the ultimate go-to guy,” adds ATS president and CEO Sally Leible.

With a vast experience and authentic managerial style, Fleschert is uniquely qualified to be Ground Support Worldwide’s 2019 Team Leader of the Year.

Lead by Example

In his role as director of GSE maintenance, Fleschert is responsible for making sure that ATS crews have safe and reliable GSE in all of its locations. He provides oversight of the company’s preventive maintenance (PM) program and is involved with purchasing new GSE.

Fleschert also ensures safe working environments in the GSE maintenance shops, and he makes sure that ATS is compliant with local air quality programs.

He oversees three regional managers and more than 70 mechanics and outsourced maintenance providers in 36 locations across North America.

In addition to supervising regional managers and their business units, Fleschert has his own business unit with 12 departments in nine locations that he looks after directly.

“Team work is huge,” he emphasizes, noting the required urgency that comes with getting planes turned around safely and on time.

Fleschert says managing people can be challenging because no two people are the same.

“What works for one, may not work for another,” he says. “The important part is realizing that we are all different and addressing someone accordingly. Communication is key, and I have also learned to be patient and listen to what people are saying.”

He does his best to treat everyone the way he would want to be treated.

“Some folks require a little extra push and a little extra guidance to get the results we need, while others just take it and run with it once they understand what is required,” Fleschert says.

“I see myself as a lead by example manager,” he continues. “I enjoy working with my hands and staying engaged as I have been a mechanic for quite a few years and enjoy repairing the GSE.”

That engagement allows him to stay up-to-date on the systems and understand various processes. He also is aware of the challenges people in the field face every day, including cold, wet, hot and noisy conditions.

“Bob is authentic. He doesn’t have anything fake about him,” Leible points out. “What you see is what you get. That’s what I like about him.”

In order for an operation to be efficient, cooperation amongst team members is a must.

“It also involves good communication, setting goals and expectations and following up to make sure tasks are completed on time,” Fleschert says. “And most importantly, supporting the folks out in the field.”

To assist with communication, a regional call is held each Monday to disseminate new information, provide updates on what has happened over the weekend and address any follow-up that is needed. Fleschert and his team also cover open items from the previous week to make sure those have been addressed.

Throughout the course of the day, there is a lot of interaction with the regional managers, mechanics and station managers in the field. He is also in regular contact with vendors concerning GSE needs or issues that need to be resolved.

It can be challenging to manage station budgets, extreme cold weather issues and deadlines. But Fleschert believes those are common challenges for people in the industry.

“In the last few years, the biggest challenge is finding and retaining good quality GSE mechanics,” Fleschert points out. “Most of the mechanics we hire now come from the automotive or heavy equipment trades. The latter tends to be a better fit when it comes to the larger equipment.

“Overall, it’s a hard transition for them to go to the GSE realm due to many differences from what they worked on in the past,” he adds. “Throw in having to work outside in harsh conditions, and it’s a real challenge to find and retain the right people.”

Firsthand Knowledge

Like many in management positions at ATS, Fleschert cultivated his leadership style with on-the-job experience.

He has progressed from mechanic, to supervisor, to manager, to senior manager of GSE, and now, director of GSE maintenance.

“I was first bit by the bug when I was a helicopter mechanic in the Army,” Fleschert recalls.

After his time in the military, he worked outside of the aviation industry, but found his way back thanks to a help wanted ad in the newspaper for a GSE mechanic.

“I applied, interviewed and I was hired by ATS,” he says. “Hard to believe that was almost 40 years ago.”

When he began with ATS, the company had one location – in St. Louis – and there was only one other mechanic, which made his introduction to the GSE industry a “baptism by fire.”

“I had to fumble my way through it, and make decisions and hope I made the right decisions,” he recalls. “Sure, I made some bad decisions, or wrong decisions. But I learned from them and moved on.

“But I was up for the challenge. It was exciting. I enjoyed it.”

Fleschert says the mechanic who hired him was very adept with fueling equipment. That was helpful because he had no previous experience working on that type of equipment.

Although there was a lot of unknowns when he started, Fleschert has absorbed many lessons that he now imparts on his team.

“He's just incredibly knowledgeable on the GSE products and the maintenance of them,” Wood says. “So, I think people, right out of the gate, respect that knowledge.”

“I think that’s where the credibility comes in, the fact that he has spent his adult life doing this,” Leible says.

With that credibility comes a natural authority.

“I don’t yell at anybody. I don’t want to talk down to anyone,” he says. “I will support you 100 percent. But I’m not going to turn a blind-eye if they do something that’s an unsafe act. I’m going to call them out, and that’s where the brutal honesty comes in.”

“What Bob says pretty much goes,” Leible continues. “I think he just has a natural way of diffusing a situation or lighting a fire when there’s a sense of urgency that needs to be understood.”

Professional Growth

Much has changed since Fleschert first arrived at ATS. Fleschert recalls the many domestic airlines that were in operation when he began with the company and various types of equipment that are rarely in service anymore.

“It’s an ever-changing landscape and very fast-paced,” Fleschert reflects.

But even those changes have benefited his professional growth. For example, being able to work on equipment of various ages is a commodity for ATS.

“We’re very pleased that we have an enormous amount of modern fleet, but we still have some old (units) in there still performing work for us. And to have someone with Bob’s extensive knowledge on all these different makes and models, it’s amazing what he can accomplish,” Leible says. “It’s also good when he says, ‘You know what? We’ve put as much as we can into Ol’ Bessie. It’s time we retire her.’ So it’s good on both ends.”

Leible believes Fleschert is able to keep up with the changing industry because he's always eager to learn about the latest updates and improvements.

“He goes to the GSE shows and crawls all over the equipment like it’s candy,” she says. “I think he still has a lot of pure interest and passion for that segment of the business.”

Fleschert believes his knowledge of equipment and systems has improved and developed the most during his tenure at ATS.

“With the industry now heavy into electric GSE, along with the Tier 4 Final technology for diesel and gas engines, I still have a lot to learn.

“I have become more involved with the GSE purchasing side of things and feel I have developed some strong relationships with our vendors, which helps both of us,” he says. “This goes a long way in resolving issues with the equipment in a timely manner as well as getting the GSE when and where it’s needed.”

“He’s very well respected with the equipment manufacturers,” Wood adds. “They know him. They trust his opinion.”

Fleschert has continued to develop his leadership skills at supervisory seminars and has increased his knowledge by attending alternative fuel seminars.

“ATS has an in-house program (ATSU) for supervisors and management, which really gets down to basics of these positions,” he says. “I have also attended a few training seminars offered by the manufacturers, which really helped understand the workings of some of the new technology.”

Solution Focused

Fleschert says the motto at ATS is: In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity. So when faced with challenges, he tries his best to look at issues from multiple perspectives. This helps him treat people fairly while still upholding company policies and procedures.

With a balanced approach toward decision-making, he has earned the trust of his colleagues.

“I think people sometimes underestimate the influence that he has in the company,” Leible says.

Fleschert knows company officials trust his judgement and is mindful of that when making decisions.

“If Bob says, ‘I like it, I want to try it,’ I trust it. If Bob says, ‘No, it’s not a good fit for us,’ I trust that too. I trust him,” Wood says in regard to selecting GSE. “And that’s a trust gained over a lot of years and him not abusing that.

“His opinion on GSE carries a lot of weight.”

Having sound judgement has made Fleschert an integral part of ATS operations, and he says he’s grateful to be part of the team. He says he often approaches problem-solving by imagining he is in charge of the entire company, and then trying to determine what the best solution is for everyone.

“He understands the return on investment, and when it makes sense and when it doesn’t make sense, and when is something no longer worth investing in,” Wood says. “And that’s unique too. A lot of times you can have a great mechanic, but he doesn’t necessarily understand the business side.

“Bob’s a good balance of both,” he concludes. “He’s a great nuts-and-bolts mechanic, but he’s also an excellent GSE manager.”

About the Author

Josh Smith | Editor