Q: How did you get involved in the industry?
A: In 1986, during my final year of college, I took a job with Superior Ground Support in Marquette, Mich., as a draftsman/designer. At the time, SGS was building baggage loaders from napkin sketches and sheet metal drawings. Soon after I started, Larry Simmons, the owner of SGS, charged the plant manager and me with designing and building an “instant heat” deicer. The first unit we built used propane heaters, slid in the back of a pick-up truck and utilized a hand crank Genie Lift. The concept worked, but the process was not very user friendly. Over the next three years, the “instant heat” concept was well received by the industry and SGS grew at an exponential rate. Many facets of the business did not keep up with production and within five years, SGS was facing bankruptcy or dissolution. Having been intimately involved with designing the product and dealing with the SGS customer base, I started Premier as a service and support company for the existing SGS equipment, but soon ventured into supporting all other deicer manufacturers’ equipment. Within two years, Premier had designed, built and introduced our first line of deicers to the commercial market.
Q: What are some of the major trends you have seen developing over the past decade?
A: The obvious trends are directed at cost savings and environmental awareness/conservation regarding the deicing industry. The cost savings aspect is wide-reaching and includes outsourcing labor that many of the majors had not previously considered 10 years ago; most of the airlines serviced and supported their own GSE. Now, many of the services are subcontracted and the subcontractors work for multiple customers. In the deicing arena, considerable investments have been made to reduce the consumption of glycol both with hybrid (air assisted) deicing and fluid blending. The deicing industry has made a rapid departure from the old practice of dumping limitless amounts of glycol in an effort to get the flights airborne. The biggest difference now is the industry is more receptive to innovation than they were 10 years ago when the technology was still evolving.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced over the years?
A: The rapid growth that Premier realized during the mid to late 90s was certainly a welcome challenge, but industry challenges since the tragedy of Sept. 11 have been at times, almost debilitating. Often it seems as though we take one step forward and two steps back. Many great people have exited the industry either through corporate downsizing, mergers or just pure frustration. The fuel crisis is now threatening to paralyze another batch of established carriers which will ultimately affect thousands of families. The airlines and manufacturers are constantly trying to do more with less to stay profitable, or at least, minimize the losses.
Q: Is there one accomplishment that you are especially proud of?
A: There are really two things that make me proud to be part of Premier: 1) In 1996 when the structural safety of aerial lifts on the deicers threatened to cripple a good portion of the existing Trump fleet, Premier offered to work with FMC, at cost, doing modifications to more than 120 units across the country. It would have been easy as a competitor to try and capitalize on their misfortune, however, the safety of the operators and the veracity of our commitment to the industry was at stake. 2) That the employees of Premier are proud of what they do and enjoy coming to work, for the most part.
Q: Where do you see Premier in 5, 10 years?
A: Environmentally, we are working at reducing our carbon footprint by 50 percent within the next two years and 80 percent within the next five years. We intend on working with the airlines and fluid manufacturers in utilizing ways to reduce the amount of ethylene- and propylene-based fluids used in the deicing process. Ultimately, we are going to continue to produce cost effective, reliable and dependable deicers using proven technology and simplicity of design for the airline industry. We are just going to pursue methods of making it better.