Ground Clutter

Jan. 8, 2003

Mr. Integrity

Ralph Hood is a Certified Speaking Professional who has addressed aviation groups throughout North America. A pilot since 1969, he’s insured and sold airplanes at retail and distributor levels and taught aviation management for Southern Illinois University. Reach him at [email protected]
He was a member of the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame, past president of the National Air Taxi Conference (which became part of the c urrent NATA), a Quiet Birdmen member, past president of the Montgomery Rotary and Chamber of Commerce, and a leader in his church.

But he was so much more. Mr. Hudgens (he was, and always will be, Mr. Hudgens to me) was ethical to a fault. I met him in 1972, when I worked for National Aviation Underwriters (NAU) and he was my biggest customer. He was a legend at NAU. In the old days, he had refused to buy produc

t liability insurance — can you imagine such a thing in today’s world? — and then one of his operations put jet fuel in a Southern Airlines Martin 404. Nobody was hurt, but it ruined both of those big round piston engines, and that was a chunk of money even back then.

Hudgens called his good friend, the president of NAU, and asked, "Do we have any coverage for that?" "No," was the answer, "you don’t. We tried to sell it to you and you refused." "That’s what I figured," said Mr. Hudgens, and he hung up. Within ten minutes the NAU president called back. "Bob, you’re not going to believe this. You do have that coverage! We put it on the policy by mistake, you have been paying the extra premium, and the engines are covered."

Bob’s answer created the legend. "Nah," he said, "that’s not the deal I made. You just send me a refund of that extra premium." And he hung up again.

I sold to, worked for, and was a friend of the man for more than three decades, and never, ever, saw him fudge on a matter of integrity. When you worked for him, you never had to worry about doing the right thing.

When working for his Piper distributorship, I once sold a Piper Warrior to one of our dealers. As he was writing the check, the dealer asked, "Ralph, do you know if they are ever going to put a high compression engine in the Warrior so it can handle low-lead gas better?" Well, I wasn’t When you worked for him, you never had to worry about doing the right thing. supposed to know, but someone at Piper had given me the inside scoop; Piper was indeed putting the high compression engine into the Warrior within the next 30 days. I told the truth, the dealer canceled the order, and Bob Hudgens responded typically, "Well, you did the right thing."

In the late ’70s and early ’80s prime was 20 percent, our distributorship had millions of dollars in Piper inventory, two more Senecas on order, and nobody was buying. Mr. Hudgens told the Piper rep, in person, that he wanted to cancel the Seneca orders and pay the penalty, as allowed by our contract. Then he added, "But, if Piper would be hurt by that, we will take the Senecas." The rep said, "It will help us if you take them." Mr. Hudgens took them.

Mr. Hudgens ran Montgomery Aviation and all of its derivative businesses for more than a half century. He never missed a payroll. Quite simply, I loved the man. He had a tremendous influence on my life, and helped me long after I went into business for myself.

A lot of what I believe today I learned from him, and he never led me astray. We remained good friends and visited not infrequently during recent years. I saw him the day before he died, and shall always be grateful for that last visit.

"We never do seem to get to the 3-day work week"

What Million Air SLC employees do get to is higher productivity by way of an IT upgrade. That’s according to Ken Loder, the MIS manager for the two-location FBO, who has worked at bringing a system and a company on track with ongoing technology improvements.

It’s not like the fixed base operation was too far behind: It had a server with 70 computer workstations in place when Loder arrived in May, 2001 to become the company’s first full-time IT manager.

He recalls, "We have upgraded to four file servers and have basically replaced each of the 70 computers. What that did for us was to take us from the platform of an old Novell server and a smattering of operating systems, typically Windows 95 or 98, and graduated up to the Windows 2000 operating system on the servers, which is the replacement of the Windows NT server platform.

"With Windows 2000 in place, we now have a little more control with the security of users who can log in — authorized people who can connect to our network, our traveling pilots, and executives.3

"When I met these folks, their equipment was archaic, the network was slow and dangerously overloaded. It had very little security across the board, [from] virus protection to everybody having their passwords in bright letters on the wall."

Some of the cost estimates from Loder on the company’s computer system upgrade:

  • $600-700 per unit for some 50 new computers; others were rebuilt from parts and spares; average cost with monitor: $1,000;
  • 2 printers; $1,000 each;
  • 2 new file servers; $6,000 per unit;
  • "countless man hours."
The investment includes Loder and a half-time assistant. Having been an IT vendor himself, Loder appreciates what having a full-time IT staff brings to a small business. Loder, 37, was a special education teacher who got into computers in 1989 with Word Perfect in Orem, U T; the firm was purchased by Novell in 1993.

"We do more work now, faster and better with technology improvements in our lives, and yet its probably difficult to recognize because the more you can do, the more you do do. We never do seem to get to the 3- day work week. We work more and push that envelope on how much more we can do.

"In my dealings with other people in the industry, I find it’s quite a luxury to have a full-time IT guy. For this place, the first thing the FBO realized in hiring me is that I’m no longer an outside vendor; I don’t have to be called in to get something done. I’m less expensive as a salaried employee.

"Bill [Haberstock] and I can talk and we develop the system on an ongoing basis. A big advantage of an internal IT guy is being able to discuss the big picture."

Loder says an in-house training capability and program are another advantage. One server is dedicated to training and testing of new programs. "I want to try it, to use it before it goes live," says Loder.

He sees a need and an opportunity for more collaboration among IT personnel, with a goal of information sharing by FBOs and corporates. "It’s not that there are trade secrets to be had," he says. "There’s nothing harmful in supporting each other while not giving away the competitive edge."

Loder can be reached at (801) 933-7562 or [email protected].