PUBLISHED: 15:40 04 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013
Interview with Chris Wilson, Managing Director, Messier-Bugatti-Dowty. Interview by Nicky Godding
Take off and landing for
Interview with Chris Wilson, Managing Director of Messier-Bugatti-Dowty. Words by Nicky Godding
Messier-Bugatti-Dowty is the most successful designer and manufacturer of aircraft landing and braking systems in the world. It has approximately 55 per cent of global market sector share and recently won significant new international contracts that will keep the 900 employees on its Staverton-based site in Gloucester busy for years to come.
The chances are that if youve travelled by aeroplane, youll have taken off and landed safely thanks to a Messier-Bugatti-Dowty landing gear system. As Managing Director Chris Wilson says: You only use what we make twice during a flight, but its a critical component and we have to ensure its fit for the life of the aircraft!
Chris only took on the top job at Messier-Bugatti-Dowty this February, but hes got 30 years industry experience under his belt in two of the countrys most important aerospace companies, which both happen to be based in the Cotswolds. He joined the company in 1999 from Cheltenham-based Smiths Industries, now GE Aviation, and was Vice President of Production before taking on his current role. During his recent years at the company, Messier-Bugatti-Dowtys Gloucester factory has won new contracts from Airbus and Boeing and for a number of programmes has achieved a 100 per cent record of on-time deliveries over the last eight years. In addition, the Gloucester team has been engaged in extensive research to introduce innovative new technologies in its unremitting ambition for design excellence and increased market share.
Developments have included the introduction of new materials to achieve minimum landing gear weight; environmentally acceptable alternatives for material processing and finishing and the increased use of corrosion resistant materials. At the same time Chris and his team have established the companys UK centre of excellence for titanium machining of ultra large components.
Last year, having delivered 5000 sets of Airbus A320 landing gear sets, the company was awarded the contract to design the landing gear for the Airbus A320neo (New Engine Option), which will burn significantly less fuel and is anticipated to sell a further 5000 aircraft.
The name of Dowty is synonymous with Gloucestershire and thousands of former workers and their families will remember it as Dowty Rotol Ltd, and before that Dowty Equipment Ltd. George Dowty, born in 1901 at Pershore, was an aeronautical engineer who started his aircraft equipment business in 1931 after designing undercarriages and taking out patents while working at the famous Gloster Aircraft Company. Dowty came into its own during World War II when 28 different types of aircraft were fitted with its equipment.
Over the years the company has gone through many changes, becoming Dowty Rotol Ltd in 1960, Messier-Dowty Ltd in 1995, part of the French Snecma group, (later to become the Safran group) and just last year Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, when the three Safran subsidiaries of Messier-Dowty (landing gear), Messier-Bugatti (wheels & brakes) and Messier Services (R&O) merged to become a world-leading business. Chris says that the merger is an ideal opportunity to forge ahead, and praises parent company Safran for its culture of long-term investment. In our industry it takes years to bring new designs to the market, and Safran understands this. With annual revenues of nearly 12 billion Euros, Safran can afford to be patient.
Funding for design and development has changed over the years too, he points out. In years gone by the customer would pay toward the development costs for a new project, now the majority of UK design and development must be funded by our parent company Safran, so large manufacturing companies
like ours must manage their cash flow very carefully.
Turning the Gloucester manufacturing base into a world-class facility has been Chriss objective from the minute he took over as Operations Manager in 1999. At that time, as was the fashion across many international companies, the business was made up of a range of divisions worldwide. Some were competing with each other and lines of communication were poor. With a team around him Chris set out to streamline the businesss systems, improve international co-operation so that manufacturing sites in France, China, Canada, the USA and Mexico, could work co-operatively to achieve better results.
Hes rightly proud of his achievements at Gloucester, which like every other manufacturing base across the world, has been through periods of structural development and essential redundancies. The site is now successful and progressive. Manufacturing has undergone massive change over the last few years, and continues to do so, but we have achieved necessary change and weve been honest with our workforce, showed them why such change was essential, and that we share the same hopes and ambitions for the future.
Chris is applying this long-term strategy to his workforce, encouraging the next generation of engineers into the business. Currently Messier-Bugatti-Dowty employs 23 apprentices across a range of departments, runs a graduate recruitment scheme and works with other local engineering companies on a range of initiatives engaging with local schools and colleges.
Were here for the long term, says Chris. The 900 employees at Staverton will undoubtedly be very pleased to hear this.
Chris Wilson was born in Scotland, trained as a mechanical engineer and subsequently took a masters degree in project management at Lancaster University. His wife, Antoinette, is a Housemistress and Drama Teacher at Cheltenham Ladies Colleg as well as being active in the local Gloucestershire amateur dramatic scene as a director and actor. They have two children aged 25 and 22.
Chris is trained in life coaching skills that he says he finds both fascinating and highly useful in his work at Messier-Bugatti-Dowty, especially when working to support staff during stressful periods of management change.
Chris enjoys fly fishing (he can sometimes be found on the waterside at Lechlade) and says that he would love to play more golf thought the last time he joined a club he only managed to play twice during the year: The most expensive two games of golf I ever played, he says. Now he only does pay and play when theres the time to indulge himself. The couple love to travel, their last trip being to Venice at Easter.