A business degree at most UK universities will take three years to complete. Add a master of business administration, which typically lasts two years, and the student will have spent the same amount of time in higher education as a medic. But in addition, how much ‘real-world’ experience is needed if they want to start their own enterprise?
“I did an apprenticeship for over thirty years to start the company,” says managing director of Aviation Requirements, Steven Leggett. “I was a naval engineer working on aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm for twenty-five of them, later moving into procurement for the Ministry of Defence for five years before setting up the business in 2003.”
A core team of some thirteen employees is based in the company’s office headquarters, which is situated just outside a rural market town, with up to two hundred deployed out in the ‘field’, individually or in teams depending on the requirements of a contract. Typically a contract will run for three to six months, though some can be for three years or more.
The more rural location means the core staff must drive to get to work. “There are no efficient public transport links to get here, but all the employees have cars and there is sufficient parking available so it hasn’t been an issue,” says Leggett.
The company provides ‘technical and logistic support, project management and specialist skills’ for the provision and maintenance of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft systems. This includes its flagship contract, providing technical support to the UK’s fleet of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter combat aircraft, where classified technologies and on board systems are analysed to ensure their airworthiness and safety.
“Dealing with suppliers had always been a challenge throughout my naval career,” says Leggett, “Often they didn’t understand what I was asking of them, because I’d talk using abbreviations common in the military which they didn’t recognise. So after my time at the MoD criticising the competence of the supply chain, I came up with a very simple model when I decided to start my own business: be an intelligent supplier to the MoD and UK defence industry.”
Which is why, as Aviation Requirements expanded, Leggett placed importance on working alongside like-minded individuals, with all employees coming from an ex-military background. A “regenerated pool of military personnel” is used to provide the company’s specialist services. “Because the maximum length of service the military allows is twenty-two years, the average military career ends when people hit their forties or fifties,” Leggett explains. “But this pool of experts, with deep specialisation in areas such as aviation regulations, can be used to better serve the defence arena once they’ve retired.”
Originally though, Aviation Requirements was a solo venture. “It was just me at the outset,” explains Leggett. “The first contract was basically a continuation of my role in the MoD, working as requirements manager for Wildcat, the Lynx helicopter replacement programme.”
Leggett believes an effective consultancy relies on maintaining a broad network of professionals – and knowing its limitations (or parameters) as an organisation. “You need to have established relationships with relevant people who can do the work before you engage with a project,” he stresses. “We maintain that with upwards of 2000 contacts.”
The nature of the company’s work means the location for its head office can be “agnostic,” although Leggett clarifies it is where it is because the Royal Naval Air Station is nearby. “If we were going to go anywhere, it would be closer to where MoD procurement is based in Abbey Wood, Bristol. From our offices it takes an hour and twenty minutes to get there, although if we were based in that city, travelling through its centre can take the best part of forty minutes!”
Instead, Aviation Requirements will set up satellite offices where required. “If there is the need to be physically co-located with the customer, we set up a temporary office which is contract specific,” Leggett explains. “For some of the F35 programmes, for example, we have set up working bases in Bristol for the fifteen to twenty individuals involved.”
Researched and written for Ward Goodman by DECISION magazine