A conversation with John DiekerBy Molly McMillin
The Wichita Eagle
When dignitaries, employees and others gathered at Bombardier Learjet Monday morning to kick off the plant’s expansion project, it was a moment of pride and relief for John Dieker.
As the site’s vice president of strategic projects, Dieker oversees facilities and site expansion.
The $52.7 million project will help the company make room for Bombardier’s newest business jet, the Learjet 85, which will create or sustain more than 1,000 jobs.
It’s been more than two years in the process.
“I was relieved that we finally got this started,” Dieker said of the groundbreaking ceremony. “That’s a gratifying feeling.”
Monday’s groundbreaking of a new parking lot signaled the start of the expansion, which will include a Flight Test Center, establishment of Bombardier Centers of Excellence for Engineering and Information Technology, new facilities for paint and production flight testing and a new delivery center.
In his position, Dieker also is responsible for environmental health and safety and strategic product development activities.
He also acts as a liaison with city, county and state government officials. And he serves on a variety of boards, including the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, the National Center for Aviation Training, the Wichita Area Technical College and the Wichita Aero Club.
Dieker has worked in aviation for nearly 40 years.
His first job at 18 was as a line service attendant, where he pumped gas, cleaned airplanes and greeted customers.
He then joined Cessna Aircraft where he first worked in the tool crib then as a machinist.
When he left, he was director of aircraft assembly operations.
Next he spent more than 20 years at Hawker Beechcraft before joining Sino Swearingen as vice president and general manager.
He then joined Bombardier Transportation in Plattsburgh, N.Y., where he was responsible for plant operations.
He joined Bombardier Aerospace in 2006 as director of operations for Learjet.
He has a degree in human resources management from Friends University.
He and his wife, Sue, have one son and two grandsons.
When not working, he enjoys golf and good wine, he said.
Question: You’re in charge of the large expansion project to take on the new Learjet 85 business jet. What do you like best about that?
Answer: I enjoy most the development of the strategy of what the site needs to be 20 years from now — how do we make all this come together? You don’t get a chance to do that. Once in a career, you’re lucky. To see that come to fruition is very gratifying.
Q. What’s been the most gratifying thing on the project?
A. The day we knew we had a handshake deal with the authorities was a great day for us and for our team. The day we cut the ribbon and we open up our new front door will be the next one.
Q. What’s been the biggest challenge?
A. The biggest challenge was getting consensus of what the real needs were. We got the leadership team together. We had people with grand ideas. We had people that are very frugal. We were trying to work frugally ourselves to maximize opportunities. (Plus everyone had different needs depending on what their job is.)
Q. You said getting bond money and incentives from the state and local governments was key in getting the project done. How challenging was that?
A. We worked together well, but it’s still a challenge. There were times when I thought we had a deal, but we didn’t have a deal. It took several meetings and discussions. But nobody was ever negative. Nobody ever gave up. I’m pleased with the relationship we have with the city and county because without their support, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Q. How’s the market for business jets now?
A. It’s still difficult. It’s still soft. We’re excited about the future. We have a tremendous amount of investment going on within the company to set us up for the future. We’re proud to be a member of the Bombardier family. Without their support, things like the Lear 85 would be difficult.
Q. With 40 years in the aviation business, you’ve seen a lot of change. Where do you see general aviation going?
A. The growth as far as sales opportunities are going to be outside the U.S. The U.S. market is always going to be one of the largest in the world. But the growth is going to be elsewhere — China, India, Brazil, the developing countries that have developing economies. … It changes the way you market. It changes the way you deliver. It makes you think bigger.
Q. You like to mentor young people. What’s your best management advice?
A. Don’t get frustrated. Most of us have egos that sometimes get in the way of common sense. You have to learn how to put that aside. Egos are great assets, but mismanaged they’re a disaster. People are looking to you for guidance and leadership all the time. You have to realize that regardless of where you’re at, whether you’re at church or Wal-Mart or the boardroom, that’s the role you play all the time.
Q. You have a simple work philosophy. What is it?
A. At the end of the day, if you can answer these questions: Did you work safely today? Yes or no. Did you get today’s work done today? Were you better today than you were yesterday? Have you thought about how good you can get? Did you satisfy the customers? If you can answer all these with a yes, you probably had a pretty good day.
Q. At Bombardier Transportation, you were general manager of the site that built trains. How is that different from building airplanes?
A. Other than the product itself, it’s not a lot. It’s still managing large groups of people to accomplish a defined task and delivering a product to the customer. … People are the real key to success.
Q. What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
A. Most people don’t know that my adolescent fantasy was to play rock and roll in the winter and play major league baseball in the summer. … I don’t call myself a musician. I just make a lot of noise. You know what my talents are because I work in an airplane factory. I love classic rock and roll. I turn it up to Warp 6 and rattle the windows.Contact Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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