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Five questions with Debbie Jones

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, at 9:48 p.m.

Growing up, Debbie Jones, center manager for FlightSafety’s Hawker Beechcraft Learning Center, never wanted to work in the aviation industry.

She watched her dad toil for years at Boeing, and “I just said, ‘Not for me,’ ” Jones said.

A turn of events changed her mind.

Jones, 61, grew up in Augusta, earned a degree in mathematics from Wichita State University, and became a high school and middle school math teacher.

On a summer break, she took a temporary job at Boeing.

At the time, Boeing had a pressing need for numerical control programmers.

And because of her math degree, they asked Jones to take a full-time job.

She told them she knew nothing about drilling, reaming, boring, feeds and speeds or about titanium, aluminum or steel products.

She’d never even heard of NC programming.

But “they were persistent,” she said. They offered to train her.

“They doubled my salary, and I got out of teaching and into aviation,” Jones said.

That was the beginning of a 30-year career in the industry.

At Boeing, she moved from programming to be a business systems analyst and then moved into management.

A Boeing director asked her to manage the door shop.

Although she knew nothing about bucking rivets or manufacturing process in the shop, she could read blueprints.

And she knew how to look at a process, ask questions, and determine how it could be improved.

At the time, “I figured I was set up for failure,” she said. “But it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

She then joined a Boeing program that moved managers around and into five management positions.

“They would move me around to fix processes or bring in a new process,” Jones said.

In 1999, Jones took a buyout Boeing was offering and got married.

“It was good timing,” Jones said.

After three months, she saw an ad in the newspaper for a customer support manager at FlightSafety, applied and was hired.

She later went to work for FlightSafety’s corporate office and served in a dual role as director of quality management systems and director of customer support.

She became center manager of FlightSafety’s Hawker Beechcraft Learning Center in 2010.

The center employs 180, including 110 instructors who teach ground school and give simulator training to pilots.

At FlightSafety, Jones works from 5:30 a.m. until about 6 or 6:30 p.m. every day.

When she’s not working, she and her husband, Casey, who retired from teaching last year, love to travel.

They each have one child.

Jones also holds a master’s degree in total quality management from Friends University and a master’s in behavior disorders from WSU.

What’s your biggest goal for the center?

My biggest goal is to make sure that this center remains productive, has good revenue and has good income from operations. So I’m constantly looking at what I call a “business action plan.” Even if our OEM (original equipment manufacturer — Hawker Beechcraft) is having difficulties across the street, we still need to find a way to be productive and revenue generating to make sure these 180 employees are going to have great jobs in the future.

What do you like best about your job?

What I like the best about the job is to see that our teammates love coming to work every day. … My happiness is when I have … our teammates say they love their job, which reflects to the clients that say they love coming here. … Anything that we’re hearing … happiness or dissention, we try to follow it up and say, “Are you liking your job? Has something changed that we need to know?” And usually they’re very forthcoming. I have a very open-door policy.

A red flag goes up for you if someone says they do something because it’s always been done that way. While manager of Boeing’s door shop, you fixed how a door mechanism came to the mechanics. What happened?

It came to them in one assembled part. The first thing they would do is take it apart. My question was, “Why do you do that? The first thing you do is spend 30 to 45 minutes taking it apart.” (The answer was) “it comes to us that way.” (So) why don’t we get it in two separate parts? You keep asking why, why, why. I learned enough by then to go to my manufacturing engineer and say the process paper needs to be fixed. He changed the paper. It was always great fun to see the mechanic’s face when you got something changed.

You never quit learning. At age 56, you earned your private pilot’s license.

I’m out there pre-flighting an airplane in sub-zero weather. My son-in-law said “Grandmothers are not supposed to fly.”

What’s your best management advice to others?

If you come to work to make your company better but not to take the accolades for yourself, you’ll get ahead. I’ve seen a lot of managers who try to do stuff to make them go to the top. But if your true objective is to make the company better, I think you get to the top with a lot more integrity and a lot more success.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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