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5 questions with James Havers-Strong

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, at 12 a.m.

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It’s fitting that Aviation Business International operates in the site that once housed Travel Air Manufacturing Co., the 1925 planemaker started by Walter Beech, Clyde Cessna and Lloyd Stearman.

ABI’s customers include Beechcraft, Cessna Aircraft, Boeing and others, such as Spirit AeroSystems, Airbus, Embraer and Bombardier.

It also serves major airlines, such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United, Lufthansa and Air France.

“It’s got good karma,” said James Havers-Strong, founding partner and managing director of The ABI Group of Companies.

In January, Havers-Strong, 43, was chosen by Pipeline for an entrepreneurial fellowship program, a year-long business leadership development program that helps companies grow.

“They’re trying to bump you to another level,” he said.

Havers-Strong was selected as one of Pipeline’s 2014 Class of Entrepreneurial Fellows.

ABI, located at 535 W. Douglas, was founded by Havers-Strong in 2010.

It was launched as a maintenance provider servicing smaller to mid-size airline operators with contract labor and support programs.

It has since undergone a transformation. Its biggest business today is its composite repair kits sold to major airlines and its aerospace abrasive products sold to manufacturers.

It also supplies other consumables, such as ultrasonic knives.

One of ABI’s fastest growing areas is its import-export business, helping manufacturers buy and ship products overseas. ABI deals with the duty, import tax and shipping requirements.

It’s also in the midst of expanding its chemical division, supplying aerospace coatings.

ABI is growing rapidly, tripling its growth year over year, Havers-Strong said.

The company is working with attorney Harvey Sorensen with Foulston-Siefkin and Equity Bank to help with its growth.

Havers-Strong was born in Chester, England, and went to school in the United Kingdom.

He graduated from City University London and completed the brokers exam.

He then worked as a broker for Lloyd’s of London before joining the aviation industry – an interest developed through his mother, a pilot.

Havers-Strong earned his pilot’s license at age 24.

He’s spent 21 years in the aerospace industry, first working for an aircraft brokerage firm in the U.K. buying and selling airplanes.

He then joined an aerospace coatings business.

Havers-Strong came to the United States in 1999 to join HSH Aerospace Finishes in California, then moved to Arkansas with DuPont Aviation.

He came to the Wichita area to serve as global sales director for aerospace coatings with Sherwin-Williams Aerospace in Andover, then went on to form his own business.

“We took a huge leap of faith,” Havers-Strong said.

The company employs nine in Wichita and two in Tulsa.

He and his wife, Dominique, have three children, ages 20, 18 and 11.

When not working, he likes spending quality time with his family.

“You have to have that balance,” he said. “We work bloody hard here.”

Q. What’s your biggest challenge in business?

A. The most enjoyable challenge as a business owner is maintaining the continued growth and diversification of the platforms we’re involved with. How do we provide solutions to customer problems with next generation technologies that aren’t in existence today. Despite aerospace being very conservative – it’s a very conservative industry – there are great opportunities for manufacturers and suppliers who can introduce relevant next generation technology and ideas.

Q. You provide a variety of products, such as abrasives, ultrasonic knives and composite repair kits. And you provide an import-export program, one of your fastest growing services. What do you do there?

A. We’re providing a service that historically was done in-house using a lot of resources. ABI now takes the whole project, managing the shipping, duties (and) import fees for parts and components coming in from foreign countries. In our office, we have seven languages. … The linguistic skills here help tremendously.

Q. You have that entrepreneurial spirit. What drives you?

A. I couldn’t have done this without my wife, Dominique. … You have to have the support of your family (and) complete faith in your idea or product and the courage to follow through. (As an entrepreneur) you actually do risk everything. You really do.

Q. Some would like to be an entrepreneur and have a great idea. But they don’t have the courage to pursue it. If they pursue it and fail, where are they most likely to fall down?

A. Not understanding their market. … Making sure you do the market research validating whatever idea it is before you commit to do it. Market validation is critical before you launch a new idea.

Q. How will being a Pipeline fellow help you and your business?

A. Pipeline, for ABI, will provide the tools and expertise to take ABI to the next level. If they can help take us from where we are today to where we want to be in 24 months’ time, we’re going to have to make some big changes. We are looking forward to partnering or being a Pipeline fellow to develop the skills, resources and mentorships to take us to the next level.

Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @mmcmillin.

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