Mike King started at Boeing Wichita 30 years ago as a machinist running a milling machine.
Today, he is senior vice president and general manager of Spirit AeroSystems' fuselage unit — a $2 billion business with 5,000 employees.
The unit comprises half of Spirit's business.
King is in charge of improving the business, developing future leaders and coordinating the various segments of the unit — such as operations, procurement and engineering.
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"A lot of my job is basically being the coach," King said. "I've got an excellent team."
His job is to listen to those who work in the unit, he said.
"I've got a little pea brain, but I've got two ears," he said. "As long as I can listen, I become the smartest man in the world."
King grew up in Long Island, N.Y., the youngest of 11 children, and joined the U.S. Army after high school. He ended up at Fort Riley and has been in Kansas ever since.
At Boeing, King worked his way up from the machine shop floor to several leadership positions. He was director of the strut, nacelle and composite unit when Boeing divested its commercial aircraft division in 2005. That's when he became head of Spirit's propulsion structures and systems business.
He was promoted to head of the fuselage business in July.
King holds a Bachelor of Science in manufacturing technology from Southwestern College and a Mini MBA from Wichita State University. He also completed the Boeing Executive Program and the Duke University Executive Management Program.
He and his wife, Sharon, have two sons, a daughter and four grandchildren.
What advice do you have to others who want to work their way up?
"It all ties into hard work, but they also have to have the right attitude. You stay the positive one and show that you can get it done. It's really critical.... (And) education becomes more and more a requirement as you continue to grow."
What's the biggest manufacturing change you've witnessed over time?
"The growth of Wichita's site (and) the technology changes that came into place. The way we built an airplane in the '80s is almost obsolete."
What's the biggest satisfaction in your work?
"It's interacting with the people and watching (them) go through life... and watching their careers blossom."
What's your biggest challenge?
"Communication and sharing information and doing it so all groups of employees can understand it.... We've got to make sure we're out there helping them understand what we can do to improve the business."
Do you have a favorite jet?
"I've got two. The 757 is the hot rod in the sky.... It's one of the fastest planes out there.... (And the) 777; it's a beautiful plane.... When you're flying along, the smoothness of flying on it, you feel relaxed."
What do you think about when you're on board a flight?
"When I walk on an airplane, the first thing I look at is the manufacturing date, and I ask myself 'I wonder if I built part of this airplane.' If it's a newer plane, I say 'Isn't it amazing how far we've come.' "
What was the best management advice you ever received?
"The best advice I ever got was when I became a first-level manager and was going to fire my first employee.... He told me, 'Remember that is a human being and a person. And when you walk them out the door, you tell them thank you. I'm sorry, but it didn't work out for you to work here. Wish them good luck in life.'
"It's treating people... with dignity and respect."