Since Larry Lawson joined Spirit AeroSystems as its CEO a little more than two years ago, not only has he made the supplier of commercial airplane fuselages and other large parts a more profitable company, he’s also made the company a marquee supporter of the American Diabetes Association’s annual Tour de Cure bike ride and fundraiser.
This year’s tour, set for Saturday, will begin and end at Spirit’s headquarters and plant on South Oliver. Spirit officials said more than 200 employees have signed up to ride in the event, and they have raised $120,000. There also will be 150 employees volunteering at the event, which includes 25-kilometer, 50K and 100K rides, as well as a shorter family ride.
There are several reasons why Lawson and Spirit have become such big supporters of the fundraiser. Lawson sat down with The Eagle this week to talk about those reasons.
There are a lot of charitable causes in the Wichita area, so why do you choose to support the American Diabetes Association and its Tour de Cure fundraiser?
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I actually started raising money for American Diabetes when I lived in Atlanta over 10 years ago. I always had an interest in doing something with diabetes. My sister was a Type 1 diabetic – or is a Type 1 diabetic – and so this was something of interest to me. My son (Nathan) and I started riding in the Tour de Cure in Atlanta, raising money, and because I was running one of the Lockheed businesses, I sort of got the Lockheed folks involved. We became a pretty big team and did that as one of our annual events.
And then something happened to make this an even more personal cause for you?
My son went off to college, and after his first semester we found out he was a Type 1 diabetic. That brought the story a little closer to home and has also been part of the inspiration. My son’s actually coming into town to ride with us (on Saturday). But exercise is really, really important. For Type 2 diabetes, your diet and exercise are really fundamental to prevention. Part of the overall initiative (of the Tour de Cure) is to educate people on these factors and the things they can do for themselves.
So Spirit’s involvement in the Tour is really a function of you joining the company?
When I moved to Fort Worth to take over the whole aeronautics sector (at Lockheed Martin), we did the same thing. We started raising money in Texas. The folks from the national office actually found out I moved and came into town and said, “Hey, would you do it?”
So when I moved to Wichita, it was the funniest thing … I started in April 2013 and I was driving down the street and the billboard right down the street here had Tour de Cure on it. And I thought, “Oh, OK. Well, maybe I’ll ride in the Tour de Cure this May.” And the national office folks flew into town again, discovered I had moved once more, and that I wasn’t in the witness protection program … and asked me if I would participate. And I was honored to do so.
And it was really great for … me, at least my introduction into Spirit, because the first thing I learned pretty quickly being here is this is a really generous town, and Spirit is a very generous company. Our employees in particular are very avid participants in numerous charitable causes. So I said, “Would people be interested in maybe doing this event with American Diabetes?” And immediately there was an interest. … I have an opportunity to do something that I think helps, and frankly Spirit’s kind of adopted this thing as something they enjoy doing as well as a lot of other charitable causes.
Saturday’s ride has several choices in terms of distance. Which one are you doing?
I’m doing the 50(K), principally because the 50 allows me to actually go out and ride and then come back and socialize with the team. It gives me a good balance in terms of the timing. The ride is long enough that you get a chance to see the riders, but then when you get back, you actually have enough time to enjoy the rest of the crowd. It gives me a good opportunity to make the rounds and not spend all my time out on the road.
How do you prepare for the ride?
We do practice rides. The practice rides are a fantastic opportunity not only to get some some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors … but it’s also a good chance to meet folks. People who ride with us, they’re not just Spirit employees. We have folks come over from Cessna. We’ve had people come over from a lot of different companies and join us on our ride.
When you’re not preparing for the Tour de Cure, how often do you ride your bicycle?
I try to ride twice a week when I can. Obviously it’s not my only form of exercise, but it’s the one I enjoy the most. I always prefer to be outside and moving than indoors and stationary.
What’s the distance of a typical ride for you?
Thirty-six miles. I usually ride by myself.
How long have you been riding for distance?
Probably 10, 15 years. One of these days when it’s (the wind) blowing hard from the south, I’m just going to point north and ride. I actually ride to Newton sometimes. I keep threatening my wife I’m going to call her from Nebraska.
Beyond exercise, what is it about cycling that you enjoy?
The thing I love about cycling is you’re close to your surroundings. I like to be outdoors, and I’ve lived in a lot of different places, and you really get to know the community you’re living in when you’re out there cycling, whether you’re taking a ride down by the river … or you’re out in the country enjoying the beauty of the wheat fields and all of that. And it’s a little bit of an adventure. You’re going to places you haven’t been before.