Business Q & A

5 questions with Lillian Dukes

Lillian Dukes is vice president of business operations, global customer support and services at Spirit AeroSystems.
Lillian Dukes is vice president of business operations, global customer support and services at Spirit AeroSystems. Courtesy photo

Lillian Dukes, Spirit AeroSystems’ vice president of business operations and global customer support and services, has spent more than 20 years in the aerospace industry.

The airline and aviation industry was something she “just kind of fell into,” Dukes said. It’s had staying power.

Dukes doesn’t like the boring or mundane.

“Working for the airlines, there’s just a sense of urgency,” she said. “We became stress junkies … because it never shuts off. … I think you get used to the pace of things. When I considered potentially looking at other industries early in my career, they seemed somewhat boring.”

Dukes, 53, joined Spirit AeroSystems in July. She is responsible for 140 people and Spirit’s customer support, maintenance, repair and overhaul shops, “everything related to that business except for sales and marketing. I have all the pieces that manage getting parts to aircraft customers.”

She came to Spirit directly from Beechcraft, where she had served as vice president of its supply chain.

Dukes grew up in Philadelphia with 17 brothers and three sisters. Her parents were foster parents for 25 years.

“I came out of the foster care system and was adopted by my parents,” Dukes said. “I think coming up or living in that type of environment, you learn to engage more quickly with people.”

She was good at math growing up. After high school, Dukes earned electrical engineering and math degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University.

She then joined GE Aerospace’s satellite division, where she worked as a software test engineer, testing circuitry used in satellite production. While at GE, she also earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University.

Five years later, Dukes moved to Tulsa, where she became involved in mission work before joining American Airlines’ maintenance and engineering division.

She’s held leadership roles of increasing responsibility ever since.

In 2001, Dukes joined Midwest Airlines as director of technical services, where she was responsible for engineering, reliability, publications, planning, maintenance programs and the support of maintenance activities.

She then joined what became Independence Air as vice president of maintenance, and in 2006 accepted a position with American Eagle airlines as vice president of technical services. While there, she also served as vice president of heavy maintenance.

Outside work, Dukes likes to relax, go to dinner and to movies and travel to visit family. She also is on the board of Village of Vision for Haiti Foundation.

Q. What’s your biggest challenge in your role at Spirit?

A. With any new job, the biggest challenge is learning the organization, who does what, learning how the operation functions … and determining the best way to engage within that organization. There’s always cultural norms that are particular to different organizations, and being clear, and understanding what that is, before you start to interject yourself and start trying to make changes is important.

Q. What do you like best about what you do? What’s the fun part of it for you?

A. Every day is different. … There’s always a new challenge. I like the dynamics of that. Since I tend to get bored with the routine and the mundane, I don’t worry about that because it’s not there. I walked into an organization that was ready for change. The group has done a phenomenal job building the organization to the size it is today, but there are some things we need to do to position us for future growth. Coming into an organization that’s ready for change is real exciting to be part of.

Q. What kind of changes will you be making?

A. We’re looking at, when you think about it, the blocking and tackling – some of the foundational things we need to do in an organization. What it is our customers want. Where do we have opportunities for improving the level of service we provide to them and the type of service we provide. What are some of the things our employees need to execute their jobs more efficiently. They’re not difficult challenges, but it’s going to require us to focus on understanding what they are and engaging the employees into figuring out how we go do that.

Q. You are a mentor and you have your own mentors for professional growth. What is your advice to someone looking for a mentor?

A. The best advice I can give to someone who’s looking for a mentor is they need to own the responsibility for maintaining that relationship. … The biggest disconnect I see is when the mentee does not continue to engage with the mentor. … They have to develop the relationship. Even today, I have mentors. The way I view it is it’s my responsibility. I keep the relationship going. I stay in contact. I’m not just calling when I need something. I care about how things are going with them … and I just want to touch base.

Q. What’s one thing not many people know about you?

A. The family size is one thing. The other is when I was growing up, I used to tailor clothing. … I still have my machine. … I would make a new coat every year.

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