Able Engineering, Able Aerospace hit new heights

Neither the recession nor sequestration has slowed one Arizona aerospace company.

“For the last 12 years, we are growing at better than a 20 percent compounded annual growth rate,” said Lee Benson, CEO of Able Engineering and Able Aerospace. “This year, we could grow as much as 35 percent.”

Since buying the business that would become Able Group of Companies in 1993, Benson has taken the company from $300,000 in sales in 1994 to a projected $100 million in sales this year.

Able’s two main divisions — Able Engineering & Component Services and Able Aerospace — provides component repair, overhaul and approved replacement parts solutions for rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft; and also manages Able’s FAA approved replacement parts inventory.

“We intentionally designed our company to be recession proof,” Benson said. “We knew we needed a lot of customers to do that and we now have 1,000 customers in 60 countries.”

Az Business talked to the man behind Able’s success story.

Az Business: What’s the biggest difference between being CEO of Able and leading a more traditional company?

Lee Benson: Complexity. We do about 4,000 jobs a month and every job can have as many as 1,500 pieces in it. We’re processing more than 100,000 parts a month and millions of operations and everything is special handling. Of the approximately 500 employees, we have 74 unique roles, all with their own special skills required. So it’s really complex business as opposed to running a restaurant or hardware store.

AB: How do you maintain your workforce with the need for so many specialists?

LB: On the engineering side, we have about 40 engineers who develop repairs and reverse engineer parts to go into the maintenance operations that we have. ASU and UA have been great sources for that. For the aircraft mechanics, there are military sites we go to and we recruit from them. For machinists, the Maricopa Community Colleges network is doing a fantastic job of developing machinists to come in here. For all 74 unique roles that we have, we have a special process for finding people to fill those roles. One other thing we do to augment the process to keep up with the growth is we partner with Goodwill of Central Arizona. They put a full-time person here who does nothing but recruit for all these roles and they’ve done a fantastic job.

AB: What qualities do you have that have helped you build Able?

LB: Patience, discipline and rigor around the managements process. I have the patience to say, “It’s going to take time. Don’t panic.” I have the discipline to make sure we keep a certain amount of cash in the company to grow, where a lot of business owners will take money out too soon and then when there is a downturn or an issue, they cannot survive that.

AB: How did you have the foresight to build Able into what it has become?

LB: Wherever I’ve been at in my life, I can always see the next step or opportunity. I was the company’s first employee in 1982. When I bought the company in 1993, we had lost all of our business overnight and were left with three employees, including myself.  We went in a completely different direction and i could easily see getting to $5 million in the aerospace industry. Once we got there, I could easily see $10 million and then $20 million. Now, this year, it will be close to $100 million and we have a pretty clear path to a half-billion dollars. Seeing the next steps is easy as long as you’re fully engaged in the game and you have all the team members and every brain in the game. You just have to keep marching forward and going after it.