Vartan - A company made by people

Vartan – Keep calm, we can fix it

Martina Roters
7 pictures
7 minutes

With 12 sites worldwide, Vartan Aviation Group plays a role in almost every aircraft built by a reputable manufacturer including Airbus, ATR, Boeing, Bombardier, Comac and Embraer.

The Vartan Interview

A company which does not have a product of its own – a company which effectively is its own product. Without Vartan, aircraft construction, maintenance and repairs would presumably be more expensive. The Wingmag team interviewed Vartan’s French director, Jonathan Smith, at AIX (the Aircraft Interiors Expo) about why that is:

What is special about Vartan’s business model?

We carry out work for most cabin and aerostructure manufacturers (Editor’s note: Aerostructure: the parts outside of the cabin, such as the wing flaps), without being in competition with the manufacturers. We provide services for their components precisely when they are required, for example when anomalies appear in the aircraft’s construction phase and have to be eliminated as quickly as possible. However, our employees are not continuously on their payroll. If the manufacturers had to employ their own staff for the same tasks (installation, repairs, etc.) at all locations, this would be much more cost-intensive. Furthermore, we have a direct line to Airbus and Boeing and, therefore, have quick access to things which would be off-limits to our customers.

Which pain points do you relieve your customers of?

Even Chris Vartan, the company owner, tries not to simply outsource this personal responsibility to HR. That is pretty major! He encourages and leads the employees and takes care of their internal development. People are very important to us; so Chris has also assimilated refugees into the company. In all our site worldwide, we foster this culture of an open attitude without prejudice. 

What criteria do you use to select applicants?

They have to be good enough! (laughs) Seriously, there has to be sufficient basic knowledge there, and then – this is important to me – they have to bring skills with them which we cannot teach anyone. First of all the right motivation. So we need motivated people with basic knowledge – good enough! (laughs again) Although we can also teach them the knowledge. Therefore motivation is the most important criterion for me.

You have subsidiary companies all over the world. How do you ensure perfect communication here?

At a business level, we meet with Henk Fischer (Chief Commercial Officer) and the management team regularly at either 1 or 2 week intervals. Furthermore, we have an HR manager who ensures that each site’s best practices are passed on, adapted to the individual culture of course. 

Are there other campaigns like this ÜberQuell Beer campaign where the employees are in the spotlight?

Where do you look for motivated employees? Where do you find them? Do you pursue active employer branding?

We receive 50 applications every day. That’s just how it is. Of course, we also send job descriptions to vacancy databases but our core message to HR is “find people who want to become part of this wonderful family”.

Do you hold interviews or have assessment centres?

We do not have assessment centres, we look deep into our applicants’ eyes (laughs). There are definitely points when you think, this is not working, that is not working, and this is possibly based on reciprocity. Perhaps I am talking rather egotistically about Toulouse but we rarely lose someone who has come on board.

So employees stay loyal to the company long-term?

Exactly. And that is exactly what we want. We don’t want to be a hire-and-fire company because we invest in our employees, we invest in training and in keeping our employees motivated.

You also invest in your employees’ further development?

Absolutely! We have just started a training programme for managers, for example. We have to find the management squad of the future because I will not be there forever – we have to pass on our good customer relationships and also ensure that our teams are prepared for each next step.

So you are well prepared for the future?

Training is the be-all and end-all for us. Because we do not have our own product, we are constantly on the ball, with new components. The market changes so quickly; the airlines spur our customers on to constantly come up with new developments. Let us assume that the next aircraft seat model range has a service life of 5 to 7 years. Manufacturers are then forced to change their philosophy on the appearance of an aircraft seat. And we follow these developments. We always send our teams to the manufacturing teams when dealing with high-end products.

Is it not the case that the market is changing significantly? The CEO of Airbus, Enders, has talked of around 240 start-ups in the next 3 years. Can you keep up with this invasion of technology at all when your employees have only had to acquire the necessary knowledge for a handful of companies up to now?

That is a good question. We find that smaller manufacturers, like with the seats, are crowding the market. But I do not see significant change coming our way. Innovative technologies for in-flight entertainment are most likely to be what we next encounter, in fact, we are already working on new products. We are currently working on styling and surface finishes, which are becoming ever more challenging, with partners in the colour and decoration industries in order to prepare ourselves for the things which will come our way at some point during aircraft production.

Does diversification pose no problem for you because you always make contact with everyone in time to get the right understanding for the products?

Precisely. We experience this all the time. A customer is introduced and the rest come along with innovations: either with a simpler product (which is also innovation) or with more complicated products. Depending on which product we are dealing with. This can, to stay with the example of the seats, mean that the motto “the simpler the better” reigns in economy class but a trend towards more complexity reigns in business and first class.

Thank you for your insights, Mr Smith!

by Martina Roters

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