John M. Belcher
Okay, so he's a terrible karaoke
singer. Fortunately for John
Belcher, president and chief operating officer of ARINC, that
is not a requisite for successfully running and growing a company
in the global aviation communications and engineering business.
"John is extremely well qualified," says Rob Manigold, ARINC's
VP of Human Resources and Administration. "He brings a unique
mix of talents. He is fun-loving without losing his focus."
That focus is on growth and it seems to be what Belcher does best.
After earning a B.S. in applied science from the University of
Ottawa and a post-graduate diploma in communications systems engineering
from Queen's University in Ontario, Belcher worked his way through
the upper ranks of Transport Canada (the equivalent of America's
Federal Aviation Administration) to the post of executive director.
He went on to hold executive positions with PRIOR Data Sciences,
Thompson-Hickling Aviation, Hughes Aircraft of Canada, Ltd. and
Hughes Aircraft Company.
Four and a half years ago, Belcher became president and chief
operating officer of ARINC, headquartered in Annapolis. "I was
asked to come in to help grow the company," he says. "I enjoy
building businesses, and I have been very fortunate in that I've
had excellent success in doing that, both at my last job (Hughes
Aircraft), doubling the size of that, and getting the growth we
now have at ARINC. That's very rewarding to me."
In the four years that Belcher has been at the helm, ARINC has
nearly doubled in size and has expanded its products and service
offerings to more than 140 countries. One half of ARINC's business
is for the Department of Defense; the other half is the commercial
or civilian side.
Belcher describes ARINC as "a communication information technology
company in the transportation field. We provide air/ground data
communications to aircraft around the world. We have about 70
percent of the air/ground data link business worldwide."
ARINC's communication traffic, which normally moves at the rate
of 14 to15 million messages a day, was slowed dramatically on
September 11, 2001. "Personally, I think September 11th changed
the way we in North America will operate in the future," says
Belcher. "For ARINC, it ended up reducing our communication traffic
to 10 percent of volume. We've just now gotten up to about 80
percent of message traffic." Belcher explains that the airline
companies used ARINC's air/ground data link capability to get
all their aircraft on the ground that day. "It was traumatic,"
Airport security is another area in which ARINC's information
technology can provide systems and services for authorities. "We
don't provide the security walk-through systems, but what we're
now doing is adapting biotechnology and other aspects to some
of the systems we have to help airlines increase security," Belcher
explains. As an example, Belcher cites the passenger identification
systems that ensure that a passenger really is the person he claims
to be, as well as the capability to see if passengers meet certain
profiles. Other systems, such as baggage reconciliation, are currently
in place but are being upgraded and enhanced for greater security.
"I think this company is a very high-tech engineering company
with top people," Belcher says. "And I like to take these top
people and use my own leadership skill to allow them to be successful.
We believe very much in people. People are our asset and for them
to be successful, we've got to give them that capability to be
successful." Smiling, he adds, "It's a fun place to work." The
executive came to ARINC because of a match in business philosophy,
a belief in absolute integrity with customers and the delivery
of excellence in services and products so that the company can
be successful and grow.
It is not surprising that ARINC recently opened up in terms of
public relations. "It's not only for the business aspect," Belcher
says, "but also to give our employees a sense of pride that they
work for ARINC." With approximately 1,300 employees in Annapolis,
ARINC is an integral part of the community. Each year, employees
from the president on down go out and spend a day working on a
house for the Christmas in April project. ARINC also sponsors
performing arts, mainly through the Arts Council and Maryland
Hall, and the company has made major contributions to the new
While ARINC's customers may not come from the Annapolis area,
their local support is strong. "I would say that the support we've
gotten from particularly the county has been excellent," Belcher
says. "Janet Owens has supported us very well; the same with Senators
[Paul] Sarbanes and [Barbara] Mikulski and other politicians.
They've been very good, supporting us when we needed it." Belcher
points out that most aerospace companies have a turnover rate
of about 15 percent. "We have a turnover of about 7 percent, and
I'd say that it is because of the community and what it offers.
It allows us to keep our turnover rate down."
The Belchers are certainly sold on the area. "We've lived in the
Rocky Mountains; we've lived overlooking the Pacific Ocean," Belcher
says. "And I would say that, for both my wife and myself, Annapolis
is one of the best places we ever lived. I think it's the small
community type atmosphere, yet you're very close to major centers
such as Washington and Baltimore. So you get the best of both
worlds." Belcher also notes that it only takes him six minutes
to drive to work. "It doesn't mean much to some, but it means
a lot to me," he says. "So, we love the area. We particularly
love it between, say, October and May when the city is given back
to the Anna-politans." He adds, "It's just a beautiful place and
we have everything here that we want."
From a business point of view, Belcher has a few more "wants"
on his list. "I wouldn't feel that I've met what I wanted to do
with ARINC until we have our revenue at least over a billion dollars,"
he says. "I'd like to continue to run and grow this company for
about another seven or eight years and then turn the reins over
to someone else and go on and do other things that interest me.
I'd like to do more traveling."
Belcher doesn't believe that anyone should retire. "I think they
should just change professions or interests," he says. "You have
to keep your mind fertile. There are too many things in life to
do that are interesting, and I think after seven or eight years
of one activity, it's time to give someone else a chance and go
off to other things."
Some of the other things that Belcher has in mind are a return
to aviation consulting or helping build small financial investment
companies into large investment companies. In their leisure time,
the Belchers enjoy downhill skiing and gourmet cooking. Belcher
also likes to read, mostly science fiction novels, and listen
to classical music. He also enjoys golf. As one friend put it,
"We play a lot of golf and he gets his money's worth out of the
golf course---he gets to see all of the landscapes."
Of value to Belcher is his membership on the board of the Annapolis
Opera and on the board of Northwestern University Transportation
Center, as well. "Because they have one of the best transportation
centers [of excellence] in North America, [board membership] enables
me to be in good contact with fellow presidents of major companies
in the transportation business," he says. "So it's of mutual benefit."
Another notable relationship for Belcher was his association with
former Prime Minister of Canada, Joseph Clark. "He came on my
board of Hughes Canada and he provided me with excellent insight
into how to work with politicians in federal governments in order
to help build the business, i.e., getting into partnerships between
business and government. He also helped me very much internationally,
opening doors in countries around the world."
For Belcher, the greatest challenge at ARINC has been to change
the mindset of the company to operate on a good commercial basis.
In order to be competitive in the global marketplace, things like
time to market need to be improved. "We've got to be more lean
and mean," he says. "We're now a global company, so we don't just
have the competition within the U. S., but worldwide."
Belcher's colleagues agree that this hard working, energetic leader
has done some very dynamic things at ARINC. It seems the only
point of ambiguity surrounds the karaoke incident. Was he singing
in English or Japanese? Even his closest associates who were present
that particular evening aren't exactly sure.