John M. Belcher ARINC

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," he recalls.

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 medical center.

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.


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