|Charles H. Kaman, Chairman,
President, and CEO,
Kaman Corp., Bloomfield, CT
Kaman Corp.'s newest helicopter, the K-MAX "aerial truck," received FAA certification in 1994. It represents the latest in a long line of innovations from the company Charles Kaman founded in 1945. A partial list of them includes the aerodynamic servo-flap, compound helicopters, converta-planes, jet-driven rotors, rotorchutes, and drones. At just 26 years of age, he went into business with some basic laboratory equipment and $2,000 invested by a pair of close friends. Today, Kaman Corp. employs more than 5,000 people and its annual sales approach $1 billion. His company provides products and services for the industrial, commercial, and defense markets, among them: advanced multi-mission helicopters; software systems; scientific studies; next-generation electromagnetic motors; mechanical and electronic components for North American industry; and musical instrument manufacturing and distribution worldwide. Kaman received a BS in aeronautical engineering from Catholic University.
Commit yourself to following your dreams and some of them may come true--they did for Charles Kaman.
Design News--How much longer will this turbulence in industry continue?
Kaman: It's really a period of change, not a period of turbulence, and change has always been with us. The thing that makes the time feel turbulent is the acceleration of the rate of change. During the industrial revolution, a product life cycle or a manufacturing process life cycle might have been 25 to 50 years. In the mid-1990s that process life cycle is probably less than three years and rapidly decreasing. The main driver is technology, and those who know how to harness and apply technology will have the power.
Q: Could your career be replicated today ?
A: It's an interesting question. The world is a much different place than it was 50 years ago when I started Kaman. You can never go back and replicate that environment. But the next 50 years, while they will present different challenges, will also bring more opportunities than ever before. When Kaman Corp. began, we were on the brink of a whole new industry--vertical flight. I stood out there in Bridgeport, Connecticut, watching Igor Sikorsky and his VS-300, and like many of us in the early years, I believed that the skies were going to be black with helicopters. For a long time, we survived on cheese and crackers while we worked seven-day weeks developing this new system of flight and pursuing our dreams.
The dreams are different now. The new high-tech businesses of today might seem like a far cry from Kaman when it started out, but they all have something in common. They started with ideas and a drive to succeed. The key, certainly, is creativity. But, much more, it's having the commitment and the drive necessary to succeed. That hasn't changed.
Q: How does technology affect the way your industrial distribution business functions?
A: In every way. Kaman Industrial Technologies--by its very definition--is a provider of technology solutions to our industrial customers. In the early 1990s, our customers began to recognize that some of the services, knowledge, and control that they had lost through downsizing were highly desirable, but that they could not afford to employ the full-time personnel they needed to do these jobs. At Kaman, we determined early that we were going to differentiate ourselves as the company with the technology edge. We set out to give customers with the expertise and services they had lost. Today, KIT is recognized as a company that can provide a broad array of technological products and services.
Q: What role will Kaman have in defense in the future?
A: Defense procurement drop-ped this year to $32 billion from $85 billion in the late 1980s. It's down 60% since 1990. That literally shakes the foundations of the industry. We're seeing fewer and fewer companies, and the companies themselves are becoming more and more complex. But there are still opportunities in the defense arena for the right niche products and services. An interesting example is our Magic Lantern Light Detection and Ranging airborne mine detection system. It can detect, classify, and localize floating or moored mines. We are also developing a variant of Magic Lantern to use in the surf zone.
Q: What does the future hold for rotary-wing aircraft?
A: Today, the greatest challenge facing rotary-wing is to get the cost down. On the military side, this goes back again to the issue of acquisition reform. Exactly the same is true throughout all branches and phases of the commercial industry, only more so. I'm continually asked about the future of the V-22. So let me praise the work my colleagues have done. But let me also say--it isn't enough. When you move the public, the issue is economics. What does it cost per ton mile? What does it cost per seat mile? Throughout my entire career, the helicopter industry has been bent on making our machines better. Today, we've got to move economics to the head of the list, while deleting none of our former objectives.
Another area where potential exists is unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs. I can see unmanned helicopters being used for a wide variety of tasks. The only limits lie in our own imaginations.