“When I moved from material planner to a customer service representative, the job didn’t fit my personality,” says the 56-year-old. “I was shy when I first started with the company.” Today, Smith is dubbed the “King of Spares,” – a moniker that is equal parts hyperbole and truth – and will be remembered for one very daring introduction at a normally serious event.
During the 2016 Dassault Falcon Maintenance and Operations seminars, Smith donned white gloves, and projected the footage and sounds of the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson. The gag remains forever immortalized in a department where understatement reigns.
Smith’s introduction, while humorous for its incongruous suggestion, is not far from the truth. Eric Smith is the “King of Spares,” operating what is akin to a host of battle-ready provisions at Dassault Falcon Jet.
Smith landed at Dassault in 1986 as a material planner. He had decided to scrap his previous law school plans and took a temporary post-collegiate position in parts, planning components for decorative hardware. Although less inspiring than the aerospace industry, Smith found the work appealing to his matter of fact nature. A year later he had two permanent offers on the table – one at Tuck Tape and one at Falcon Jet. Airplanes seemed thrilling, “while tape is tape,” Smith explains.
“I never thought about aviation, but when I told people about what I was doing, they thought it was so cool,” Smith says. “It was a field that was exciting, and every day was different… every day is a challenge.”
When his team receives a service call today, the part in demand is available to meet the customer’s requirement 98.5% of the time, Smith says. That figure has increased from about 80% when he joined the department.
PARTS ARE PARTS: SERVICE IS EVERYTHING
“Customers are positive about Falcon Spares,” Smith notes. “They always cite the ease of doing business with us, no matter if it is online or talking to a live customer service representative who works around the clock. Although no one likes to hear about an AOG [airplane on the ground] it gives me a great sense of satisfaction when every part needed to return the aircraft to service is in one of our warehouses in close proximity to the aircraft.”
However, if a “sick” airplane is in really critical need, the “EMT” of Customer Service is the Falcon Airborne Support Aircraft – a Falcon 900 that will fly technicians and parts and even grounded passengers, when needed. In most circumstances, a part order can be processed and sent on the Falcon in about one hour, Smith says.
Falcon Spares performs over 200,000 shipments per year, dispatching from 15 distribution centers to over 75 countries worldwide. Spares manages over 300,000 part numbers, with
a value of more than $850 million in inventory. In 2016 and 2017, Falcon Spares was recognized as an industry leader in parts availability by two reference bizjet publications: Aviation International News and Pro Pilot.
Smith has moved up through the ranks of the department, from materials planning to customer service, from manager to director. His own personal trajectory in the company mirrors that of many colleagues, he says. Dassault employees are empowered in their positions, a fact that is evidenced by the smoothness with which Falcon Spares operates: “Very rarely do I get a call in the middle of the night anymore,” Smith says. “We are a 24/7 operation and if we have an AOG at 3 a.m, we know that we have good people on the team and treat them like the professionals they are.”
ALL JOKES ASIDE
Smith credits Dassault and his wife of 28 years, Jody, for “coaxing him out of his shell” and into a leadership role at Dassault. Although he rebuffs suggestions of dressing like another celebrity at the next M&O meeting, Smith says he knows he is fortunate to have found a company to nurture his inconspicuous knack for calculation and planning, an organization which offers unprecedented opportunities for world travel and team-building. It is important to remember that while spares are delivered in mere hours, careers are built over a lifetime, Smith says.
“When I came in dressed as the ‘King of Spares,’ I wanted people to remember me,” Smith admits. “Now everyone is asking what I’ll do next – Elvis or Taylor Swift.”
But Smith maintains that recognition for one gregarious icebreaker cannot bring him the same pride as 31 years of proven service.
“One of the great things about this job is travelling and meeting with our customers,” Smith says. “My greatest sense of satisfaction comes when a client acknowledges our skill set. [Dassault] hires great people, trains them, and then lets them do their job.”
It is a plain-spoken assessment, but one that has become rare in today’s world. How ironic to find it delivered by a man whose work is steeped in the indiscernible.
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