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Executive Watch - John Talmadge, Director of Worldwide Sales, Avidyne

Posted 3 years 61 days ago ago by Admin

John Talmadge, director of worldwide sales for avionics company, Avidyne, says he didn’t choose to work in the helicopter industry; instead, he was born into it. “My dad was a Vietnam War pilot, doing what he called his (high school) ‘senior trip’ to Southeast Asia in 1970,” Talmadge says. “They had nose art on their aircraft back then. The lady painted on his helicopter had a baby bump. That bump was me.”

What started out as a baby bump developed into a lifelong passion for aviation. After his military service, the father worked at Air Logistics and Commercial Helicopters in the oilfield business. “So, I grew up in Louisiana, cutting grass around helicopters and washing them as early as I can remember. I generally spent my formative years in oilfield helicopter support, so working at Avidyne with helicopters is a return to my rotorcraft roots,” Talmadge surmises. “I thought it was normal to go to airfields in Morgan City, Patterson, and Venice, Louisiana, and Rockport, Texas, on a given Saturday with my dad, until I later figured out that’s not how most kids spent their weekends, but it was a family affair for us.” After those young years, Talmadge attended LSU (“Geaux Tigers!” he interjects) in 1988 to study electrical engineering. After two years on the Baton Rouge campus, Talmadge signed into the Army National Guard and became a Huey crew chief. In a rare father-son military moment Talmadge and his dad actually served together in the same C-company unit. Having secured a GI Bill, Talmadge left the Guard to earn his degree in aviation science from Northwestern State University, located in the college town of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

Next, Talmadge said bye-bye to The Bayou State and headed up the Mississippi River to Memphis, Tennessee, with his flight instructor’s certificate in hand. There, he worked himself to the bone like he was the subject of a hard-luck Memphis blues song. “When I lived in Memphis, there was a time when I had a degree and four pilot ratings, but still had to wait tables to make ends meet,” he says. It’s a familiar refrain for many a fledgling pilot, but Talmadge earned another rating, this time as a dispatcher, which opened up a door with Delta Air Lines in Atlanta as a dispatcher instructor.

Delta Air Lines

Once his foot was in the door with Delta, Talmadge started climbing up the corporate managerial ladder in flight operations and systems, which gave him a bird’s-eye view of Y2K. Remember New Year’s Eve at the turn of the century when many in each time zone feared that at midnight, obsolete computer calendars would crash IT networks, not to mention desktop computers, and chaos would descend like a ball drop in Times Square? Perhaps you don’t. That’s because Talmadge says he and others did their job. “It’s easy on this side of it to dismissively say it was a hyped-up non-event, but there were some very tense moments when midnight hit each time zone, whether (Delta’s) global operations would continue unaffected or whether we would have to enact our aircraft parking plans. Our aircraft continued to fly, so we did our job.” Interestingly and tragically, all that Y2K planning paid off in a big way the next year. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Delta used their Y2K contingency plans and infrastructure to park their fleet. Talmadge says, “You could say Y2K was preparation deferred.”

In addition to watching Y2K unfold, Delta gave Talmadge the opportunity to see his mentor/boss, Bill Wangerien, face challenges with grace and skill. “It was an inspiration. He helped me focus on what I was doing at the time and not get ahead of myself,” says Talmadge. Another lasting impact that Wangerien made on his protégé was giving this sage advice: “Do your best in your current job, however low or small, and excellence will be noticed.” Talmadge says, “That’s what I try to do now, focus on excelling at my current task and not focus on what my next career step might be. I’ve always been able to get to the next step by doing my best in my current assignment.” 

Mom and Pop Shop   

As the new century started, Delta went through organizational changes. Talmadge and his wife, Christian, an international flight attendant, decided to leave the busy airline so they could spend more time together and raise their young boys. The couple’s overly optimistic plan was to own their own True Value hardware store in Florida. Before they could open their mom-and-pop shop, Talmadge was offered an enticing position with a startup Florida regional airline, DayJet. The fledgling airline closed down in 2008, but not before Talmadge gained practical experience and knowledge of what it was like to start a business. So, he and his wife went back to their initial idea of owning and managing their own franchise store. They grew their hardware business up to three locations at one point, but their expansion was undermined by changing shopping habits (Hello, Amazon.) The couple shuttered their two newest stores and Talmadge returned to his first love—aviation, by taking a sales position with Avidyne in 2016.  Christian, the former globe-hopping flight attendant, still manages their first 17,000 square-foot store to this day. Christian lived up to her name; “She is a saint, and a heck of a hard worker,” brags her proud husband.

On Leadership

In a few fast years, Talmadge has risen to his current position as Avidyne’s director of worldwide sales. That rocket ride was fueled by the right man arriving at the right company at the right time. “Avidyne has grown and changed so much in approximately three years; I’m just excited to be a part of it,” he humbly says. To be clear, his career trajectory wasn’t entirely due to fate and timing; Talmadge prepared himself for his shot. “The key to my success has been adaptability and a willingness to learn. I’ve done a bunch of different things to forge my path and I had a lot of help,” he says. He tries to pass this personal success formula to those under his leadership. “My leadership style is to develop those who work for me and with me. The best way to be a leader is to build up other leaders around you. Our developmental style has probably been the biggest factor in our overall team’s success,” he says. 

Talmadge’s philosophy on leadership is influenced by his affinity for reading business books. He’s a big fan of Navy Captain David Marquet who wrote Turn the Ship Around. “It’s a true story about how he completely changed and improved the crew culture on the nuclear submarine he commanded,” says the bookworm. “I derive a lot of my leadership style off of some of the things that he did.” 

When it comes to building his own team, Talmadge focuses on one thing:  Attitude. “There’s not even a close second place,” he emphasizes. “You hire for attitude and train for aptitude. I can teach you what you need to know if you’re functioning, but I cannot really change your core, inner attitude. I look for a positive, can-do attitude that will jump a bump.”

Family Man

Talmadge may not be a Navy captain like his book mentor, but he calls himself the “morning captain” of his home. “I’m responsible for getting the first wave out on time. I get breakfast together and pack lunches.” One could say that Talmadge’s early Delta days prepped him to be his family’s early morning dispatcher. He leaves before 7:00 to make the hour drive from his home in Vero Beach, Florida, to work a full day for Avidyne in Melbourne. When he returns home in the evening around 6:30, the first priority is having dinner as a family: parents and sons together. “It’s important to us to eat dinner as a family together around the kitchen bar,” he says. “Now that we have a teenager, it’s our best chance to see and talk with him.” Dinnertime sometimes gives the native from Cajun country the chance to cook with his wife.  “In South Louisiana, cooking is part of the culture and almost a sport,” he remarks.  A favorite Talmadge family entertainment is to watch ‘80s movies during the winter months when it’s dark outside. (The late film director, John Hughes, would be proud.) 

In addition to focusing on his wife and sons, Talmadge also makes time to fly a 1962 Cessna 172 he and his father own. “We just do it for fun, not for speed,” he says. “We’re just burning holes in the sky for $100 hamburgers and to shoot the occasional approach.”

Avidyne Man

While it seems that the busy man has enough challenges owning a store with his wife and raising two sons, he’s not shying away from challenges at Avidyne, because in challenges he finds opportunities. For example, with the FAA’S new ADS-B requirement being implemented, Talmadge and his sales team try to show operators that for a comparable price point to installing just bare-minimum compliant equipment, customers can get full-blown, integrated navigation and safety features that they’ve never had access to. “Helicopter pilots are mission-oriented; they are always busy in the cockpit,” says Talmadge. “Our challenge is to bring them technology that helps them to safely complete their missions.” Avidyne’s approach to meeting this challenge is to keep things simple. “We don’t want pilots keeping their heads down to focus on using our technology,” he says. 

He wants all pilots, especially helicopter pilots, focusing on their missions with their heads up. “With helicopters, flying is incidental to the higher mission, whether its law enforcement, fighting fires, or medevac. Helicopter pilots don’t want to spend a lot of time checking out every new feature in their avionics. They want it to give them the data they need so they can fly the aircraft to get their mission done,” Talmadge observes. “That’s not a knock on the fixed-wing folks; it’s just the nature of the beasts. Helicopters perform more diverse missions. Helicopter flying is more intense because it’s usually much closer to the ground.”

Talmadge’s diverse career has given him the ability to speak from experience. From his childhood around helicopters, to serving as a Huey crew chief, to earning a degree in aviation science, to managing both global and regional commercial airlines, to offering advanced avionics to both the fixed-wing world and to rotorcraft on a mission, he’s had a lot to say. “I’m sorry I yakked your ear off; I love this stuff,” he concludes. We know, John. We do too.