Posted 2 years 251 days ago ago by Admin
Steve Wysong, the pioneering founder of avionics company, Wysong Enterprises, was born in Dayton, Ohio. That’s fitting, for Dayton also birthed another pioneering aviation shop started by the Wright Brothers. Like those famous flyers, Wysong’s life didn’t have the smoothest takeoff. His pastor-in-training father died before Wysong was born. He was raised by his mother and grandmother—and his grandfather’s power tools. The mother and grandmother nurtured their young boy and the tools occupied his hands and trained his brain. He says, “I didn’t have a lot of father guidance, so I had to do a lot of experimenting and teaching myself how to work with these tools. I played with them a lot and developed pretty good technical skills.”
In high school, an electronics teacher, who was also a pilot, encouraged Wysong’s technical aptitude and sparked his interest in aviation. Yet, upon high school graduation, the teen was most interested in fleeing Ohio’s frigid winters for warm Florida sunshine. His initial plan was to follow in his deceased father’s footsteps and become a pastor, but after a year and a half at Florida Bible College, the admittedly shy student determined that his true calling lay in his skilled hands, not in eloquent public preaching. Wysong left Bible college, but stayed in Florida. (“There were a lot of pretty girls on the beach down there,” he recalls.) He enrolled in a trade school and mastered the basics of electronics repair. Out of school, he landed his first avionics-related job with Collins Radio in 1974. From there, he decided to step away from the repair/assembly bench and step toward working directly on aircraft. Thus in 1976, he went to Fort Lauderdale’s airport and began working at Sunstream Jet Center.
Sink or Swim
His Sunstream days began in clear sunshine, but quickly turned tense. An able mentor who expertly taught Wysong suddenly quit the company, leaving Wysong and an assistant to complete half-finished jobs. “I spent night and day reading all the manuals and trying to figure everything out,” he recalls. “We got the work done, however.” Having proved himself, Wysong was promoted to avionics manager. He had proven himself in fixed-wing avionics, but his day in helicopters was coming.
In 1979, a Jet Center customer mentioned to Wysong that there might be a star-studded future for the manager in Hollywood…Florida. The city south of Fort Lauderdale had no rotorcraft avionics shop. Wysong seized the opportunity and setup his first shop, Wysong Avionics, renting space in the hangar of Crescent Airways. His timing was impeccable. ““At that time, you were lucky if you saw a CommRadio in a helicopter and transponders were just starting to come into play,” Wysong recalls. ““As soon as I set up shop, you started seeing autopilot and full-blown avionics showing up in helicopters. I feel like I got into it very early on, when the avionics industry was really moving over into helicopters.”
Another trend Wysong also jumped in front of was the local TV ‘live action news’ trend in which broadcasters in the style of the fictional Ron Burgundy flourished. In addition to anchormen with thick mustaches, the newscasts featured live feeds from helicopters and gave birth to the helicopter electronic news-gathering (ENG) sector. Wysong became an ENG pioneer. ““I got into the TV helicopter industry very early,” he says. “Then, there was no real equipment for helicopters to do live TV broadcasts, so I took ground truck and studio equipment and converted it for helicopters.” His ingenuity garnered the attention of TV stations across the country; by 1990 Wysong estimates his company had installed broadcast equipment in approximately 50% of ENG helicopters in the U.S.
When that trend diminished, Wysong focused on the helicopter EMS market and obtained supplemental type certificates (STCs) on the Bell 407 for medical equipment he and his company developed. Wysong now foresees approaching avionics opportunities in the unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector and in electric future vertical lift aircraft.
In the midst of this past century success, Wysong took a detour for his family. ““My wife and I thought South Florida wasn’t the best place to raise our boy at that time.” So, the family (that also includes two daughters who worked part-time in the business) left Hollywood for South Carolina, but business wasn’t all that good in the Palmetto State. Looking to improve profits and prospects, Wysong partnered up with Edwards and Associates in Tennessee and set up a radio shop for his new bosses. ““After being on my own for years, I closed down my 7-year-old business and started working for them. I suddenly had two bosses screaming at me and was still dealing directly with customers’ issues. I thought, this is worse stress than what I had on my own!”
After two stressful years, Wysong decided to go back to being his own boss and resolved to learn from my past mistakes. In 1989, he started his current company: Wysong Enterprises Inc.
Wysong Enterprises started small with just the reborn entrepreneur and a couple of employees working alongside him. They couldn’t afford to wait on business to fly into their East Tennessee shop, so they took their work on the road with a mindset for success. “We did a lot of jobs on the road,” Wysong begins. “I knew that all of us were going to make mistakes at times, but the key is to not get upset and lose control, but learn from your mistakes. When it comes to fixing something, don’t be afraid to jump in, but don’t just jump in without a plan; analyze the situation as best you can. Make your best guess and see what works and what doesn’t work. Learn from that because that’s where experience comes from—either from things going wrong or keeping things from going wrong.” Even decades later Wysong, age 68, still works alongside his employees on the shop floor seizing the chance to mentor. The established founding owner can actually be found setting an example alongside an entry-level hire; that’s rare in the industry. “I still enjoy jumping in and fixing things, but I deliberately try not to solve problems for my employees because I want them to get experience by trying to figure things out for themselves. I’ll jump in if they are struggling too much or if a customer’s waiting. We make customer service a priority.”
Although he still hits the shop floor, Wysong admits that he’s slowed down a touch—but not too much. He says he doesn’t have the patience for a pastime most men near his lake home enjoy: fishing. “It’s too slow for me. I guess I never caught enough to appreciate it. I find myself waiting and waiting on a bite; I like to move fast and get stuff done.” Rather than invent the new sport of speed fishing, Wysong prefers to captain his fast boat pulling family members on skis or a tube. He also indulges in a relaxing round of midweek golf. “I really enjoy doing that. Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have dared to play golf in the middle of the week, but now I can,” he says. Make no mistake; he’s not close to playing hooky. He often works at Wysong Enterprises into the night. (He was on the floor until 11:30, the night before our interview.) But he admits his mornings start a little later these days. Wysong gets his morning rest because he plans to “go for a number of years doing what I do.” There’s another good reason he can start his day at a reasonable hour or sneak in a round of golf: “I got good guys here that I can count on to take care of things,” he confidently says.
Those “good guys” don’t appear by accident. Wysong knows what he wants in his employees and hires accordingly. “I like people who don’t worry about quitting time, but ask questions. Someone who takes time to ask questions because they’re not worried about leaving will learn more,” he says. The lessons don’t have to happen at the end of the workday, but can happen at any time. For example, “I took some employees out to lunch and I noticed them taking notes. I asked them why they were writing everything I said down. They answered that I was telling them good stuff from my experience that they didn’t learn in school. I like to hire people who want to learn. You go to school to get your basics, but when you graduate to the real world, there’s a whole lot more to know. I like to hear questions. Sometimes when somebody doesn’t ask questions, I wonder if they think they know it all. I want them to ask before they get into trouble on something.” So, here’s a free tip; if you have a job interview with Wysong, you might want to ask a few questions.
Another attribute Wysong wants is flexibility in his employees. “I want to hire people who are not set in their ways because I want them to do it our way. I’d rather have somebody with less experience who’s eager to learn our ways than someone more experienced who’s only going to do it their way.”
Until now, we’ve not touched upon perhaps the most potent part of this profile: Wysong is proudly his late son’s dad. Rodney Wysong succumbed to cancer in April 2016 at age 35, and the father has fond memories. “From the time Rodney was old enough to go to the office with me, he was tagging along and learning the business. We went to countless cities, trade shows, and events,” Wysong remembers. At those trade shows, Wysong humorously recalls learning how fast a founder is forgotten, for Rodney after college had become “the face” of the company. “People would come by our booth looking for Rodney. If he wasn’t there because he was out meeting someone else, they’d be disappointed and ask me, ‘Who are you?’ I’d answer that I was known as Rodney’s dad,” he chuckles with a tear. “It made me really proud that Rodney built up his reputation following my guidelines. He was really good about following up with people and answering their questions,” Wysong says.
Wysong is a man of strong Christian faith and draws upon that reserve when coping with his family’s loss. “I’m sorry we didn’t have more time together, but as a believer (in Jesus) it wasn’t God’s timing for Rodney to stay with us. I know I’m going to see him again in Heaven one day because during his cancer fight he told me numerous times that he was a believer. That’s a nice thing to know. When industry people ask how I’m doing after our loss, I get to tell them about my and Rodney’s faith.”
Steve Wysong, consider your story of business, family, and faith told…up to now.