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Nov
08
2021

Executive Watch - President Dwayne Charette, Airbus Helicopters Canada

Posted 19 days ago ago by Admin

Dwayne Charette has a surprising affinity for the president of a major OEM in Canada: he likes problems (and he even views failures as “learns”). Early in his operations career—an area prone to problems, a leader once told him, “Dwayne, if we didn’t have problems to deal with, there would be no need for our jobs.” Charette considers that perhaps the best business wisdom he’s received. “It sounds simplistic, but it’s true,” says Charette. “Problems and challenges are part of the job; once you accept them and view them as opportunities, the stress level kind of goes away.”

That stress-level relief has been put through an unprecedented stress test. Once Charette’s presidential predecessor (Romain Trapp, profiled in Rotorcraft Pro’s Nov./Dec. 2020 issue) was promoted to head of Airbus Helicopters North America Region and Charette took Canada’s captain’s seat in August 2019, the new chief pilot had no honeymoon flight. Shortly after takeoff, a sudden virus storm severely struck many nations and businesses seemingly overnight. “One day, we went home as normal, and the next day the world had changed upside down,” Charette said. Then, the problem-solver sprang into action. “We were able to quickly put measures in place, because our team thankfully bought in 100%. We didn’t miss a single day of operations. We went to two different shifts, implemented enhanced cleaning of the facility, incorporated social distancing measures, one-way traffic hallways, and adopted work-from-home when we could. We worked with our province of Ontario by educating them to designate us an essential business, which allowed us to remain operating. In a crisis, people rely on helicopters. The weight of responsibility for me has been how to keep our employees safe while serving our customers who rely on us to deliver.”

Getting Prepared
Charette was ready to carry that weight because he was prepped throughout his life by foundational education and solid experience. He was born and raised in the small  town of Port Colborne located in Canada’s Niagara region. His father worked in quality assurance for an aviation company (Charette fondly recalls that his dad’s job was across the road from Airbus Helicopters current Niagara production facility) Charette’s mother and stepfather worked  and owned various transportation businesses: a taxi company, a school transport company, and a gas station/garage. “Growing up, I was always exposed to businesses where there’s always something happening and going on operationally,” he observes.

Upon graduating high school in the early 1980s, Charette voluntarily joined his nation’s air force, where he served in logistics and supply. Upon being discharged, the young man attended Niagara College in the 1990s where he studied supply-chain management and business operations and subsequently received the professional designation of Certified Supply Chain Management Professional (CSCMP). Later, after he rose to the upper executive level at Airbus, he added to his formal education by graduating from the Ivey Executive Program at Canada’s academically respected Western University in 2016.  

Charette cut his career teeth during the booming manufacturing decades of the 1980s and ‘90s as he honed his business operations skills in the automotive and appliance industries. Then, in  2003, Charette made a life-changing move to  Airbus Helicopters (then Eurocopter) as a purchasing materials manager. He says, “When the Eurocopter opportunity opened up, I jumped at it and haven’t looked back since.” Charette laced up his business shoes and climbed the corporate ladder to become director of Global Supply Chain and Manufacturing for the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), as well as Head of North America Regionalization for Airbus’ helicopter division. (Charette displays his native Canadian humbleness by understating that he had “some” responsibility for North America regionalization, despite being the designated head of it.) He considers that experience his greatest career-development role, as it stretched him to develop professionally and culturally.

Thereafter, his ascension turbocharged when he became chief operating officer for Airbus Helicopters Canada in 2018 and then reached his current capstone a mere year later. Charette certainly appreciates his circumstances. “I am honoured to serve Airbus Helicopters Canada as President,” he says. “Leading the Canadian division of Airbus Helicopters has and continues to be a truly rewarding and exciting experience. I’m very fortunate to work for a company that makes amazing products that save, serve and touch people’s lives every day. People here at Airbus have a passion for our products and aircraft. I’ve been here 18 years, the longest I’ve been anywhere, and there’s a reason for that.”

While he appreciates his current aviation career, Charette credits his career in other industries for his success. “The breadth of experience in my early career years (in supply management and manufacturing operations) positioned me well to look at challenges and problems through a different lens. Also, I started at an entry level position in my career and that allows me to relate to all levels in an organization; we all have to start somewhere,” he says.

Character Trumps Genius
When looking to start on Charette’s Airbus team, it’s best to start with the right attitude. “I have a motto: character trumps genius every time,” he says. “Integrity is very important. So is reliability. I want to know that I can count on the individual without my direct supervision, because I can’t be everywhere. The third attribute I look for in an employee is collaboration. Are they open to other ideas and can they cooperate with others.” While it sounds like he is focused on ‘soft’ skills, it is a mistake to assume that technical competency is given little weight; actually Charette is looking for balance. “A team has to have the right mix of competencies coupled with a commitment to deliver. That combination allows me to empower and trust people,” he says. “The higher you rise in an organization, the stronger team you need around you to deliver on your responsibilities.”

One responsibility that Charette has for Airbus Helicopter Canada is to interest students, as young as high school, in an aviation career. Why make this a corporate priority? “I foresee a critical skill shortage of technicians in aviation. People are no longer going into skilled trades where you work with your hands. In Canada, we’re going to have a shortage. It’s our responsibility to society to make sure kids know the opportunities that are available. I don’t think school guidance counselors really understand what’s available in our industry,” he answers.

Charette hopes that those students will benefit from Airbus Helicopters ongoing initiative to make the aircraft environment friendlier. “There’s been a shift in purchasing expectations in the past few years. Now, potential customers consider the environmental footprint of aircraft and they are interested in sustainable alternatives. I’ve seen this shift: it’s not good enough to just have a superior product; we also have to take care of the planet.”


Proud Family
In addition to leading Airbus Helicopters in Canada, Charette tries to be home by 6:30 every evening when he's not traveling on business (which has been curtailed by COVID). He wants that cherished dinner time with his devoted wife, Jane.  He says, “We’ve been married 32 years. It’s great to know someone has your back—especially in today’s world!” Over those years, they’ve grown an impressive family with two married twin daughters, Lauren and Courtney. The youngest (by 11 minutes) is currently expecting a baby, so Charette and his wife are, at the time of this writing, looking forward to becoming first-time grandparents. (Hopefully, this generational milestone won’t make our profiled president feel too old. When he reveals a year, such as when he graduated school, our energetic subject jokingly remarks that such information “dates” him. (Mr. President, I’m older than you and I only reached vice president—in high school!)

In addition to nightly dinners in their empty nest, the Charettes also enjoy traveling to see their daughters and son-in-laws  where a favorite family pastime are outdoor barbecues in warm weather. (Canadian winter is outdoor-grilling off-season.) When Charette talks about his twins, he bursts with fatherly pride, “When I look at all that those two have done and the type of people they’ve become: they’re smart, compassionate, and have a very strong work ethic. It leaves me with a feeling of extreme pride for sure.”

Yet, there is another family MVP—most valuable poodle (actually a cockapoo)—that Charette dotes on: Daisy (aka. Daisy-Mae). “I love dogs, but was reluctant to get her at first because I assumed I’d wind up taking most of the responsibility, but she’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen and is part of the family for sure.” He walks her every morning before arriving at his office by 7:30.

Don’t Be Afraid To Succeed
Walking into that president’s office was not entirely foreseen—nor excluded—from Charette’s career vision. He ends with this retrospective on rising to the top job: “I was just talking to some high-level executive customers and we were remarking how we wound up in our roles and positions. We all agreed when we started out that no one had a vision where they were really going. You never know where life is going to take you. How far you go depends a lot on developing a good work ethic and being willing to take advantage of opportunities along the way. I tell my children this all the time: don’t limit your possibilities; don’t be afraid to get out there and work hard. It’s sometimes surprising what you can achieve with the right work ethic and attitude. Maybe I’m proof of that.”

Let’s remove the humble qualifier: You’re proof of that.