This article appeared in the November 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
When you think about how an ideal business or a thriving community should perform, your mind may conjure images of a finely conducted orchestra, where every piece is vital. An ideal business would be a vital part of the community and, for that to be true, the community must be vital to the business.
If anyone understands this concept, it’s Bill Henderson, CEO of Aircraft Precision Products, Inc. in Ithaca. For more than 50 years at the company, he has made a point of living by it.
Aircraft Precision is a leading component supplier to the commercial and military aircraft engine industries. They also supply customized, precision components for land-based power generation engines and locomotives.
“My inspiration from a leadership perspective, interestingly enough, came from some band directors I’ve had over the years,” Henderson says.
One in particular he mentions is Kenneth Bloomquist, recently deceased Director of Bands Emeritus at Michigan State University.
“I think I learned more from him from a leadership perspective than I did from all of the management classes that I took there.”
Henderson credits Aircraft Precision’s success to the family atmosphere instilled by his grandfather at the company’s inception. They’ve since transitioned to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) which falls right in line with Henderson’s natural leadership ability and commitment to the company’s core values.
“I think that was a real good move for us because, in some ways, it continued what my grandfather had done; when he started the company, some of the key employees invested with him. And so the ownership of the company…was kind of spread around, so the ESOP really continued that tradition,” he says.
Harry Leaver, Executive Director at Central Michigan Manufacturers Association, started working with Henderson in 2003 and quickly realized his value not only as a manager but as a community leader as well.
“If he recognized a problem, he would immediately take actions to address that problem and try and be ahead of it. And this applied not only in the pure work being done here at Aircraft Precision Products, but on every aspect of the community and let’s call it, the regional economic ecosystem,” says Leaver. “It was very obvious that Bill was passionate about everything within the community.”
That decisiveness applies to engagements outside the walls of Aircraft Precision such as the various community boards he sits on, according to Henderson’s younger brother Gary, Purchasing Manager at Aircraft Precision. Bill currently sits on the board for MidMichigan Health Central Region, Greater Gratiot Development, Gratiot-Isabella RESD and MMA.
Ironically, Gary also credits his brother’s leadership style to his upbringing as a musician.
“Part of this might be because Bill is a musician,” says Gary. “He’s a percussionist. He’s used to playing in bands and orchestras, and you’ve got to work together. He’s willing to set the beat, set the tempo, but let others shine and be the front man.”
Marita Hattem-Schiffman, President of MidMichigan Health, says Henderson’s presence on their Board of Directors has had a reassuring and calming effect.
“Bill has spent a lifetime, not just running an incredible business, but serving the community and he knows everyone and everything in a humble way, in a way that is profoundly empathetic,” Hattem-Schiffman says. “He sees connections between causes in people and puts them together in a way that everybody can relate to.”
In Henderson’s spare time, he helps the community in a much more hands-on way.
“Bill’s hobby is repairing clocks,” says Jill Gross, Controller at Aircraft Precision. “And we have a lot of community members who know that and they’ll bring their clock to the front door and drop it off for Bill to fix. No matter how busy he is, he takes the time to fix the clock and talk to the person about what was wrong.”
While clock repair may seem like an unusual and very complex hobby, somehow, it’s not surprising to hear that Henderson enjoys it. Because when you think about what it takes for an orchestra, a community or a business to be successful, you realize that all the pieces need to work together, just like clockwork.