After years of steering itself out of tailspins just to stay in business, Gore Design Completions (GDC) is finally flying high these days. And even with the world economic crash-landing, GDC’s experience, quality and ability to meet the highest demands of the world’s richest people will keep profits soaring for this private jet custom designer and assembler for decades to come.
“It certainly taught us a lot about perseverance and taking risks and not giving up,” says CEO Jerry Gore of his company’s tumultuous history. “But as far as today’s economy, we have not seen a downturn whatsoever in our business. It’s hotter than I’ve ever seen it.”
Any sort of business GDC handles these days would seem booming in comparison to the early days of the company. Jerry Gore and Kathy Gore-Walters were laid off from well-paying jobs at Dee Howard Co. in the 1980s.
Their newfound freedom was the motivation for the pair to start their own company, utilizing their network of contacts and reputation in the aviation industry to bring numerous suppliers and vendors into the fray. However, the recession born from the Persian Gulf War found the Gores on the brink of bankruptcy by 1994.
Riding the Wave
During the technology boom of the late ’90s, GDC grew a long list of high-profile clients looking for custom-designed private jets, including numerous National Basketball Association franchises and foreign heads of state. GDC earned a big break when it designed a Boeing 767 for the president of China.
“The China aircraft is when we became a completions center,” Jerry Gore says. “The customer asked us to do not only the design but the assembly as well because of a lack of completion spots at that time.”
When the United States was attacked on 9/11, all players in the aviation industry were bracing for a downturn, and GDC was on the brink of bankruptcy once again. However, the company’s reputation earned it a contract with another Asian head of state, which further cemented GDC as the go-to firm for private aviation needs.
After growing out of its original fabrication space in 2004, GDC moved operations to its current San Antonio location. The company is in expansion mode, reviewing architectural designs that will increase its hangar to 164,000 square feet, the addition of a new hangar down the road and 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space.
Altogether, the company expects to add 250 to 300 employees to its work force in the next two years.
The hangar – located at Port San Antonio – also holds GDC’s executive and engineering offices. The company also maintains design, engineering and administrative offices at its second location, adjacent to the hangar. In addition to providing office space and meeting rooms, there is an interior selection center and showroom that contains a large, up-to-date selection of fabrics, leathers, woods and custom finishes, the company says.
GDC boasts extensive state-of-the-art security and privacy measures throughout the facility and all its processes.
This includes 24-hour video facility surveillance; remote customer access for aircraft completion video surveillance; integrated ID badges for control system access; facial recognition and motion detection controls; 24/7 security guard staff commissioned to carry weapons and are trained in CPR and are automated external defibrillators certified; and all security guards registered with the Texas Commission of Private Security and maintain U.S. government security clearance.
Since the market for custom designed jets is so small, competition is fierce. As Gore says, the customers know all the players in the industry, and they tend to seek out the businesses they want designing their planes for them.
But Gore also says GDC separates itself from the competitors through its reputation for good people, quality of the product and customer service. Within this specific niche, the company also elevates itself by handling both the engineering and design side of its planes.
“Most competitors are engineering driven, but we’re design driven,” Gore-Walters says. “Engineering is important, but the main thing is to get the design right to fulfill customer wishes and to make sure the engineering is true to the original design.”
GDC achieves its innovative designs by utilizing state-of-the-art technologies, including computer-generated renderings and animated walk-throughs that allow customers to accurately view their interior concept well before construction begins.
One instance of its customer-driven design focus is one of the company’s latest creations. A GDC client wanted LED lighting and heating installed throughout the floor of the interior of the passenger cabin, including a VIP-style lavatory.
“With our eye for quality, we can spot things most other people wouldn’t,” Gore-Walters says.
“And we’ve turned out some beautiful interiors,” Gore adds.
GDC says it has structural, electrical and mechanical systems engineers and analysts who quickly develop and adapt customized and comprehensive data packages for each aircraft. Once created and fine-tuned to customer specifications, the engineering staff works side-by-side with craftsmen and installers to optimize function and design form in every aspect of the installation process.
“This careful attention to design and functionality results in an interior that works seamlessly within all aspects of the aircraft’s interior and is fully compliant with all FAA regulations,” the company says. “GDC takes engineering excellence a step further by employing an in-house certification group that includes a designated engineer representative for interior and administrative compliance, mechanical systems, environmental and flammability – as well as a staff of designated airworthiness representatives.”
In addition, GDC is in the process of acquiring an organization designation authorization certification from the FAA. “This will lead to greatly improved processes that will minimize downtime, giving GDC greater competitive advantage in the completions industry,” it adds.
GDC boasts that its avionics and electrical department consists of individuals with years of civil aviation experience in custom and VIP interior modifications and maintenance. “This extensive experience spans from a diverse range of fixed-wing to rotor-wing aircraft,” GDC says. “Combine this expertise with the industry’s finest tooling, test equipment and laser wire marking and the results speak for themselves.
“The avionics and electrical department at GDC provides a level of passion, precision and craftsmanship that is unprecedented in the industry today.”
Also, GDC’s status as a private firm allows the company plenty of freedom to make tough decisions quickly. Couple that with the owners’ combined experience in the aviation field, and it’s easy to see why GDC is a contractor of choice.
“We don’t have to take decisions before a board and have some huge meeting,” Gore says.
“We also understand the business and understand its ups and downs,” Gore-Walters says. “We’re not quota-driven like some other completion centers might be if they are publicly owned.”
This philosophy allows GDC to offer quality follow-up maintenance services, as well. As an FAA-approved repair station, the company says it has the talent to meet and exceed any and all of its customers aircraft needs.
“Our highly skilled technicians can provide a full line of maintenance support that is second to none on all transport category aircraft,” GDC says. “Maintenance checks, structural modifications, avionics upgrades, service bulletins, and airworthiness directives’ compliance are some of the services that GDC can provide.”
A Good Problem
Despite the recession, GDC has a two-year backlog of work. With expansion plans in the works to take on even more jobs, GDC developed its own project management software to be able to bring up real-time data on any project at any point during along the fabrication process.
“We can pull up and know exactly where we’re at in budgeted hours in actual hours, break it down by discipline and do the same thing with materials,” Gore says. “We’ve made some good progress with it in that it’s helped us meet or beat budgets on the last few projects.”
This and other capital investments are part of GDC’s plan to remain one of the most sought after aviation completion firms in the world. With the two major OEMs in transport category aircraft asking the company to increase its capacity, GDC has smooth skies ahead.
“It’s such a small industry, and there’s not a lot to pick from, so it’s all word of mouth,” Gore says. “We feel blessed to have all this work when we see other people going through tough times.”
GDC raised $12,000 for the Lone Star chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society through its second annual golf tournament in May. GDC personnel, vendors and business partners participated in the 18-hole scramble held at the Hyatt Hill Country Resort in San Antonio.
“We were very pleased by the reception we received from vendors in response to the tournament this year,” Director of Sales Jeff Potter said in a statement. “It is great to get everyone out on the golf course together to build friendships and for the sake of a good cause.”
Along with the annual golf tournament, GDC says it supports the National MS Society throughout the year through events like the Walk MS in the spring and Bike MS: Valero Ride to the River in the fall.
For its work in the community, GDC was selected for the 2008 Best of San Antonio award in the aircraft equipment parts and supplies category by the U.S. Local Business Association (USLBA) in January, the company says.
“[Gore and Gore-Walters’] commitment to the community of San Antonio is well established through their contribution to the local arts programs; yearly participation in the MS charity walk and bike ride; and a continuing commitment to the schools of San Antonio,” GDC says.
The USLBA Best of Local Business award program recognizes outstanding local businesses throughout the United States, according to GDC. Each year, the organization identifies companies that it believes have achieved exceptional marketing success within their local community and business category, GDC adds.
USLBA, based in Washington, D.C., is funded by local businesses in cities across the United States to promote local business, USLBA says. “Our mission is to be an advocate for small and medium size businesses,” it says. “We know what [businesses] want: education, training and professional development in local business marketing,” USLBA adds. “We know what [they] need: An organization that provides access to the kind of data, people and programs to end your search on a positive and cost-effective note.