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Q&A: At the leading edge - Werner Lieberherr

Low Cost sat down with Werner Lieberherr, Executive Vice President & Chief Operating Officer Interior Systems, Rockwell Collins
 

In his former role, Werner Lieberherr served as President and Chief Executive Officer of B/E Aerospace, as well as Senior Vice President and General Manager of its Commercial Aircraft Segment. Prior to B/E Aerospace, Lieberherr served 16 years in the energy industry with ABB and Alstom Power in various leadership roles including President, Managing Director and Vice President in Europe, Asia and North America. Lieberherr holds a master’s degree in Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.

 

What attracted you to the aviation industry? 

The aviation industry is an exciting one with growing passenger traffic of 4-5% every year, which cannot be said about many other industries. Prior to the aviation industry, I worked in the energy business for 17 years in Europe, Asia, North America and the Middle East. The diversity of different cultures and customs are very appealing to me and they have been an integral part of my life. Our unique aerospace products, matched with the fact that we are making air travel safer and more comfortable every day, are things which are very compelling to me. In a nutshell, the aviation industry is a perfect match for me.


Which other aviation executive do you admire and why? 

The airline and OEM executives are doing an excellent job of managing the balance between customer experience and operational efficiency, and I could not single out one executive.


I strongly believe that these aviation leaders demonstrate an excellent track record in a very international, dynamic, competitive and complex environment, while making travelling safer and more comfortable.

 

What does a typical day involve in your role? 

I consider myself a global citizen, trying to be at the place where I can demonstrate the most value for our customers, our employees and our shareholders. I frequently interact with our customers in meetings on all continents, as well as by phone and email, on a daily basis. I see our customers as the foundation of our success as a company and I enjoy my professional and personal relationships which I have built over the last 12 years. This customer intimacy allows our excellent team of employees to design and deliver products and services which meet customer expectations and give them an enhanced position in the market.

 

In April this year Rockwell closed a deal to buy B/E Aerospace. What led to this specific acquisition?

The merger of Rockwell Collins and B/E Aerospace was a highly strategic and transformative combination of two industry leaders. Together, we have complementary capabilities and strong reputations for innovation, quality and delivering customer value. As one company, we have significantly more diverse and differentiated product lines that enhance our ability to compete and position our company for future growth.

 

In terms of synergies, what does B/E bring to the table?

B/E Aerospace enjoyed leading market positions in all product lines and a highly visible, long-cycle backlog. Our focus, then and now, lies on finding a balance between passenger comfort, privacy, density, lightweight and cost-efficient solutions to enhance the value proposition of the airlines, and OEMs. It is very important for us to equally serve all airlines such as full service providers, hybrid airlines, low cost carriers and leasing companies – and of course the same is valid for the OEMs. Our scope of supply includes all products and services within the aircraft cabin like first class seating, business and economy class seating, galleys, lavatories, lighting, oxygen equipment, ovens, coffee and espresso makers and more for commercial aircraft and business jets. Therefore, the new, combined portfolio uniquely positions Rockwell Collins to integrate cabin products, smart network technologies and connectivity solutions to provide significant value to passengers, airlines and OEMs.

 

Where do you see the market going in terms of cabin interior solutions?

I am convinced that the development of superior products will continue. Looking back over the last ten years, there has been an enormous amount of progress in the industry. For example, 10 years ago all premium class passengers were sleeping with an angle of approximately five degrees. We introduced the lie-flat seat, then the all-aisle access seat, and are now offering business class solutions with doors to give the passenger even more privacy. Another example is our Nespresso maker that allows airlines to offer a luxurious coffee experience in the sky. In parallel, we are offering weight and cost-efficient solutions for low cost carriers which have a different value proposition.


With the integration of B/E, do you see greater opportunities to enhance solutions for the low cost and regional airline sector?  

The integration of B/E Aerospace opens up additional revenue streams for Rockwell Collins, including those within the low cost and regional airline sector. With a broader portfolio and capabilities like connectivity, these airlines gain additional value with a name and products that they trust.

 

Demand for narrowbodies remains strong compared to legacy widebodies. Will this have an impact on your strategy for the new interiors business unit?

No it doesn’t. We think long term and we want to ensure that we are serving all market and customer channels equally well. The demand for widebodies will come back and we need to invest now to maintain our leading market position. 

 

What is next in the pipeline at Rockwell Collins?

We will continue to be focused on reimagining the air travel experience. There is no doubt that there is more we can do to enhance the customer experience on the ground and in the air. A few examples include:

  • More efficient passenger flow with more self-serve options
  • Use of biometrics and facial recognition technology
  • Improved ground operations due to enhanced connectivity and network services
  • A connected and comfortable aircraft that provides a personalised passenger experience, and more efficient airline operations

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