Aviation Specialties Unlimited: The Power of People

Avatar for Natasha McKentyNatasha McKenty | April 20, 2021

Estimated reading time 10 minutes, 58 seconds.

Behind the scenes of night vision goggle (NVG) manufacturer Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU) resides a devoted “tomorrow-oriented” team. ASU’s safety-driven trailblazers are hand-picked through a strategic and thoughtful process. The team’s loyalty speaks for itself, as the average tenure is six years, with many staying a decade or more.

ASU is a “mission-driven” company focused on the safety of those who carry out life-saving missions around the world. The company’s chief operating officer, Hannah Gordon, was the first employee, hired by founder Mike Atwood. She has quite literally experienced every role in the organization, creating a unique vision and expertise. 

“I get to affect both my future, the company’s future, and then our customers’ and the industry’s future, so it just really built that passion inside of me,” she said.  

The company rewards loyalty with competitive wages and a “work hard, play hard culture.” And they invest in their people: over $100,000 will be spent this year on workforce development.

The loss of a Texas friend

On Dec. 27, 2020, the sudden death of Mike Guinn, senior business development manager at ASU, created a ripple effect of shock and grief. Guinn, known for his contagious personality, distinctive laugh, and witty sayings, left behind an immense void.  

Joe Estrera took over as ASU president less than a month before the tragedy hit and was one of the last to have direct contact at the Arlington, Texas, hospital where Guinn passed due to Covid-19 complications.

“We will never replace Mike, but we will remember his spirit,” he said. “At this time, the tissue has to heal.”

Guinn’s career started in 1985 when he enlisted in the U.S. military as an Aircraft Fire Control Computer Repairer (Honor Graduate). Highlights of his military career included working on Cobras and Apaches in Germany and running Aircraft Intensely Managed Items (AIMI) for the 7th Corps in Europe. After the military, he remained devoted to the aviation industry, honing his avionics, pneumatics, hydraulics, sales, and marketing skills in both commercial aircraft and helicopters.  

As the ASU family continues to grieve the loss of their “larger-than-life Texas friend,” they face the task of filling his role. Gordon described him as a “mythical creature,” admitting “the likelihood of being able to find that unicorn again” isn’t promising.

Few people are as dedicated and passionate about their job as was Guinn, who during his travels used Google Translate to ensure not even language was a barrier.  

“He was interested in not just interacting with the customer, but getting to know the customer on a deeper level,” said Estrera. “To this day, when we get customers that haven’t heard, they’re devastated. He was a part of our family, but he was a big part of other people’s families, too.”

As the ASU family continues to heal, they seek opportunities to honor his legacy.

Institutional wisdom

Established in Boise, Idaho, in 1995, ASU has demonstrated the meaning of turning humanitarianism into a profession. The company has built an industry reputation synonymous with safer night operations for rotor-wing and fixed-wing aircraft operations in both military and civil applications.

They credit their success to the multi-faceted people of ASU, who are committed to “making the world a safer place,” explicitly affecting the emergency medical services (EMS), law enforcement, and search-and-rescue industries. 

In October 2020, ASU announced that Joe Estrera would take over the role of president. At the same time, Hannah Gordon was promoted to COO. Gordon, who once was in charge of shipping packages, is a prime example of how the company rewards loyalty and ingenuity. 

ASU stories that exemplify this philosophy include Isaac Mpoyi, who has been with the company for over nine years. Mpoyi started in an entry-level position, and today he’s an NVG service center manager. Chris Reber began his 13-year ASU tenure as an NVIS aircraft installer, and now he’s the 14 CFR Part 145 repair station manager. Jacob Hart started as an intern when he was just 14. Eleven years later, he is a sales and business development territory manager. 

Meet the ‘new folks’

Radona Lloyd, who has been with the company for 18 months, is already rising. She’s been promoted to the role of customer service manager. 

Nikki Klaas joined ASU a little over a year ago as a temporary employee. She loved it so much she decided to stay and is now the finance manager.

K Kirdendall is from England, born to military parents. He, too, has a background in the military, serving with the Army National Guard. He joined ASU in February 2020 as an instructor pilot. 

The common goal of the 60-person team is to make an impact. “We have all layers of people and skillsets,” added Gordon. “The face of ASU isn’t just one or two people. It’s much deeper than that.”

Learn more at www.asu-nvg.com.

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