Esterline’s softspoken CEO, R. Bradley Lawrence, shies from making boastful predictions for the growth of the Bellevue-headquartered manufacturer. “We’re the kind of company that prefers to earn our way and demonstrate our success,” he says.
That humility masks the certainty that Esterline will grow much larger as customers like Boeing and Airbus, which they supply with parts and electronics, demand it.
Lawrence explains how, as fewer first-tier aircraft manufacturers remain, they rely on fewer suppliers to provide a greater proportion of parts, driving greater capacity and consolidation among all of their partners. “They want to manage several hundreds of suppliers, not thousands,” he says. The companies that will provide things as complex as flight control systems or as mundane as fasteners need to have enough flexibility to respond to specialized but low-volume needs, while having robust enough balance sheets to ensure that parts and service are available for decades.
“We are growing,” Lawrence says, “because the market dynamics are such that our customers want us to grow.” He estimates that acquisitions have driven about half of the company’s 17 to 20 percent growth over the last dozen years, which include Eclipse Electronics Systems in Texas, U.K.-based Weston Aerospace, and Souriau Group in France.
That has already put Esterline among the S&P MidCap 400, and the company expects to continue growing around 15 percent each of the next five years. This could place Esterline on track to hit the large-cap mark of $10 billion in about 10 years.
Lawrence believes that the “earned autonomy” of Esterline’s managers and respectful values will continue keep the firm stable as it grows. Like most of his executive team, Lawrence rose from within the company, hired as a division president in 2002 after stints at Rockwell International, Paccar and Flow, a path that preserves the company culture. “How we do things,” he insists, “is as important as what we accomplish.