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Establishing the Right Niche

January 26, 2017  By Paul Dixon

If the past decade hasn’t been proof of the old adage about living in exciting times, things promise to get a little more interesting in the future based on recent world events.

To follow commercial airline safety protocol, you might want to ensure your seat is locked and in an upright position and your seatbelt is securely fastened at all times.

In my brief exposure to the helicopter universe, I’ve noticed that as a general statement, it’s not an easy way to make a living at any level of the business.

I’ve been privileged to meet a wide range of people over the past decade and there’s a commonality in all of them. It’s the same commonality you find in many businesses outside of the mainstream 9 to 5 world. Musicians have it.

Spend time in a big-city hospital in the middle of the night and watch the interaction between the doctors and nurses along with the paramedics and police officers that come through on a regular basis and you get the point.


For the most part, these pros communicate on a higher level, one very much in line with the rotary-wing community.

The helicopter business can be a tough one to break into and thrive in forever. I’ve met a few folks who give up and get on with their lives, because they realize they can’t chase a dream forever.

The people who built the helicopter business in Canada were dreamers and they had the energy, drive and native ability to build their businesses, meeting challenges along the way with great gusto, with an “is that the best you can do?” type attitude.

Most helicopter companies fit the definition of a small business, which can be good and not so good. It’s good in terms of the personal span of control and decision-making, but perhaps not so good in terms of the depth and breadth of leadership.

Even the largest operators on the global scene are small when compared to the Fortune 500 index. They may be big fish in their home pond, but they’re swimming in the shallow end when out in the broader community. CHC is a case in point.

The early years of CHC don’t bear retelling here, but the past few years have been interesting in their own right – and maybe there is a cautionary tale.

Several years ago, the decision was made to take CHC public through an offering on the New York Stock Exchange. I had invested some time in putting together an article on how a CHC S-76 was moved by flatbed truck from Delta, B.C. to New York City to magically appear in front of 11 Wall Street on the morning the stock was launched.

That truck driver was one of those special people as noted above, making his way through lower Manhattan in the wee small hours, at one point having to back in a block-and-a-half because there was no way to turn around. A video was made of the trip and was to be the opening feature at that year’s Safety & Quality Summit. The stock didn’t do too well and the video never saw the light of day.

Move ahead to the 2016 Safety & Quality Summit. The lack of CHC employees at this year’s event was obvious – and the venue wasn’t quite as congested as previous years. The penny dropped a week or so later when it was announced the company was moving into Chapter 11 as it fought to reinvent itself in a world that had become increasingly hostile.

The recent announcement that the CHC Safety & Quality Summit would be moving to Dallas in 2017, brings the company another step away from its Canadian roots.

The announcement came at roughly the same time another large operator with Canadian ties, Erickson Inc., sought Chapter 11 in its own fight for survival. It’s sobering to say the least.

Perhaps the people running the companies aren’t the people with the common qualities – I don’t know.

I do know, however, that it’s nice to be able to find your own niche and stay there, but that’s not always possible.

We live in a world where all too often the expectation is that the business has to keep growing and expanding, which as we all realize isn’t possible.

Everybody loves you when the rocket’s going up, but when the lights go out it gets awfully lonely in a hurry.

Paul Dixon is a freelance writer and photojournalist living in Vancouver.


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