Spirit AeroSystems CEO Jeff Turner

This year’s trophy went to Spirit AeroSystems and its most-deserving CEO Jeff Turner. Jeff gave a speech full of humor, humanity, humility and hope. He said, “We’re on our way and improving every day.” He was talking about Spirit, but he could just as easily have been talking about Wichita. They are so interwoven.

He spoke of Boeing’s divestiture of Spirit back in 2005 and the vision and bravery it took. Thousands of skeptical employees overcame their fears and forged ahead. “Transforming something is as hard or harder than starting something,” he said. As proof, he said, just look back at photos of him at the time, then at his gray hairs today.

Keeping it Light

Jeff toyed with the audience at first, saying he’d been given no time limit and had decided he would tell Spirit’s full, remarkable and long story “from the empty field on South Oliver and Lloyd Stearman up to today.” Then midway through his talk, he stopped to tell us he was on page three of six for those keeping track.

Among his many memorable comments were those about parachute journalists who come into town already knowing what they plan to write. About a recent one who came determined to write about the demise of Wichita aviaiton, Jeff said, “I don’t know if I ever convinced him we were alive and well, that he was hearing rivets going into planes, not nails in coffins.”

The crowd especially liked this line: “We’re not the next Detroit.”

There’s No “I” in Team

Jeff spoke from the heart as he acknowledged the men and women of Spirit on whose behalf he was accepting the award. And he mentioned challenges as well as opportunities. Something you don’t always hear at these sorts of celebratory banquets. “If we don’t care for our company, no one else will. There are no sugar daddies. It’s just us. That can be freeing, and also terribly frightening at times.”

Jeff, with you at the helm, we are not afraid.

A big thank you to committee co-chairs Ashley Bowen Cook and Becky Tuttle and their hard-working committee members. Their above-and-beyond efforts paid off with the best gala yet.