Supersupplier Collins Aerospace begins life counterbalancing a superduopoly

Collins' new boss on Day One wants to dispel a narrative and defuse some strategic tension.

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Collins Aerospace is the last surviving brand in the decades-long string of industrial consolidation that eventually brought Rockwell Collins and United Technologies Aerospace Systems division together in 2017. The merger was finalized this week. The newly-formed 70,000-person company with more than 300 facilities around the world also carries with it the ups and downs of the collaborative and contentious relationship aircraft makers have with their largest suppliers.

Rockwell in recent years was a case study of cooperation. With Boeing, for example, it won the display systems on every one of its commercial aircraft, KC-46 and F-15. Rockwell earned more business and in exchange Boeing could slim its costs as it increased output and pushed the 787 to profit. At the other end of the spectrum, UTAS was the scene of a “public hanging,” the description of a now-retired senior UTC executive. Awarding of the 777X’s landing gear to Héroux-Devtek in 2013 was a message to incumbent UTC (and the rest of the industry) about swiftly getting on board for Boeing’s Partnering For Success initiative to aggressively renegotiate supplier contracts.8

The message from Collins Aerospace new Chief Executive, Kelly Ortberg is that the former example is the path to reset and de-escalate the increasing strategic tension with aircraft manufacturers. The union was initially met a chilly reception in Toulouse and Chicago, even as consolidate their aviation empires and move into territory dominated by its suppliers.

“I think there was a lot of…rhetoric around we’re going to bulk up so we could chest butt a little bit with the OEMs,” said Ortberg, who was until Monday CEO of Rockwell Collins. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. That is not our strategy.”

Collins’ new CEO along with President and Chief Operating Officer Dave Gitlin sat down for an interview Tuesday with The Air Current on the first day of its now-completed merger under the United Technologies banner.

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