Barry Eccleston OBE
Former President & CEO: Airbus America
Barry Eccleston graduated in 1969 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. When he visited campus recently, we found out about where he began his career and his experiences at the University in the late 1960s.
I chose the degree as I was fascinated by aeroplanes.
Growing up in the sixties, aeroplanes represented travel, freedom, seeing new places, and meeting other people. So I became obsessed with aeroplanes – in the industry we call it having kerosene in the blood.
I love to fly, I love working with aeroplanes, so doing an aeronautical degree was a natural.
There were only 10 universities that did aeronautical engineering. Compared to the others, I really liked the campus feel Loughborough offered. All students were in one place.
The institution had a really good reputation for aeronautical engineering.
I was one of the social secretaries and had to organise the dances at the Students’ Union (now EHB)
Saturday night, once a month we’d have a big dance. We’d book some interesting local bands – people like Joe Cocker, the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd – many people that eventually became big names in the industry. They were up and coming bands on the university circuit. We had no idea that we were talking with and listening to legends.
Most memorable point was listening to Pink Floyd before they became famous.
I had a professor by the name of Stan Stevens. Stan was just brilliant. He had empathy and could teach you all the technical information in a way that you would understand. He was very, very encouraging and developed a great relationship with all his students.
I was on a four year course which included 18 months in industry. Some people came from a company that was already sponsoring them.
I didn’t have a company sponsoring me, so the University arranged mine, which was with Rolls Royce – in their rocket engine business, up in a place called Spade Adam, between Carlisle and Northumberland.
I spent the summer of 68 on placement. It was a fabulous experience but also introduced me to Rolls Royce.
When I graduated in 1969 I joined Rolls Royce as part of a very large graduate intake that year. I felt like the cream of the crop – really thought I’d reached the top of the totem pole at that point because I’d joined Rolls Royce.
In 1971 Rolls Royce went bankrupt – I was asked to leave – but the programme I was working on, the senior manager retired and they needed someone to continue on, so young though I was, they asked me to stay on.
From that point I stayed with Rolls for 29 years. I started travelling the world, and went to work in both Japan and the USA.
My placement with Rolls Royce took me into industry, and from there my career continued to grow with Rolls Royce.
I came here for the close-knit community on campus. The Halls of Residence were the main social scene – everybody had a wonderful time. The Students’ Union was quite small – but everybody knew each other. It was very easy to get involved.
Students made a lot of their own fun. It was very easy to set things up.
Between the hall life and students’ union, the social side was really enjoyable.
In many ways, I’d grown up at home, left home at 18 to come here, and that really opened a lot of doors – being away from home and being in this atmosphere.
I was Social Secretary at Faraday Hall and then for the SU – that took up a lot of my social time.
There were a few:
- Joining Rolls Royce as a graduate apprentice
- Some years later, having stayed with Rolls Royce, I found myself working in the flight test department – in particular I was working on a military programme. Working on the engine for the British F4 Phantom – Royal Air Force and navy fighter pilot at the time. Got to do a lot of back seat flight test work in the phantom – which if you are into aeroplanes that was really exciting stuff.
- A few years later I joined the sales department and got sent to Japan. Lived there for 4 years. By this time I was married – we loved Japan and still go back often. We feel very much at home there.
- Some years after that Rolls Royce sent me to the USA. I was working in Derby at the time, and was told they were setting up a joint venture programme to build an engine, called the V25 500. Joint venture between Rolls Royce in the UK, Pratt and Witney in Connecticut, and Japanese, German and Italian partners – very much a multi-national project.
I can well remember the then HR Director saying ‘Barry we want you to go over there and help set up this joint venture programme but don’t sell your house in England just yet – we think it’s going to fail, and you’ll be back here in 6 months’.
I love it when people say it can’t be done. So I went over, and with the partners formed the company International Aeroplanes, and made the engine. Here we are today, 9,000 engines later – still building the engines at the rate of 500 per year, which is huge.
- Going to the US very much changed our lives. I felt much more at home in the US style of business. The UK still had a very structured hierarchy – you served your time and you worked your way up.
Being in the US it doesn’t matter who you are – everybody has the same opportunity – and I really jumped into that.
- After Rolls Royce I tried my hand in a small regional airline company – that went bankrupt – I learnt a lot about bankruptcy which actually is very useful.
- Then joined Honeywell – learnt a lot about US management.
- Then I joined Airbus, and I tell everybody I have the best job in Airbus because I look after the North American market, but I do it 4,000 miles away from my boss.
Growth industry: Commercially aviation grows by about 4.5% a year – but it actually means that air travel doubles every 15 years. It’s been like that since the beginning of air travel, and it’s still like that now.
Global industry: Obviously we make aeroplanes which connect people around the world. Without the aeroplane – can you imagine what the world would be like? The aeroplane has made the world a global place socially, industrially, politically – it’s changed the world and it continues to do so. It means therefore that you would be operating in a global business where there are some great opportunities.
Opportunity to travel: Growth is coming from Asia, the Middle East, and from America, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to work in those areas – it’s a real go-go atmosphere.
Technology: The technology in the area is still pretty unique. When you think of the technology required to get you from London to Sydney, where you are expected to arrive on time to the minute – people forget what an incredible technological achievement it is that you can do that. We have the technology that allows that to happen – it’s materials technology, aerodynamic technology, computer technology, and ergonomics. Using all the engineering stuff that goes on here at Loughborough – sweep it all together and it goes into an aeroplane.
Considering the people who you have met throughout your career, what personal attributes do you think are essential for success?
I’m a great believer in leadership. It’s an often used term but very difficult to define. It’s like art – you sort of know it when you see it.
I’ve been really lucky to meet some of my personal heroes whilst I’ve been in the business – all exceptional leaders.
Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine, taught me to be humble. This incredible man changed the world by inventing the jet engine which allows people to travel around the world – he was the most humble man you could ever meet.
Met Neil Armstrong – also very humble. After being on the moon he returned to being a professor and spent his time sharing his knowledge and experiences. Imagine what he could’ve done after going to the moon, but he chose to return to what he was passionate about. He had great leadership quality. He taught me that, whatever you can, pass it on to the next generation.
None of the greats did it alone, and they’d be the first to admit that. They had incredible teams. I’m a strong believer of putting together a strong team and having strong team work within it. Somebody has to bring the team together – but in the end it’s the incredible team work that brings results.
Clearly have to be smart but I guess if you’re graduating from Loughborough you could take that as a given!
Secondly, confidence. I’m constantly amazed at the younger generation today, who are all a lot more confident in themselves and their capabilities, than I felt I was when I graduated. When I graduated it was kind of like you have to work to prove yourself. These days people graduate full of confidence and that’s really good.
Think big. Always aim for the top of the totem pole. Have belief in yourself – be ambitious. But be humble with it. Because you’re not going to do it on your own – you’ve got to have everybody else on board along the way.
A desire to work in aviation – a passion. Figure out what gets you out of bed on a morning an do that.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice going into your first year at University, what would it be?
Be more confident – have more belief. I broke out of my shell when I got here, but it took time.
I didn’t realise it inspired me at the time. To me it was a way of getting a degree in the subject that I wanted to work in, and through that degree getting into industry to work in the industry I wanted to work in.
It was only years later when I thought back on my time and experience here that I realised how important it had been in my life. Everything it taught me, the personality traits that I learnt, the confidence that I developed during the four years that I was here, the experiences and friends that I made, and the teachers and professors I met, all that made me what I was when I was launched into industry. It changed me for the better.