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‘All about finding your niche’

“That was the [helicopter] hook for me and I’ve been set on it ever since,” the commercial fixed-wing pilot and private helicopter pilot said.

Smith got acquainted with Bell, a household name in the rotorcraft world and a current subsidiary of Textron, as a participant in the company’s college program while enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University as an aerospace engineering student. Throughout the weeklong program Smith and other students were tasked with solving a complex problem presented by Bell leadership. At the conclusion, Smith was offered a flight test internship.

“The deal that I made with myself when I decided that I wanted to become an engineer and not a professional pilot [was] that I have to be close to the helicopters,” said Smith. “I have to see them fly, I have to hear them make noise every day. Flight test[ing] fit well in that.”

After graduating from ERAU Smith joined Bell’s V–280 Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program. Although the program was in its infancy, Smith takes pride in being part of the helicopter’s lifecycle. “I got to go from watching it be built to demonstrator … up to first flight to it being retired. So, I got to do a lot of cool flight test things in a very short amount of time very early in my career.”

Once the V–280 demonstrator was retired, Smith began looking for other opportunities within Bell. Thanks to a business minor burning a hole in his back pocket and a close network of friends and supporters in the company, Smith felt encouraged to apply for a sales position. “I’m a firm believer in that your network is one of the most valuable tools you have. Leverage your network and find someone you know that’s doing what you want to do … pick their brain, figure out how to get a leg up and do it that way.”

After a string of interviews, Smith was hired as a sales representative with the potential to become a regional sales manager.

Smith said the company’s regional sales managers live in the territories they are responsible for, “so you can imagine that when they’re out there in their territories focusing on the customer, it’s helpful to have someone … at the office to run things down.” At Bell, Smith said, his job at headquarters serves as a steppingstone to sales management.

In addition to supporting sales managers in the field and being a crucial member of the Bell team during events like EAA AirVenture Oshkosh and Helicopter Association International’s Heli-Expo, Smith also has days where he gets to fly helicopters to demos. “I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to fly these big turbine helicopters at 150 hours of helicopter time. I’m still very green but this experience is just awesome.”

Smith may have strayed from his original engineering desires, but he is thankful to have the technical experience to complement his current role. “An engineering background is not a bad way to start not just sales, but a lot of different careers,” said Smith. “For instance, my leadership from my boss … all the way up to the CEO … are all engineers. Every single one of them.”

An alumnus of a prestigious aviation university, Smith says attending an aviation-centric college is not essential to landing a career in helicopter sales, but it “cannot hurt.”

“I’m happy with my decision to go to an aviation geared college that’s known within the industry. There’s no doubt that that name carried weight on my résumé when it was put in front of someone else’s. … Do I think you could do it [differently]? Absolutely. I don’t think that the school alone will get you there. I don’t think that being an engineer alone will get you there. Or being a slick business guy will get you there. There’s no perfect combination. It’s all about finding your niche, having the desire to get there, and having humility. One of my favorite cards to play in this business is ‘hey, I’m the new guy’ and I’ll just listen.”

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