Re-inventing the need for inventory

Published: 26 Mar 2018


Over a 38-year career with aftermarket services provider Satair, vice-president of business development Steen Karsbo has witnessed the company grow into a $1.8 billion operation that is now owned by Airbus.

What ignited your interest in aviation?

I started in Satair by coincidence in 1980, after leaving a boring job as a bank trainee. Satair breathed aviation totally, and I caught the bug early on.

What have been the highlights of your career?

There are three highlights. The formation of the product management function in the 1990s has led to a business that I lead, and which today employs more than 70 people around the world. This was followed by developing a strong reporting system, allowing us to manage the business in great detail. Third, the Airbus acquisition of Satair in 2011 led to a good price per share and some very happy shareholders. We found the perfect home for our company, and the growth and opportunities created since then have been remarkable. When I joined the company in 1980, we turned over roughly $7 million a year. That today equates to less than two days of sales for Satair. I sometimes wish our founding chief executive was still around to see how his initial idea developed into this very impressive company.

Tell us about the aftermarket activities at Satair?

Satair is a $1.8 billion-turnover company with 1,300 employees, operating from 10 locations. A key part of the Services by Airbus business unit, Satair has exclusive or primary distribution arrangements for aerospace component manufacturers, and supplies parts to multi-fleet customer airlines and MRO companies. It also fulfils the material service support obligation for the in-service fleet of more than 7,000 Airbus aircraft. Satair provides logistics, inventory and battery maintenance services up to full scale outsourcing solutions such as integrated material services, where the entire material management for consumables and expendables is subcontracted.

How about your role?

As vice-president of business development, I work to attract new OEM partners and to convince existing partners to expand their relationship with us. My team is also involved in Airbus aftermarket developments. I am blessed with a very knowledgeable and experienced team. Recently, we have expanded our role to new segments including: nacelles (Safran), thrust reversers (Pratt & Whitney), actuation systems (United Technologies Aerospace Sytems) and ADS-B upgrade (Honeywell).

What are your challenges?

My biggest challenge is that things do take time from start to closure, and I have close to no patience with lengthy processes. Start to finish of a business development project can be three months for the really quick ones, and up to 18-20 months for those that require a lot of negotiation.

Satair is celebrating its 60th anniversary – what have been the highlights?

First, the decision, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, to change the company focus from surplus/excess/used parts and to concentrate on signing contracts with OEMs. Second, taking Satair public in 1997 changed our way of focusing and reporting. It also increased our professionalism overall, and this eventually made us interesting to Airbus. Finally, the Airbus acquisition: we have had tremendous access to new business opportunities and Satair is now a support cornerstone for the airframer’s global fleet.

How has the company changed since the acquisition by Airbus?

Prior to the acquisition we reported to the stock market; a week later we reported to a new governance structure, naturally anchored in Toulouse. But something important that has been pretty stable from day one has been Airbus senior management’s support for the continued autonomy of Satair, protecting the DNA of an extremely focused aftermarket organisation.

What are the next big trends in the aviation aftermarket?

The biggest trend right now is the two big airframers, Airbus and Boeing, wanting to take a larger share of the aftermarket. My expectation is that in the mid- to late-2020s we will see a completely new model in place. We shall have to see whether such a model will be disruptive.

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