Chairman/CEO, AAR Corp.
Strapped to a parasail high above the Red Sea, David Storch and his 10-year-old son looked out over Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, admiring the beautiful landscape. This was just one of the many trips he’s enjoyed in his lifetime, having traveled all over the world (for fun and business) to places including Dubai, Singapore and Russia. His three children – Julie, Samantha and Michael – are now grown, with four grandchildren between them, but the aviation CEO is still marveling at a spectacular view.
David Storch married Leslie Eichner on September 23, 1978. His father-in-law, Ira Eichner, who founded AAR Corp., invited him to join his company shortly after. With sales under $100 million and earnings under $2 million, AAR saw Mr. Storch work his way up to CEO in 1996. Today, he’s at the helm of a global business that provides a diverse range of products and services to commercial airline and government sectors.
During Mr. Storch’s tenure, AAR has become one of the world’s largest aviation aftermarket support companies, overcoming catastrophes like 9/11 and thriving in the defense business where orders are at risk of being cut down by government budget cuts and resolved conflicts. From dealing with oil prices increasing in the ‘80s to overcoming the loss of clients (airlines going bankrupt) in the ‘90s to general economic turmoil in the ‘00s, the CEO says he’s “seen a lot of macroeconomic changes or events that caused changes in the business, and we’ve been able to respond, adapt and adjust to come out a bigger, stronger, more capable company.”
On one of the more recent tragedies, the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Mr. Storch says, “It’s a very sad situation for the industry. AAR has deep relationships with Malaysia Airlines; we’ve leased them airplanes and done supply chain work for them in the past. They’re very honorable, hardworking, good people, and I know they’re very sad over what transpired. Your first instinct is to feel for the individuals and their families. Then you try to figure out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The aviation community is proud of its safety records. Any time you lose even one person, it’s a tragedy.”
The publicly traded company recently reported first quarter fiscal year 2014 consolidated sales of $514.5 million and a net income of $17.9 million; it’s no surprise, then, that AAR was named one of the “100 Most Trustworthy Companies” in America by Forbes magazine. Servicing all major U.S. airlines, “there’s a lot of trust that goes into their decision-making process [to buy from us],” admits Mr. Storch, “and that trust is earned over time as a result of our performance. So this recognition is really a reflection of the efforts of 7,000 employees.”
As an accomplished businessman, Mr. Storch feels compelled to help others in their journey toward success. To that end, he personally invested $500,000 in an entrepreneurial program called A.R.I.S.E. 2.0.
“Reverend James and Jamell Meeks invited me to speak at an entrepreneurial event they hold every year [at Salem Baptist Church],” explains the CEO. “Before I spoke, I had a chance to walk around the church floor where entrepreneurs displayed their goods and discussed their services. When I completed my speech, I told Reverend Meeks and his wife I wanted to personally finance some of the folks.”
Mr. Storch continues, “At the end of the day, every good vision needs some capital to bring that vision to reality. My goal is to see more jobs created in the community. If more jobs are created, we get a little more economic vitality and can really zero in on things like education. I got excited and inspired listening to the stories of these entrepreneurs.”
And the inspiration doesn’t stop there. With all of AAR’s success, Mr. Storch encourages employees to give back to the community…specifically to an inspiring group of young men and women. A recent email was sent to all Chicago-area AAR employees, asking them to consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign started by the students of Perspectives Charter Schools.
Students among the five area charter schools were raising money for a film to document their peace march, organized to empower young people from a city where kids face violence on a daily basis. “They’re doing the right thing,” says Mr. Storch, who also helped to raise $600,000 at the school’s annual gala. “These kids are extremely inspiring. If listening to some of their presentations at the dinner didn’t move you, you really need to check yourself out. It’s very inspiring to see what some of these kids have done with their lives.”
Others who inspire Mr. Storch include the late John F. Kennedy and the employees at AAR. On the former president, “I was very impressed by his vitality, youthfulness and goal setting. In 1961, he set a goal that we would put a man on the moon before the decade was out…and that actually transpired. In the same way, I have this pipe dream of flying people to Australia in two hours. Kennedy, as the leader of our country, set this objective and then put in place the infrastructure to make it happen. He represented a new frontier.”
On the people of AAR, Mr. Storch takes a moment to reflect. He then responds, “I’m inspired every day. I hear the most phenomenal stories and ideas. As a leader, it’s critical that I’m willing to listen and learn. You can’t teach unless you’re willing to learn, and I’m learning from people everywhere, every day.”
Matt Ferguson Photographs