Mike Mendoza remembers his sales and marketing career with HSA and British Aerospace…

Having qualified as an engineer in 1974, I was fortunate to join the Hawker Siddeley Kingston, Harrier and Hawk sales team as their sales engineer, age 21. I was soon promoted to senior sales engineer - but unfortunately I was still the only one. It was a celebration year: the maiden flight of the Hawk, which had been selected following an international competition, as the RAF’s new jet trainer with an order for 176 aircraft, the last of the refurbished Hunters coming off the line, and Harriers in full production for the RAF and the US Marine Corps (USMC). 

This was the end of the era when personalities (many eccentric), not process, ruled. I was fortunate to work for Bill Bedford, then Sales Manager and formerly, of course, a distinguished Hawker Chief Test Pilot.
A Lifetime In Sales And Marketing -
With A Few Successes

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One of my first tasks was to search for Bill when he was summoned to an urgent meeting by the Group Marketing Director, Alec Watson.  Bill was on a keep-fit regime and frequently could be found swimming in the Thames (not the cleanest of rivers). When Bill failed to turn up for the meeting I was told to look for him in the river just in case… I eventually found him asleep in the directors’ bath, totally relaxed and contemplating the next sales campaign.

Apart from looking after Bill, my principle roles included liaison with our design office, commercial departments, the Hawk and Harrier test pilots at Dunsfold, the RAF and USMC and writing sales brochures.  It was here that I got the bug for sales and marketing. From a humble start, loading 35mm slides and 16mm cine film in support of the Hawk and Harrier sales team, I was soon rewarded with my own region, Sales Executive Africa, although I’m sure this was just a survival test. 

It was 1976, airports and hotels were basic and those who have travelled know that you sometimes have to use your initiative just to get through foreign customs and immigration, and to retrieve baggage and passport which have found their way through a series of individuals all expecting a handling fee. I was arrested, for the first and, I hope, the last time, when taking a photograph of some passing, colourful local girls in Ghana. I soon realised that this was a ploy to help raise funds for the ‘police charity’. Not known for my generosity, my ‘get out of jail free’ card was a Hawk pen and a pair of cufflinks. ‘Give-aways’ were better quality then, although I’m not sure if it would be OECD/FCPA compliant today. 

Like many others, my luggage has earned more airmiles than I have. I was first parted from my belongings when on a 40-minute flight from Ghana to the French speaking Cote d'Ivoire. Unfortunately I was travelling in jeans and T-shirt and within two hours of arrival I was to have a meeting with the Minister of Defence. I found a dubious clothes shop and, with a mixture of schoolboy French and sign language, purchased an ill-fitting pair of trousers and badly matching shirt and tie. I’m not sure if it was my unusual dress sense that lost the Hawk contract to the Alpha Jet, or the fact that the French President, Giscard d’Estaing, had met the Minister the day before!  

The Hawk TMk1 entered service with the RAF in 1976 and was to replace the Red Arrows Gnat a few years later.  The Red Arrows was to become one of the greatest sales promoters for the aircraft and I am proud to consider both past and current team members friends.
   During the late 1970s I was involved in securing the first Hawk exports to Kenya and Finland where I experienced the Finnish passion for vodka and saunas, frequently together. I was also lucky to survive being encouraged by the Finnish Air Force to dive through a hole cut into a frozen lake in Lapland. Whilst it does little for the manhood, it is the fastest cure I know for a hangover.

We also achieved the first sale of the 60 Series Hawk to the recently independent Zimbabwe, previously Southern Rhodesia. In Zimbabwe, in 1980, I held the department record for the longest sustained period overseas; it was only four months and was soon exceeded by John Parker in Venezuela.

1982 was a tragic year. Within days of the first four Hawks arriving in Zimbabwe, saboteurs broke into the Thornhill Airbase (now Gweru) and planted timed explosives in the aircraft air intakes. One aircraft was destroyed but the remaining aircraft were able to be repaired and rebuilt. As a result of a hasty investigation seven Air Force officers were arrested and imprisoned for a year where they suffered severe ill treatment.

I knew all the accused and had a close relationship with the three senior officers whom I visited in the Gweru prison, an emotional experience Chris Roberts and I will never forget. Their trial made international headline news and when they were acquitted they left Zimbabwe with their families to start new lives in the UK and the USA.  In the same year there was an attempted coup in Kenya and the Air Force Chief, Peter Kariuki, was imprisoned as an alleged leader. I knew Peter well and had visited him only days before with the prospect of selling more Hawk aircraft.

Hawk sales had started to flourish. The sales team was constantly on the road and we had established regional focus to capitalise on experience, both good and bad.  During this period we signed the Hawk contract with Venezuela but just days from receiving the deposit there was a minor conflict in the South Atlantic – ‘The Falklands’ - and the contract was never made effective.  Two years earlier I had visited Argentina with John Parker to sell Sea Harriers to the Argentine Navy.

Despite the lean times, with strong regional focus the Kingston-Dunsfold team was successful and became the model for the early British Aerospace Central Marketing Organisation. My own region grew to include Europe and specific support to our US Navy campaign.  I was even allowed to fly the aircraft and proudly boast 11.5 flight hours.  We undertook a number of sales evaluation and demonstration tours to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Far East and the USA, some with great success. 

The US Navy, still the largest Hawk operator, selected Hawk in competition with US aircraft designs, the Franco-German Alpha Jet (or ‘half a jet’ as I named it), and the Italian MB 326.  During the evaluation we positioned our company demonstrator (G-HAWK) in the USA twice, on each occasion for 6 weeks. The first was a nation-wide tour of US Naval and Air Force stations, but for the second we based ourselves at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington DC.  My role on both tours was deputy tour manager and treasurer; in other words paying the bills and solving problems for the team of  twenty-plus. There was no AMEX in those days, just travellers cheques, unfortunately mostly in small denominations. We flew an average of five sorties a day, sometimes on seven days a week. The aircraft proved so reliable that our US Navy liaison Captain was convinced that we had a second aircraft concealed on base. A number of Middle East countries also selected Hawk, including Bahrain which took another 23 years to get to contract. 

As European Sales Manager in the mid ’80s, with Mike Turner as General Manger, the Swiss Hawk contract was achieved, an experience which covered all aspects of sales and marketing including 100% offset with 132 Swiss companies. This was also the first and only (six week) flying evaluation alongside the Alpha Jet.  We not only won the competition but also beat the French at boules! 

It was now the late 1980s, the British defence industry was being consolidated, British Aerospace had been nationalised - and then denationalised - and our product portfolio was expanding. Under the direction of Mike Turner a BAe centralised marketing organisation (the DMO, defence marketing organisation) was established for focus and efficiency in the marketplace, to create the environment and opportunity for good business and to reduce customer confusion. However, the most difficult challenge was gaining the respect of the BAe business units who had, in their view, forfeited part of their accountability. I had responsibility for Europe and later South East Asia, China and Japan. There was a range of new products and services to understand and more significantly some new acronyms, same letters but a totally different meaning to those I knew.  During this period we were fortunate to secure some further sales including vehicles, ammunition, missiles and aircraft to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

From 1996 to 1999 I was Vice President based in Malaysia when, but for the Asian economic crisis, we would probably have finalised the Avro Regional Jet Joint Venture with the Malaysian Government. From 1999 to 2001 I was Regional Managing Director living in Sydney at the time of the Olympic Games and the Millennium. Sydney can party! Australia had recently broken with their tradition of purchasing American and had procured ASRAAM, and Hawk had just entered service with the RAAF. Both postings were fascinating experiences and highlighted the idiosyncrasies and differences between visiting and living overseas. What is Malay-Bahasa for toilet paper?

On returning from Australia I was asked to take on the Hawk marketing role to help reenergise the programme and market the latest variant of the product. In 2003, the UK MoD selected the Hawk 128 as the replacement for the TMk1, probably the finest possible accolade for the product. In addition to my Hawk role I became Regional Managing Director for India and Latin America and spent most of my energy on a frigate sale to Chile which was concluded in 2005, and working with Peter Ginger on Hawk for India. After a lengthy campaign, India signed in 2004 for an initial 66 aircraft followed by another 57. I had worked for Peter in the mid 1980s and in his last overseas role for the company Peter now worked for me. I suppose the moral is, you never know who you will work for, so be careful who you provoke on the way up!

Success comes from teamwork but is dependent on champions to stimulate and lead the team effort. Marketing provides the creative opportunity for champions and leaders and the privilege to work with many special and talented people, to meet with governments and armed forces and to mix with royalty and world leaders. The key is what we make of the opportunity, the pride and passion we exhibit and the respect and recognition we earn from our colleagues along the way. Every campaign has its frustrations, long periods of apparent inactivity, setbacks and sustained pressure on personal life and family. Marketing is integral to all business sectors and must not operate as an isolated function.  But above all I commend to you the virtue of patience and a healthy sense of humour. If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined!

PS Mike is compiling a collection of humorous stories and anecdotes from our many years of experience and would be grateful if you could send him any interesting yarns of which he is sure you have many. Any amusing incidents with customers, air travel, hotels, colleagues, misunderstandings, evaluations, demonstrations etc would be appreciated.

His intention is to produce a book for all to enjoy and to reminisce over… but to avoid libel claims. Send them to Mike at mike@meminternational.com.