Claude Draillard, CFO of Dassault Falcon Jet, is taking his organization to greater heights through collaboration and unmatched customer service.
By Alex Palmer
“What’s cooler than the best business jet?” asks Claude Draillard, chief financial officer of Dassault Falcon Jet Corp., laying out the case for why he loves his job. “It is a mix of technology, effectiveness, and luxury. We provide to our customers a working tool that gets them nearer to where they need to be than any airline can, in a highly customized environment that provides all necessary [technology], entertainment, and privacy.”
As CFO, Draillard is responsible for making sure the Company, whose impressive U.S. headquarters located in Little Ferry, NJ, overlooking the Teterboro Airport, provides its customers with transportation that is world-class in every sense — range, avionics, fuel efficiency, comfort, design — for the years or decades they own a Falcon Jet. That means combining superb resources with the organization’s strategy to provide highly sophisticated machines with tailored interiors, and cutting-edge technology that will exceed the expectations of the most demanding customers.
Or as Draillard puts it, “when a famous movie director and producer chooses a Falcon 7X to support his operations, it is because we aligned the best engineering with the best interior to provide a superior and economically viable solution to his long-range transportation needs.”
A Long-Cycle Industry
Ensuring that Dassault Falcon Jet satisfies exceptionally demanding high-level customers requires keen decision-making skills and deep understanding of the organization’s myriad components. And because business aviation is a long-cycle industry, the leadership at Dassault Falcon Jet must look far into the future, in addition to focusing on immediate concerns when considering the Company’s financial situation.
“[You have to] keep looking at the big picture and what you want it to look like in three, five, 10 years from today, while tending to every day’s affairs,” says Draillard. “You keep an eye on your order bookwhile wondering how come the catering for a demo flight in China is so expensive.”
It takes about 30 to 36 months to manufacture a jet, depending on the level of customization the customer requests, but the lifespan of a Dassault aircraft is 30 years or more. Over that time, it may have three or four owners, and each of those owners will have specific expectations and unique service requirements. In addition, buyers carefully consider resale value. Result: No design decision can be made without taking a long view of its impact on current customers, prospective future owners, and the place, itself.
Dassault workers take great pride in the fact that the business jets are designed by the same engineering team that designs Dassault fighter jets. Moreover, at every level of the Company, Draillard says, “there is a mindset that what we do [in the] short term influences what we do long term.”
On a recent morning, he went to Daussault Falcon Jet’s Delaware service center and spoke with the supervisor on the shop floor. The CFO asked, “What is the most important thing you do?” The supervisor, overseeing the servicing of the Company’s jets answered: “We help you sell this aircraft.”
Draillard emphasizes that workforce collaboration is vital. He learned this early on when he joined Dassault Falcon Jet’s parent company, St. Cloud, France-based Dassault Aviation, in 1994 as part of the Company’s Methods and Projects division (he had spent a few years in an accounting firm, of which he says “I loved my job, I loved my clients, but I didn’t like the [accounting] firm at all”).
In this first job at Dassault, Draillard was the go-between for the IT and finance sides of the Company. “I was really trying to make IT people understand what the requirements are from accounting,” says Draillard.
He climbed the ladder of Dassault Aviation’s finance department before moving across the Atlantic to Dassault Falcon Jet in October 2005 as manager, then director, of financial reporting. In February 2009 he stepped up to vice president of finance and CFO. Dassault Aviation (the parent company) is owned 51 percent by the Dassault family, 46 percent by Airbus Group; the remaining 3 percent is listed on the Paris Stock Exchange. In 2013, the total sales for the Dassault Aviation Group was €4.6 billion, of which 70 percent was Falcon.
In two decades, technology has changed greatly, but “the way you interact with IT hasn’t changed that much,” says Draillard. Now, as when he first began, success comes when someone within the finance department takes ownership of the lines of communication between finance and IT. “If you’ve got that person on your team, that’s great leverage to make the finance [arm of the Company] more up-to-date, competitive, and eager to serve the rest of the organization, and its customers,” says Draillard.
Today, he points out, the emphasis has shifted away from getting internal users to adopt the latest technology and toward ensuring they are using that technology as efficiently as possible — taking away repetitive tasks and making sure the data being produced is of the highest quality.
“The improvement in the finance team’s performance over the last 10 years was greatly related to steps taken in IT,” says Draillard, pointing specifically at the Company’s electronic data interchange (EDI), allowing greater integration between functions.
Internal and External
While much of Draillard’s work involves helping to create a lean and financially effective company, he also must consider points such as pricing strategy, customer financing options, and purchasing terms — all filtered through the lens of the Company’s position as a luxury brand.
“You’re talking to a customer who is paying anywhere between $26 and $52 million for an aircraft,” he says. “So it might be an individual who makes the decision himself, or it might be a head of purchasing at a company with a very structured acquisition process where you will seldom deal with the CEO.”
The type of purchaser has not radically changed in Draillard’s years at Dassault. But buyers’ geographical demographics have, as Asia has become a bigger customer for the Company’s aircraft. Another change: While decades ago, the typical buyer was often a pilot himself and wanted to spend his time in the cockpit, these sorts of customers are getting older, with many hanging up their pilot’s caps. The younger generation is less likely to be as interested in doing any flying themselves.
“Their requests are different — they want to know if they have Wi-Fi onboard, if they can use their iPad to control the temperature,” says Draillard. “There has been a significant shift from ‘this is the fun of flying’ to ‘this is my second home or place of business and I want all the conveniences.’ Like you or I would, they want to entertain themselves and also work, just like they do at home.”