Former NASA astronaut enters b-to-b media space

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McGraw-Hill Cos. took the "voice of the customer" chant to heart when it hired former NASA astronaut Tom Henricks to be the new president of its Aerospace & Defense division.

"I've got a broad spectrum of experience throughout the customer base we serve," said Henricks, who spent more than a decade with NASA as a pilot and commander for four Space Shuttle missions. He also had several management roles with the space agency. "I've worked in the commercial, military, civil and corporate areas, and bringing that customer perspective to the group is the real strength."

Henricks, a Six Sigma Black Belt who previously led government business development for Textron's Bell Helicopter Division, succeeded McGraw-Hill publishing veteran Ken Gazzola. Gazzola will assist in the managerial transition before retiring in December.

Henricks takes the helm of one of the most successful b-to-b media portfolios. The flagship Aviation Week & Space Technology had revenue of $20.5 million last year, a 7% increase from 2004. Circulation is around 96,000, a tremendous reach for a trade title.

The portfolio also includes, among others, Business & Commercial Aviation, Defense Technology International, Overhaul & Maintenance and ShowNews. It also publishes the World Aerospace Database, which features the World Aviation Directory.

The group's Web portal,, garnered 172,000 unique monthly viewers in March, compared with 147,000 in the same period last year. The group also produces 12 conferences and exhibitions in the MRO (maintenance repair operation) and defense sectors.

In addition to flying shuttle missions, Henricks served as an F-16 test pilot and F-4 fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force.

"Bringing in someone from aerospace and defense demonstrates the [company's] desire to get closer to the customer," Henricks said. "The staff knows publishing but has more of a passion for aviation and defense." With a chuckle, he added, "We almost consider ourselves more in the aviation industry than in publishing."

Henricks is well aware of the immense challenges facing b-to-b media companies. "We need to bring more value to the value stream or work flow of the aerospace and defense industries," he said. "We want to broaden our reach into the MRO market and expand into related defense markets encompassing ground and maritime."

He added: "Print-product markets are shrinking and the information is transitioning to faster, easier access-and both transformations require change management, and vision and team work."

Asked if he intends to grow the portfolio organically or through acquisitions, Henricks said McGraw-Hill is committed to investing in the business unit, but he would not elaborate.

Henricks said there are many similarities between commanding 50,000 pounds of payload through the wild blue yonder and developing integrated b-to-b communications.

"Commanding a shuttle mission is similar to leading a business," he said. "You have to rely on a team of people-with the shuttle it's many thousands-because your future depends upon it. On the shuttle, of course, it could be life-threatening, but in business it could be career-threatening."

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