Alumni Spotlight: Joel Reiss ENG'92

“You can’t teach passion, you can just help make it bloom.”  Joel Reiss (Industrial and Systems Engineering)

Joel Reiss, executive vice president of TransDigm Group, Inc., has more than 20 years of manufacturing management experience in high-mix/low volume, highly engineered product environments. A cornerstone of his career is building leadership teams that give respect, earn trust, and develop talent while meeting high performance expectations. Founded in 1993, TransDigm is a publicly traded company employing 8,500 workers in 74 offices around the world.
How would you describe your job at TransDigm?

TransDigm is a leading global designer, producer, and supplier of highly engineered aircraft components, systems, and subsystems for use on nearly all commercial and military aircraft in service today. I oversee four operating units: Adams Rite Aerospace, Hartwell Corporation, Airborne Systems North American and Airborne Systems Europe.

What are some of the differences in the manufacturing areas you oversee?

Our engineered components are custom designed for a particular function. The array of products that I oversee includes aircraft exterior latches, faucets, cockpit doors, guided parachute systems for troops and equipment, as well as parachutes for space capsules.

What do you like about working at TransDigm?
I work with a great group of people who are producing high quality engineered products. We deal with a wide variety of aerospace customers, there are always interesting challenges which means no two days are the same and it’s never boring.

Why did you decide to attend Rutgers?

I grew up in Willingboro and both my parents attended Rutgers along with my uncles, aunts, cousins—I’d say at least 20 in my family graduated from Rutgers. I may have thought about going to another school, but I knew Rutgers had a great engineering program and my family all had great experiences at Rutgers so in the end I knew I’d end up at Rutgers.

Why did you study industrial engineering?

I came in wanting to study electrical engineering, but on the second day of classes I realized it wasn’t the field for me. I’m more people oriented and when I saw the IE presentation during the introduction to engineering course I knew that was for me.

What are some of your Rutgers memories?

I really enjoyed my graduating class, everybody was really collaborative. We figured things out together and gelled really well.  Dr. Luxhoj was a great teacher. I was president of the IIE student chapter for two years and he was the faculty advisor so I go to spend a lot of time with him. He was an engaging professor, he made the topic interesting and you wanted to do well for him.

Do you remember your senior design project?

My senior year project was tied to an internship I had at a CVS distribution center.  They had an extremely inefficient system for storing product in their pallet area. We worked on a more optimized way to organize their pallets and then developed an optimized solution to achieve this new approach with the fewest number of physical moves.  The project was implemented by the company and I ended up working there as their Industrial Engineer part time during the school year after my boss left.

How would you describe your leadership style?
Give trust and earn respect is the hallmark of great leadership. I prefer to ask questions rather than give people solutions. I also think it’s important that the leader creates a collective sense of purpose for the team – this way each individual understands why we are working on a project and what we are trying to do.  In my experience, everyone wants to succeed and be on a winning team and so it’s important that your help create an environment where everyone knows that only by working as a team is that going to happen.

How do you do that?

The common sense golden rule always made sense to me. The longer you work and gain maturity, you have a better understanding of how to work with people in a way that builds relationships and commitment. I like to spend time on the shop floor and find out about the tremendous knowledge people bring to their position.  My job is to be a servant leader.  I have great respect for the level of skill and patience that our employees bring to their job. I want to learn what our employees do, so I ask lots of questions.

What qualities do you look for when hiring?

I look for positive, high energy people with a passion and talent for what they’ve done. You can’t teach passion, you can just help make it bloom. Mentoring is important and critical.

Is there a question you ask to help you find out if a candidate is right for your team?

I usually ask someone to tell me about a project they worked on that they are proud of and to tell me why. I want to hear if they bring passion to their work and how they talk about the teamwork, not just that they were the savior of everything.  I also look for concise answers, if you can’t describe a project in a simple and clear way in three to five minutes then chances are you won’t be able to help your team through complicated problems.

What is one of your most memorable projects?

After 9/11, our company Adams Rite Aerospace was selected to develop and manufacture the systems to lock the cockpit door on all Airbus aircraft. Our challenge was to first keep the door secure – that is to withstand a terrorist breech.  At the same time, we needed to be able to open the cockpit door in less than 5 milliseconds in the event of a rapid decompression event in the flight deck.  Our solution to the combined challenge of strength and speed was what enabled us to win the program over about 100 competitors.  We had only four months to develop and qualify the products for each type of Airbus aircraft.  Each system was made up of more than 5 unique products made up of approximately 500 components. We had only 18 months to build and ship the systems to retrofit every Airbus aircraft in the world   We also produced a similar system for every Boeing wide body aircraft.  Every member of our team understood just how important this program was not just for our company but for every person that flies.   We had an extra incentive, our European sales manager’s daughter was a United Airlines flight attendant who was supposed to be on one of the hijacked aircraft but called in sick that day.

This was a once in a life time project to be part of. What we accomplished as a company was unbelievable in terms of the challenges we had to overcome and the importance and urgency of our mission. It’s something I am proud to have been part of.

Now that you are involved in manufacturing for the airline industry what are your thoughts on airline safety?
To be honest, in a previous job I probably flew 150 times every year and never thought too much about it. Now that I’m in this industry, I’ve become aware of the level of development and testing required and how hard the aircraft manufacturers work to make sure there are enough redundancies on an airplane so that multiple things have to go wrong before a catastrophic event occurs. Everyone working in this industry understands how critical this is to the safety of an airplane.

Is your company recruiting Rutgers students?

I’m in California so we tend to recruit more locally, but TransDigm has four businesses in New Jersey and I will always encourage them to consider Rutgers students for internships and jobs.

How do you like living in California?
I was relocated to California in 1998 and I have to say, at this point it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.

What do you do in your spare time?
My wife, Lilya (an RU psychology major), and I have three children (two sons, 14 and 12, and a daughter, 10) who all play club soccer so we spend a lot of time at their games. I also enjoy home renovation projects (I’m expanding a room in my house right now) and I play the piano. As a manager you do less with your hands so I like to balance that doing something physical in my spare time.

What kind of music do you play?

My kids like me to play current top 40 pop music more than classical, so that’s what I tend to play most. But my daughter always says, “Daddy, please don’t sing.”