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Phinney strives to develop positive work environment at Pacific Aerospace

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President of Souraiau Pacific Aerospace & Electronics Ed Phinney poses in front of their two warehouse — style buildings where they assemble parts used for such things as military weapons. The photographer was not allowed in either building.

Ed Phinney has created a work environment at Pacific Aerospace & Electronics that fosters a “culture of cooperation”  in which everybody is encouraged to contribute to the success of the organization. 

I got a first-hand look at the culture during a tour last spring while participating in the Apple STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Network tour. It was impressive.

Phinney, PAE’s chief executive officer, brings a hands-on, collaborative leadership approach to the work. He’ll be the keynote speaker for the Business World Leadership Breakfast on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 7:30 a.m., at the Pybus Public Market event annex. 

At the event, we will be honoring the 2017 class of 30 Under 35 — young leaders who are making a difference and will make important contributions to the quality of life and success of the valley in years to come.

Phinney’s leadership approach is worthy of emulation. He’s a native of Selah and his first job was working for a hard-nosed, no-nonsense Safeway manager. He went on to get an engineering degree at the University of Washington in ceramic engineering, a field that is now called materials science. 

He told me he cringes when he is introduced as the boss at PAE. He prefers to view his role as similar to being the coach of a baseball team. His job is to find talented people to play the various roles in the company.

Being the CEO “certainly always looks like the glory job,” he told me. Instead, “there are definitely times I wish I was back in engineering just so I could do something – I could actually do something with my hands. I’m a hands-on guy.”

He makes a point of going out on the floor from time to time and builds parts. “I’m probably horrible - the slowest guy out there,” Phinney admits with a laugh. But getting hands-on experience is something he encourages all of the PAE engineers to do. “You go out there and see how it works in the real world. And maybe you’ll learn something,” Phinney said. 

Leadership these days means adapting to today’s employees. A few years ago, Pacific Aerospace executives took a hard look at the various rules and eliminated many of them, preferring to treat employees as adults rather than wasting time tracking things like attendance. Particularly when working with Millenials in the workplace, creating more flexibility and opportunities for employees to utilize their skills and talents is key to creating a productive work environment. 

In our company, I ask all of my people to be involved in what’s going on and involved in solutions,” Phinney told me. The employees are the ones who know the process better than anyone else.

In hiring people, attitude is a significant factor, Phinney said. 

Here are leadership principles he espouses:

  • Each person is accepted, valued and cared for
  • Listening to employee concerns is important. Phinney has an open door policy.
  • Employees are encouraged to express thoughts without fear of retribution
  • Employees are in charge of their own lives and are able to make decisions and contribute.  

Phinney is the first to admit it’s not a perfect workplace but having walked through the workplace, the sense I get is that he walks the talk at Pacific Aerospace. These are principles that anyone can apply to create a constructive work environment.