Minor Rodríguez has an MBA from the Technological Institute of Costa Rica (ITCR) and has 20 years experience in administration and finance. He has been with Coopesa for a decade.
TBY talks to Minor Rodríguez, General Manager of Coopesa, on the founding of the company, Latam partners, and the pros and cons of the cooperative structure.
How did Coopesa get started?
We started off in 1964 as a company called SALA, owned by an American citizen. Due to financial problems and eventual bankruptcy, it eventually dissolved. The employees of SALA, who had all sorts of salary problems, went to the Legislative Assembly and helped bring about a new law for the founding of a new self-managing cooperative. The employees then became owners and associates of the newly formed company. They received various contracts with aircraft companies all around the world and became successful. The cooperative has now been around more than half a century and competes with many international companies such as Aeroman, (MRO Holdings), Lufthansa technics, and Mexicana. The cooperative has been a huge success, and we are now in the process of relocating to the southwest of the airport as part of a special government program. We have 620 employees now, and out of those, almost 400 are associates, meaning they are partial owners of the overall “capital stock,” so to speak. The other 220 are employees, not associates, but they have a unique culture. Coopesa is the only self-managing cooperative in the world dedicated to heavy aircraft maintenance. We are extremely proud of where we are today and who we are. We support more than 800 families through our operations and services.
What services do you provide at Coopesa?
We work with commercial narrow-body aircraft such as Embraer, Boeing 737 series, and the Airbus Family. We are currently preparing for a new phase, seeking to go into wide-body aircraft, mainly Boeing 767 and 787s. We expect to start on wide-bodies in the next two years. As for what we do, we take care of heavy maintenance for the airframe and engines, painting, interiors modifications wireless, and line service in the airport gates. We are also currently doing jobs for companies such as American Airlines, overnight special service for interiors. We will do the same with Copa next month as well. Besides that, we will also do cargo conversion, which is a strong business for us, especially for 737 classics. However, our core business is heavy maintenance.
Who are your biggest customers?
Our main customers are LatAm from Chile and Brazil, Avianca, Copa, BoA, American Airlines, Cayman, Volaris, and Bahamas, and some leasing companies as Automatic, Nordic Aviation Capital, GECAS, etc. We have a great customer balance because we believe all customers are important for us, and we also provide special services based on each customer’s special needs.
How do you ensure client satisfaction and provide quality services?
We listen to and always consult with our clients and listen to their needs. We have a great deal of face-to-face meetings and always look for ways to work together to improve our services. Communication is key. Also, we place great importance on turnaround time (TAT) for our customers, an extremely important factor for all airlines due to cost and time, especially with large airlines. That is our primary focus. Some clients, such as Copa, are particularly focused on TAT to the point where it is a part of their slogan, so we have to meet those needs of the client, in fact all clients.
What advantages and unique challenges does the cooperative structure provide?
Cooperative company employees have very strong rights and benefits that mean a higher cost. Besides that, the social structure of our cooperative is very flat and democratic. We have meetings with associates and employees, every two or three months, and it is always face-to-face, with groups of 50-60 people, exchanging ideas, seeking to make improvements, listening to their ideas, and more. This also enables us to more efficiently and faithfully meet and approach customer needs when we meet with our customers. All of this can be difficult; however, again, communication is key, and everyone knows what needs to be done to get the job done. Three or four years ago, we had many financial problems; however, currently the cooperative is strong, financially, strategically, and logistically, in all senses. We are in talks with associates now about the path we need to take in the coming years to grow, expand, and change the way we do certain things. For example, we have an efficiency target, which is important for all our customers, and we are making major changes in the whole MRO process. The market is defining what we need to do, to some extent. We need less time, less cost, more efficiency, and extra requirements on technology, such as new IT systems and technologies. We have to stay in tune with market changes and needs and always adapt to those. This is a rapidly changing, technologically advanced, and complex industry, and we always have to be attuned to the needs of the market and ready to meet those needs as soon as possible for our clients.
What is Coopesa’s overall place and position in the growth and innovation landscape of the aviation industry worldwide?
Currently, Coopesa is a small seven bays MRO working by itself, but we are developing an aggressive expansion and growth strategy. With the relocation and expantion plan, our growth will double. We have seven bays to attend to aircraft and after the relocation and expansion, we will have 12-14 new bays. That being said, we are already seeking a permit from the government to move to the new international airport after this current relocation, where we can expand even further and acquire property there for ourselves. That will happen in 15-20 years. Right now, we are planning the relocation of our facilities to the southwest of the airport and planning for growth in the next two to four years: that is our target for now.