L.D. Buerger

Gulfstream Aerospace’s vice president of completions and deliveries talks about his military background, the G650 launch, working with customers, and more.

As vice president of completions and deliveries at Gulfstream Aerospace, L.D. Buerger oversees a team of 3,000. He is responsible for making sure that no aircraft heads to a new owner unless every aspect of it has been crafted and polished to perfection.

Buerger, who joined Gulfstream in 2007, previously served on the start-up team for the groundbreaking G650 and was responsible for approximately the first 72 aircraft that entered service. Earlier, he spent about nine years in the U.S. Air Force. He is widely respected by his colleagues for his leadership skills, expertise, work ethic, and positive energy—all of which became evident within a few minutes after we began our interview at Gulfstream in Savannah, Georgia.

How did growing up in a military family shape you?
I maybe would have been more of an introvert had I not moved around and had to make new friends, make relationships quickly, assess situations quickly. I didn’t think it was different [from other kids’ experiences] until I got older and realized I’d never lived in a place more than two or three years.

You then served in the air force, like your dad.
I went to the University of Virginia on a military scholarship and went on to be an aircraft maintenance officer. I always loved aircraft. I got to go to a lot of countries as a young officer. I was loving every minute of the air force, but there was a vice president from Gulfstream in my master’s program. He kept tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “You’ve got to come to Gulfstream. We’ve had a ton of growth, and there are a lot of great opportunities.”
I had an engineering degree and a decent amount of aircraft maintenance experience. I said, “No, no, no—I love the air force.” But then I started thinking about how if I stay in the military, I’m going to be maintaining 40-year-old aircraft for the rest of my career.

How did the military influence your leadership style?
You experience leadership at a very young age. At 22 years old, they hand you an organization of 150 to 200 people, and you are in charge, and you’re not sure exactly what that means. You quickly learn that everything is about the people. The machines and products are great, but leading the people and handling all the adversity that comes with their family issues and everything else—it changes you. In the military it’s really about service before self. It’s a melting pot of the whole country; all these people from different cultures and environments are brought together with a common goal. You learn that all of those differences are great.

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What was it like being at the beginning of a program like the G650?
It was amazing. The aircraft was so new, so different—there was nothing else like it. It just knocked it out of the park in terms of speed. For me, there was a slight onset of panic in that the aircraft was so popular and there were so many orders for it that I was thinking, “How are we going to be able to build them fast enough?” There was immense excitement and we were working our tails off. It was incredibly long hours, but we took so much pride in it. I think back to that period of my life and I’m glad my kids were really young, because they didn’t get to see me a whole lot!

What is the completions process for an individual who purchases a new Gulfstream aircraft?
A customer will typically work with our customer delivery executives and our design team before the aircraft gets to my team for outfitting. We do a tremendous amount of research on our customers in terms of what they like, what their interests are, if they’ve had a plane before. Is it a corporate aircraft or is it a family’s aircraft for personal use? Based on that utilization, we can make suggestions about how to best customize and personalize.

It seems that process could be overwhelming, especially for a first-time owner.
The team walks owners through the process meticulously and in phases. The best advice I can give is to really get to know your Gulfstream designers and give them a chance to get to know you, because the better they know you the better they can offer you what you want. We’ve seen so many different things and had so many unique requests from customers that we have a lot of experience to pull from.
Some people look into resale value as well. If a customer makes it unique and puts things in that other buyers would never want, it could affect your resale price. And it’s very different if you get a flight department as a customer. They look at what’s going to be the easiest for them to maintain over the long haul based on what they’ve seen before.

How do you respond to a major mistake or internal problem?
I think what matters is empowering others to handle those decisions and reactions, and creating a culture [where proactive] behavior happens way up in front of a crisis ever happening. If you have a healthy organization, the problem has most likely already been addressed, and there are solutions in the works while they are briefing me on what’s happened. This allows me to then weigh in and course correct if need be, but it creates an environment where people don’t feel they have to stop and run to the boss. Because otherwise you will get nothing done.
I think something we do very well at Gulfstream is empowering leaders—especially the directors and senior managers—to make decisions and handle conflict. One of the things that is unique to this industry is that perfection is the standard. If you have a bump or bruise or you mess up carpet or something, it’s kind of easy [to know what to do], because you’ve got to be perfect. Therefore, you replace it, you fix it, and you don’t compromise.
If you’ve been doing this long enough, you know you’re going to have things that go bump in the night—like somebody drives a vehicle into a flap on an aircraft or something. We have very good processes in place to methodically go in and say, “OK, why did this happen? Is it just a one-off, or do we have a hole in our process?” And we have pretty well-tempered folks who can deal with it.

What do you look for when you hire?
I take a very active interest in hiring at the senior manager level and above, because I think those leaders are what sets your culture and establishes how your people are going to be taken care of. I look for tenacity and for someone who is constantly thinking, “OK what’s next? How can I prevent something from happening?” That and integrity. In this line of work, integrity is everything. Because with all these aircraft, we all treat it like it’s our own family getting on it for its next flight.

What values are important to you to pass down to your children?
Not to be gushy, but I married my high school sweetheart, and I want to pass on unconditional love, in terms of just being full of it in a family and knowing that you love each other above all else. I want that for my kids so that they also have healthy marriages and healthy families—knowing that they are loved, and never for a second doubting it. My kids have seen my work ethic for many years. I am truly the American story. I got a scholarship to college and have had incredible opportunities. I hope my kids push themselves to do great things. But most of all, I hope they are kind.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

FAST FACTS

Name: Lawrence D. “L.D.” Buerger  

Born: Jan. 29, 1976, in Milton, Florida

Position: vice president, completions and deliveries, Gulfstream Aerospace (2019–).

Previous Gulfstream positions: vice president, flight test (2015–2019), director of manufacturing, new product development (2013–2015), director, G650 initial phase manufacturing (2011–2013), senior manager of manufacturing technologies (2008–2011)

Military: U.S. Air Force, 1998–2007

Education: M.B.A., Auburn [Alabama] University. B.S., civil engineering, University of Virginia.

Personal: Married to his high school sweetheart. The couple have a 16-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son.

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