Crew Training International
As a little boy in Scotland, Alan Mullen was always “mesmerized” by steam engines. But they terrified him, too, and he vowed that one day he’d conquer his fears and drive a vehicle powered by steam. With the demise of those huge, belching machines, however, his interest took another turn. “A pilot took me flying when I was 12 years old,” says Mullen, who by then was living in New York. “The plane became my new steam engine. I saved up all my money from a paper route, and at 16 I got a student’s license and took flying lessons.”
That move propelled Mullen into the skies, as a Navy fighter pilot for 10 years, then a FedEx pilot for 28 years.
For the past two decades he’s headed Crew Training International (CTI), which provides Crew Resource Management (team training) to all units of the Combat Air Forces and Air Force Reserve Command and most units of the Air National Guard.
Mullen founded the firm in 1992 with colleague Steve Harden. Both had been instructors for TOPGUN, the elite navy flying school for advanced fighter pilots — and subject of the 1986 movie starring Tom Cruise. “It had some great flying scenes,” smiles Mullen, “but it glorified the ego-driven nature. In reality we go to great lengths to take the ego out of it.”
His partnership with Harden started with “a unique coupling of two skills — both of us being fighter pilots and having experience in Crew Resource Management, which includes leadership training, communication, and interpersonal relationships on how you fly an airplane.” To succeed initially in business, Mullen believes in breaking away from the pack and exploring opportunities. That philosophy helped CTI land a contract with the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves by offering a “human factors course for tactical pilots,” he says. “The ‘pack’ hadn’t gone there yet — they had no courseware for fighter pilots — so that’s where we went.”
Since then, based on Mullen’s “conservative estimate,” CTI has presented 75,000 events to 50,000 students. Last year alone, he adds, the company conducted 16,300 events that included classroom presentations and simulator and live-training flights.
Mullen attributes CTI’s success in part to “the company store” philosophy. “If a customer wants something a little different and there’s no real price impact for us, why not just do it, as you would for neighbors in a community if you were in mercantile?” he says. “We’ve done that with the Department of Defense, the Air Force, and that has fueled our growth and increased our revenue 20 times over.”
As CTI’s co-founder, Mullen says, “I feel a responsibility to manage the company carefully because a lot of people are putting food on the table based on what we do. When you don’t avail yourself of an opportunity to grow, you put your company at risk and those people at risk.” He also believes in meeting every new hire “and explaining that they should be treated with respect and dignity, every day.”
Mullen — who is married to his high-school sweetheart and has two grown sons — serves on the Orpheum Theatre board and is proud of CTI’s title sponsorship of the Pink Palace’s IMAX theater. And he took a new title with CTI (as we went to press) — Chairman and Chief Visionary Officer. “Jack Holt, former executive vice president of operations, is now [CEO],” says Mullen. “We want to expand our market and product offerings and diversify a little. I’m free now to pursue that.”
Name: Alan Mullen
Company: Crew Training International
Address: 9198 Crestwyn Hills Drive
Services provided: Crew Resource Management for units of the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard
How Long With Company: Since the beginning
Number of employees: 270, including 35-40 in Memphis
What makes a good CEO: “Surround yourself with a good team of executives who know how to play their role, and empower them with resources to do the job, without micromanaging them in any way.”