December 28, 2007

Coming To The Rescue

Robert L.G. White ’64 heads industry leader for helicopter rescue equipment

As president and CEO of Breeze-Eastern Corp. in Union, N.J., Robert L.G. White ’64 is instrumental in ensuring that the hoists, hooks, and lifting devices used in helicopters for rescues are strong and perfect. In emergency situations, less than perfect can be deadly.

White studied metallurgical engineering at Lafayette, but after working at a steel company just out of college, he knew he wanted to get out of traditional engineering and into management.

Leading a company that manufactures and sells various industrial cranes and lifts, White says the pillars of his business “are for the products to be available on time, made for the right price, and made with the right quality. And it’s an extraordinarily high threshold for the quality of our products. These are high-visibility products.”

They also are complex and dangerous, particularly those used for water rescues. Helicopters must be outfitted carefully to support the equipment, which, White says, are the only components that do not have a backup system. The price of failure is the main reason that the industry is small, with just one other major manufacturer. Breeze-Eastern holds more than half of the world market.

“It’s a highly risky business,” White says. “The process of getting started is far more complicated than it seems.”

For example, providing the equipment includes giving operators intensive training to keep rescuers safe in 50-foot seas of 30-degree water.

Breeze-Eastern also serves militaries with lifting devices that help transport and equipment that loads missiles and other weapons onto aircraft. But this equipment primarily is sold in the U.S. due to strict federal guidelines on dealing with foreign militaries. Nothing that could be classified as dangerous to the country can be sold internationally.

However, rescue lifts are sold and serviced in about 40 countries.

“Pretty much in any country where there are helicopters, there are our products,” White says. “And our safety has been absolutely phenomenal.”

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