Aviation company expands to new heights

A. Lee Graham lgraham@bizpress.net

InterConnect Wiring LLP started in a spare bedroom, but success quickly overshadowed such modest environs. In fact, the Fort Worth firm took flight when General Dynamics Corp. sent work to Mexico. About 200 Fort Worth employees found themselves out of work in 1992 and 1993 and John Ashour saw an opportunity.

“I thought I could start my own company, and these were 200 experienced colleagues ready to be hired,” said Ashour, who was then working as a General Dynamics design engineer for the F-16 fighter. So the longtime engineer hired several of those displaced colleagues for InterConnect, which he started in 1993 to repair harnesses and panel assemblies, provide engineering design and complete aircraft wire removal and replacement.

Rounding out Ashour’s leadership team were Clare McGarrey, his sister and vice president of sales and marketing; Chris Bettinger, vice president of finance and comptroller; and Marc Piloian, vice president of engineering and information technology. Twenty years later, the team remains intact. And what started with four ambitious individuals now totals 160 employees. They work in three buildings along West Vickery Boulevard. The firm owns two of the structures and rents the third for wire storage. It also has more than 80,000 square feet of aircraft hangar space at Fort Worth Meacham Airport that is used for rewiring fixed or rotor wing aircraft, as well as making other aircraft modifications. As the original equipment manufacturer for many F-16 electrical products, the company keeps busy. And Ashour makes sure it stays on course.

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“I’m more of a technical person and have a certain focus,” said Ashour. He says his sister’s more sociable, outgoing personality complements his more studied demeanor. “She helps get the sale, and I go in and convince them [clients] we can do what we say we can do,” Ashour said. McGarrey agrees. “I’m a real people person. He is, too, but I’m louder,” she said with a laugh. “He’s more the incredible entrepreneur. He thinks of something and, by god, he makes it work. If we need to buy this equipment and it’s too expensive, he finds a way to do it.” Similar determination helped build the company as family, friends and some of Ashour’s retirement resources helped fund the fledgling firm.

“It’s hard to start a company from scratch, especially when you don’t have financing,” said Ashour, who was more accustomed to designing wiring harnesses for F-16s than cobbling together startup money. But Ashour and McGarrey made it work, a feat that might have seemed unthinkable when the siblings grew up attending St. Andrew’s Catholic School and Nolan Catholic High School. “Growing up, we didn’t get along,” says McGarrey, laughing again. “But things have changed. He’s now godfather to my only son.” Caring for Dominic, 6, fuels McGarrey’s will to succeed. As a student with special needs he attends Jane Justin School at the Child Study Center and inspires his mother to make the most of every opportunity. Amassing a steady clientele would be challenging in any environment, but with Fort Worth’s aviation heritage, competition is especially tough. So what distinguishes InterConnect from the competition?

“When companies are far behind on wiring harness projects for aircraft and need a company to bail them out, they come to see us because we’re good at ramping up quickly and taking large projects and getting them back on schedule,” Ashour said. For example, the company recently reworked or modified items to Lockheed Martin’s specifications within 24 hours of receiving a purchase order. In fact, InterConnect serves as the company’s official F-16 modification and repair center. InterConnect also serves Boeing Co., Bell Helicopter Inc. and BAE, among other aeronautics firms. Finding new clients is InterConnect’s greatest challenge, Ashour said. “There aren’t a whole bunch of them, and most potential customers are doing work in-house or already have established suppliers,” Ashour said.

InterConnect has occupied its current office and assembly complex since 1998, when it relocated from its original location near the Benbrook traffic circle. Assembly workers constitute the lion’s share of employees, whose cramped quarters may change once again. “We’d need a larger facility,” said Ashour. Asked whether the company plans to expand soon, he said, “I sure hope so.” McGarrey shares those ambitions. “We’re ramping up the sales and marketing department,” said McGarrey after a strategic planning meeting. “This is our best year ever.”

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