Enstrom Helicopter Corporation President retires after storied career
Enstrom President Matt Francour is set to say goodbye this month to the company he dedicated nearly four decades of his life to. Matt announced his retirement from Enstrom earlier this year after having helped Enstrom successfully navigate through an often uncertain and tumultuous era.
Matt said what he’ll miss the most from his time with Enstrom are the daily interactions with his co-workers. He also expressed his gratitude for the customers he says have continued to support Enstrom through his tenure.
“I have so much appreciation for them,” he said. “They’ve shown extraordinary loyalty. Once an Enstrom owner, always an Enstrom owner.”
Matt’s History with Enstrom
Matt began his career with Enstrom in 1978 as a drafter in the engineering department. He’d work there for several years, contributing to numerous designs, including the 280 series, before briefly leaving the company for another job opportunity. Matt chose to return to Enstrom about 5 years later. From there, Matt went on to help design 480 series turbine helicopters that have become the mainstay of Enstrom today. For years he served in critical roles in Engineering and on Enstrom’s Change Board. With a deep knowledge of how Enstrom’s helicopters were built, Matt eventually moved on to run Enstrom’s Planning Department. He was later elevated to Director of Manufacturing, where he oversaw all of Enstrom’s production, planning and purchasing.
In 2018, then-Enstrom owners, China-based Chongqing General Aviation Group (CGAG), requested Matt take over as president. Matt was initially reluctant, but his determination to help steer Enstrom to a brighter future and the unwavering support of the rest of the Enstrom employees won over.
That mission proved difficult at first. CGAG resisted making the investments necessary to help the company to grow. The chaos of a global pandemic only worsened the situation, shutting down production lines and limiting what work could be done. “We spent those first three years just trying to survive as a company for as long as we could,” Matt said. “Navigating through that difficult time proved to be both my biggest challenge and biggest success as president.”
Despite the lack of investment, Matt helped Enstrom land a multi-aircraft agreement with both the Royal Thai Army and the Botswana Police-Air Support Branch. He also ensured Enstrom fulfilled its commitments to deliver helicopters to both the Pakistan Army and the Peruvian Air Force.
New Ownership, Renewed Vision
Despite those successes, and a thriving customer base, the company had accumulated too much debt prior to Matt’s leadership, and CGAG eventually chose to file for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, which required liquidating many of Enstrom’s assets. To save Enstrom from permanently shutting its factory doors, Matt knew he’d have to find a buyer willing to accept Enstrom in its current state and willing to rebuild the liquidated production line almost from scratch.
Working with a team that included Enstrom’s senior managers, its legal counsel, and longtime dealers, Matt found that buyer in Fort Wayne businessman Chuck Surack, a helicopter enthusiast, Enstrom flyer, and founder of music retailer Sweetwater Sound. “Chuck’s given us more support financially than probably anybody in my nearly 40 years of working here,” Matt said.
Coming out of bankruptcy, Enstrom couldn’t jump straight back into designing and manufacturing helicopters. It would first have to win back its workforce, as many former employees had already accepted jobs elsewhere. Matt had hoped for 60% of employees to return. Instead, he saw 92% return and plenty of new talent join the team.
“The loyalty of these people and their desire to build this particular product, it’s unique to the area,” Matt said. “We’re rewarding that loyalty. We have investment again. Our workers are excited about seeing the new, big equipment coming in. It’s a whole different world right now.”
With Chuck’s financial backing and a motivated workforce, Matt’s could finally realize his vision for reinvigorating the production lines. In a little less than a year since Chuck’s acquisition, Matt helped secure Enstrom’s FAA Production Certificate, which workers quickly put to good use, producing new parts for fleet support. As more production capabilities came online, Enstrom production crews were also able to complete an entirely new, turbine-powered 2023 model 480B helicopter, equipped with an all-glass instrument panel. Matt expects Enstrom to resume full production capabilities within the next few months.
Matt’s most recent accomplishment was showcasing the new and improved Enstrom at HAI HELI-EXPO 2023. The booth was an unmistakable success. Enstrom debuted the new 480B helicopter, flown in by HAI’s own president, Jim Viola. Matt said, “The excitement of everyone who visited the booth was very heartfelt. I’ve been at quite a few shows. This one surpassed them all.”
Having guided Enstrom out of bankruptcy and back to its rightful place as an innovative industry leader, Matt believes he can step away from the company and fully expect it to thrive. “When Chuck took over, it was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “But, in all reality, I’m 65, and it’s time for the younger people to take over.”
Looking to the Future
In February, Enstrom named company veteran Todd Tetzlaff as Incoming President. Like Matt, Todd began his career at Enstrom, only to move on to another aerospace manufacturer. Matt had kept in touch with Todd ever since Todd’s departure from Enstrom in the late 2000s and considers Todd a good friend. Looking to the future, Matt said he believes the company is in very capable hands.
Matt said, “He’s an extremely smart guy. He knows the aircraft industry. He’s got the demeanor and level-headedness needed to move this company forward. Plus, he’s got great support from Chuck, the senior management team, and the employees..”
Todd said of Matt, “He has mentored me ever since I first arrived at Enstrom. His guidance has been invaluable as I prepare to take the lead, and I am forever grateful.”
Matt has agreed to stay on part time to help with the transition to new leadership and to continue to lend his considerable expertise and knowledge when needed.
“There are a whole lot of drawings with Matt’s initials on them. He’s shaped so much of our helicopters and this factory,” commented Todd. “We will feel his legacy here for generations.”
Matt and his wife have two grown, married daughters, each with two children of their own. Matt said he looks forward to spending more time with them in his retirement. He also hopes to finally have more time to pursue fishing and hunting.
About Enstrom HelicopterFrom Rudy Enstrom’s early designs in 1943 to initial testing in a Michigan Quarry in 1957 to aircraft operating on six continents, Enstrom Helicopter Corporation has maintained a reputation for safety, value and performance. Based in Menominee, Michigan and proudly made in the United States, Enstrom has a rich history for design innovation. The goal is to provide helicopters to the customer’s exact specification and deliver support and maintenance worldwide.