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Former Skybus COO among speakers at OLMA Summit

Three executives, including the former president and chief operating officer of recently shuttered Skybus Airlines, provided members of the Operations and Logistics Management Association inside track information on their companies at the OLMA Summit.

Held at the Blackwell Inn on April 18, the OLMA Summit, featured Rich Valen, corporate vice president of finance for Motorola’s integrated supply chain; Chris Keylon, vice president of operations for Federal Express Freight and Ken Gile of Skybus.

Gile, a veteran airline executive who spent 25 years at Southwest Airlines, gave students a glimpse of the Skybus start-up business plan, its execution and some of the factors that led the Columbus-based carrier into the throes of bankruptcy.

“Setting up an airline is very complex,” said Gile, who led the start-up process for flight operations including securing the airline’s Federal Aviation Administration certification.

Gile expressed pride in the carrier’s launch, calling it successful. However, he blamed the current economic climate, such as problems in the credit market and soaring fuel costs for permanently grounding the fledgling airline.

He also recalled how he was aggressively recruited while at Southwest by Skybus investors, which included Columbus-area business leaders. “I was approached in the fall of 2003, I said no twice. They came back to me and the offer became very intriguing.”

Gile provided students advice on several areas of business conduct, including professional etiquette and employee management. He also offered personal lessons acquired from both successes and failures while flying in the skies and from behind the desk in the corporate suite.

All three of the executives discussed the importance of learning from all levels of colleagues. Motorola’s Valen expressed his good fortune of learning directly from Robert Galvin, who is credited with introducing Six Sigma to the corporate world. Motorola was the first company in the world to adopt the quality program.

Both Valen and Keylon emphasized the importance of supply chain. “This is the greatest strategic weapon a company has; it makes companies great,” Valen said.

Keylon, the vice president of FedEx, discussed how the ground carrier operation has helped other businesses become successful by supporting logistics and supply chain. Citing FedEx's unique strength in helping consumer product companies, Keylon said, “Inventory is the largest asset for our customers.” He explained how the transportation company helped FedEx customers in retail and consumer product industries manage product inventory, reduce costs, which maximizes cash flow.

The summit is the flagship event for the graduate student organization. In addition to the Summit and other networking activities with industry leaders, the group provides resources to students to enable them to gain a broader understanding of the current trends and issues in the field, professional development and career opportunities.