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Business Council of Alabama member Pinnacle Solutions Inc. President and CEO Mike Durant leads a successful company with the six rules he learned in his former life that included a heroic event that occurred 24 years ago in early October.
But as Paul Harvey used to say, that’s the rest of the story. And it truly is an amazing one.
First, about Durant and Pinnacle Solutions, a service-disabled, veteran-owned engineering and services company with a staff of 255 employees and 70 full-time subcontractors located in Huntsville that wasn’t even in existence until 2008.
“We pretty much provide service from cradle to grave in the aerospace industry; developing and supporting flight operations, maintenance, engineering, airfield management, air traffic control, training, and writing manuals to operate as well as maintain the systems,” Durant said in a recent interview. “It’s a very broad, all-encompassing set of capabilities.”
Pinnacle Solutions services include upgrading rotary-wing aircraft, selling them, providing support, tools, field service, training for flight crews and maintenance personnel, manuals, analysis reporting, computer-based and simulator flight and maintenance training, aircraft operations, program management, and financial and resource planning and control.
Pinnacle Solutions operates in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres, much as Durant did when he was a U.S. Army special forces helicopter warrior.
Durant draws on his 22 years of military experience as commanding officer of Pinnacle Solutions. He oversees all aspects of the company, including developing its missions and purpose, ensuring adequate resources and effective management, providing fiscal accountability and budget approval, and establishing strategic plans, goals, and objectives.
After Durant retired from the Army in 2001, he found that Huntsville and all its aviation connections would be a good place for him and his family to settle. He spent seven years working for government and private industry and with a co-owner started Pinnacle Solutions.
The business is guided by six principles: people, leadership, resources, tactics, training, and planning.
Durant ascribes his company’s success to his people, which are about 65 percent former military, who understand and exhibit leadership skills, a chain of command, unit cohesion, mission focus, and goal orientation.
“We all know the difference maker is people,” he said. “Without those great people serving in those organizations, the military could not do what it does. Nothing is more important than having great people.”
Pinnacle Solutions relies on “lessons we all learned from our experiences in the military whether we served or were associated with it, the leadership and work ethic, and try to apply those same principals in our commercial venture,” Durant said.
While a leader sets the course and make decisions, his or her level isn’t the most important in any organization. “It’s the people down below my level that have to understand the goals we’ve set and their role in achieving those goals; they are setting the example and establishing the culture, living the company values and ensuring that their teams work together to achieve those goals.”
Durant said as a leader grows into a larger business, matching adequate resources with trained people “becomes a primary responsibility.”
Business tactics and strategy in business as in the military with better preparation, never-ending analysis and implementation and, simply, how to be better, are also keys to success.
With training, it’s important to understand learning is a lifelong process, he said. “If you ever reach the point where you’re not learning and training, you won’t succeed in today’s society,” Durant said.
Leadership includes planning, looking forward to and being prepared for what comes next; not simply reacting. “With planning, you set the groundwork for ‘what-if scenarios’, it not only helps temper emotions and build confidence but helps prepare the organization for the inevitable change that likely lurks around every corner.”
One leadership decision Durant tries to focus on is to be forward looking: What is Pinnacle Solutions’ future? His answer is following the same path that many other Huntsville-based companies are taking by creating an employee-owned company.
“We just kicked off our first transaction, the partial sale of the company to an Employee Stock Owner Plan or ESOP, and we will close the end of October,” he said. “Building a successful business includes performing on today’s tasks but also planning for what the future holds. An ESOP has incredible benefits for employees, for the company and for the owner, which in this case is me. There’s no leadership change and no culture change, and everyone shares in the financial benefit of growing a successful and profitable company.”
Durant joined the Army at 18 with a goal of flying helicopters and became a highly decorated helicopter pilot who escaped death 24 years ago. He also is a New York Times best-selling author of In the Company of Heroes and The Night Stalkers.
The “heroes” were the members of Durant’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) Blackhawk helicopter “Super Six-Four” who flew into harm’s way, were shot down in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Oct. 3, 1993, and crash-landed on a mission Durant said was ill-fated at the onset.
The mission was to protect United Nations food distribution against a Somali guerrilla force in a drought-stricken country on the Horn of Africa with virtually no laws and political infrastructure.
His helicopter shot down by a rocket propelled grenade, Durant was captured and held for 11 days until his release was obtained. The crew of three – Bill Cleveland, Ray Frank, and Thomas Field – ultimately died in combat.
Durant broke a leg and badly injured his back. “The last two or three seconds of that event has been wiped from my memory, which is probably a blessing as I don’t think that you want to remember the moment where you thought you’d died,” Durant has said.
Two Army Delta Force snipers who had volunteered fended off hostiles who were arriving at the crash site but were overwhelmed and killed after they ran out of ammunition. The two, Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart, were posthumously awarded Medals of Honor.
Durant was shot while in captivity. The story is told in the highly acclaimed, Academy Award-winning movie, “Black Hawk Down.”
Durant joined the Army in 1979 and retired in 2001 as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 Blackhawk helicopter Master Aviator in the 160th SOAR. He participated in combat operations for which he was highly decorated. In 2008, the same year he started his company, he was inducted into the Army Aviation Hall of Fame.
“No one argues that Somalia didn’t come out the way we wanted it to go to,” he said. “At the tactical level, we were trained and executed with precision, but at the strategic level, there’s no question this mission was not supported with the right resources or oversight.”
Durant often speaks to veterans’ and other groups. Videos show an attentive and somber audience.
But in his introduction, Durant adds a little levity and self-deprecating humor.
His wife also was a helicopter pilot and a military parachutist. Although they have never flown together, he said, the goal is to someday make that happen.