Roger Raley of Alpine Advanced Materials: “I believe we’ll continue to see improved cabin cleaning techniques and more done to protect passenger safety onboard”

I think there will be more affordable options to fly private or semi-private. We’ve seen several of these types of companies pop-up over the past five years or so, but none have really been able to capture the broader market. I think that will change. As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, […]

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I think there will be more affordable options to fly private or semi-private. We’ve seen several of these types of companies pop-up over the past five years or so, but none have really been able to capture the broader market. I think that will change.

As part of our series about “The Future Of Air Travel”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Roger Raley.

Raley serves as president of Alpine Advanced Materials, leading the company as it expands the use of custom-engineered parts made of its HX5™ thermoplastic nanocomposite in the commercial space, aerospace, and defense industries. An international executive with deep roots in these markets, Raley has spent more than two decades helping deliver solutions that improve complex defense and commercial supply chains, a history that is invaluable as Alpine commercializes high-performance materials developed by top defense contractors. Raley came to Alpine from TTI, Inc., a Berkshire Hathaway Company, where he led its Military and Aerospace Business Unit as Vice President, shepherding the $460 million segment through dramatic revenue and market share growth.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

From a young age, I was interested in big machines and how they work — cars, trains, airplanes, etc. I think I was about 12 years old when my grandfather asked me if I would want to go to Space Camp in Florida. Of course I said yes, and after seeing space shuttles up close, and getting to learn about how they work and the technology behind them, I knew I wanted to be in a high-tech industry, but also on the business side.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are quite a few. I’ve been blessed to work with, learn from, and meet so many people throughout my career. A few years ago, I was at a dinner where Wes Bush, former CEO of Northrop Grumman, was speaking and happened to be sitting next to one of the lead scientists for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), who had also worked on Hubble. He clearly said “it’s not a matter of if JWST finds life on another planet, but when.”

He was so convincing and matter of fact in how he presented his ideas that it really put things into perspective. While he was clear in that it probably would not be in human-form or some other advanced life form as we know it, he predicted we will find something in the not-too-distant future. I can’t wait until the JWST launches, hopefully this year.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was in my last semester of college and looking for a job, one of my professors gave me the name of a contact and said “give him a call, he’s looking for people to hire.” At that point, I didn’t have any context for who this person was, but I knew the company, which was a well-known electronics distributor.

Keep in mind, this is before Google and smartphones, so I picked up the phone and called. His secretary put me right through. I explained that I was given his contact information and gave a brief overview of what I was looking to do. He was very friendly and said he’d pass my information along to his manager in Austin.

After doing a little digging, I discovered the “contact” I was given was actually the CEO and founder of the company. The experience taught me three valuable lessons: one, do a little more discovery before making that call. Second, don’t be afraid to contact anyone as most people inherently want to help. And finally, ask for what you want. The CEO did pass my information along and his manager in Austin did call me. I ultimately didn’t take the job, but it was an invaluable learning experience.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?

True success is all about balance. Be sure to truly take time away from the business to focus on something you love, whether that be family, travel, sports, or service. My passion and escape have always been travel. Every quarter or four months, I try to take a week off and really get away. For the most part, it’s worked out, allowing me to decompress. As a result, I have more clarity on how I can tackle the problems in front of me.

Me taking time away also gives my team an opportunity to be more empowered in running the business. I always come back fresher, more relaxed, and more focused on what needs to be done. Just this month, that recharge took the form of a week spent windsurfing, golfing, and snorkeling in Mexico.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

You’re right, none of us do it alone. When I was 26 or 27 years old, I was working in Phoenix as an account manager for a global electronics distributor. This was my first job out of college. I had been there for a few years and performed well.

A man named Randy Kippert, who could be intimidating and had a reputation of being tough, was a regional vice president for the East Coast. Although I didn’t know him well at the time, I had had the chance to interact with him at a few company events. He took a liking to me, took a chance on me, and ultimately promoted me to become the Atlanta sales and marketing manager. After about two years in Atlanta, he promoted me again to general manager in South Florida, making me the youngest general manager in the company at the time.

Years later, after Randy left the company, he got a call from a recruiter looking to fill a position overseas. The next thing you know, I was moving to the Middle East to lead a regional business. Randy believed in me when I was an ambitious 20-something who thought he knew everything, but clearly didn’t. He taught me so much, but he also wasn’t afraid to let me make mistakes, which I did. His support and influence are key reasons my career has followed the path it has.

Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

If I’m being honest, there’s definitely more I could do here. I do the basics — I give time and money to charity, I strive to provide an environment where people can do their best work, and I look to help others around me. There is an unfulfilled need to do more and my greater impact on bringing goodness to the world is still to be written.

Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?

Alpine Advanced Materials is pioneering light-weighting in the aviation industry by using advanced materials to manufacture various components. We do this by converting metallic parts to our flagship nanocomposite thermoplastic called HX5, which is 90%+ the strength of aerospace grade aluminum but only 50% the weight. Saving weight in aerospace means less fuel along with further range and/or more payload, both of which are beneficial to the industry.

Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?

Reducing weight is one of the keys to addressing the pressing issue of carbon emissions in aerospace. Every gram of weight you save translates to less fuel you have to pay for and more distance you can travel, which we enable by making parts and components lighter. With HX5, we can make traditionally aluminum parts and components at half the weight, and those parts can be engineered more easily and precisely.

While the industry clearly understands the benefits and need to convert from metals, getting them to innovate and move at the pace that we do has its challenges. And while COVID didn’t help, we were able to make significant progress over the last year, moving projects along at a time when the aviation industry was really in survival mode.

How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?

At some point in the near future, designing and manufacturing with advanced materials will be the norm. Boom Supersonic, for example, is already designing primarily with composites.

If the legacy industry titans don’t become more agile and innovate faster, then I believe we’ll see smaller start-up type companies really start to surpass them. Similar to what we’re seeing in the electric vehicle industry, the legacy manufacturers are now playing catch-up to the likes of Tesla and NIO, who have been embracing innovation for years.

Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.

Absolutely. In the wake of COVID, new seat and cabin interior designs are coming, which will also be more consumer-friendly. Safe supersonic travel is definitely coming. And we obviously anticipate that the industry will continue to embrace light-weighting of as much as possible. We consider this an exciting development as consumers become more aware of and interested in reducing their carbon footprints. Air travel will return to pre-pandemic levels, but wouldn’t it be great if we could make it more sustainable in the process?

As you know, the Pandemic changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically impacted Air Travel?

There are the obvious ones that the consumer sees — decreases in traffic, elimination of in-flight service, requirements to wear masks throughout flights, airport shops closed, and an inability to travel overseas. But, there are some positive changes like reduced carbon emissions, cleaner cabins, and waivers of change fees (one I hope stays).

Longer-term, I do anticipate that the entry/exit requirements that have been implemented for traveling internationally will remain, particularly the vaccination and health requirements. We can also likely anticipate vaccine passports as the world reopens.

Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.

1. I believe we’ll continue to see more requirements for travel, like the vaccine records that will be tied to our passports. There are already apps being used to process vaccine documents.

2. Additionally, I think we’ll see more adoption of new tools and technology that will be used for airport and border monitoring with regard to passenger temperatures and other health concerns. Where those not fit to fly may not be allowed to board or enter the country, things like virus sniffing dogs are already a reality.

3. I believe we’ll continue to see improved cabin cleaning techniques and more done to protect passenger safety onboard. In anticipation of this, we actually did extra testing of our products last year to ensure they can withstand the realities of sanitizing with UV and chemicals.

4. Airlines are getting a makeover where legacy aircraft like the 747 are being retired faster. We’ll see an accelerated move to more efficient aircraft like the 737Max.

5. Lastly, I think there will be more affordable options to fly private or semi-private. We’ve seen several of these types of companies pop-up over the past five years or so, but none have really been able to capture the broader market. I think that will change.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I actually have a couple. One is my longstanding belief that everyone should wait tables at some point in their life. There are a lot of great lessons to learn about interacting with people in the food service industry, not to mention it’s great networking and can be incredibly humbling at times.

The second is that after graduating college, but before taking a full-time job, everyone should take time to live in a foreign country for at least six months. Gaining perspective on how other countries operate and how other people live gives you a different and more-informed view of your home country.

After living in the Middle East and Europe, I learned about myself both personally and professionally. I also saw firsthand how other governments and economies operated. While there are many incredible things about those countries, the experience convinced me that living in ours is the greatest. I truly believe that if people really had a broader perspective, then much of our disagreements and discord would work itself out.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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