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Ask Sohrab Naghshineh about his success as a businessman and he’ll likely talk about relationships.
He’ll describe the connections that enabled him to launch DIMO Corp., an airplane parts distribution company near New Castle.
He’ll explain how employing a staff that can communicate with international customers in their own language helped drive his company’s growth as an exporter.
And he’ll detail how DIMO’s reputation as a supplier for foreign and domestic militaries has enabled his company to generate $25 million in annual revenue, open a new headquarters and add several new positions in recent years.
But what Naghshineh really enjoys talking about is his plan for fostering new relationships among the diverse companies that make up Delaware’s aviation, aerospace and defense industry.
“I go to some of the largest air shows around the world and there are always these huge exhibit areas for U.S. aerospace contractors that have separate sections for individual states,” he said. “I see Florida, New York and Ohio, but never Delaware – not once in 30 years.”
Delaware is home to several large aviation and aerospace contractors, including GE Aviation in Newark, Dassault Falcon and Hawker Beechcraft at the New Castle Airport, Summit Aviation near Middletown, ILC Dover near Frederica and PATS Aircraft Systems in Georgetown.
Some of the state’s largest companies – such as DuPont and W.L. Gore – also supply material to the aerospace and defense industry.
Yet, the state has never fully capitalized on the sector.
A 2013 report by the Washington D.C.-based Manufacturing Institute ranked Delaware 37th on its aviation manufacturing attractiveness index, while a 2002 study commissioned by Congress ranked Delaware 50th in terms of industry employment.
“Delaware is full of these companies, but we’re all working on our own and we never really interact with each other,” Naghshineh said. “That’s something I want to change, because together we could be doing so much more for each other and so much more for the state as a whole.”
Naghshineh’s goal is to partner with state officials in an effort to unify Delaware’s fragmented industry, starting with a meet-and-greet for senior level executives working at those companies.
“It may not sound like much, but it would be an important first step,” he said. “Sometimes when you talk about simple ideas, it can turn into something that’s beneficial for everyone involved.”
Naghshineh’s passion for the aviation industry began while he was still a young boy in Iran.
“Since I was 12 years old, I think I used to pretend I was an airplane,” he said. “I’ve just loved it for as long as I can remember.”
That love helped convince Naghshineh’s family to send him to the U.S. in pursuit of an education just a few years before the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Naghshineh eventually ended up at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida – often described as the Harvard of aviation. There, he met young pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers from all over the world – many of whom would become his customers decades later.
After school, he landed a job at Atlantic Aviation, a fixed-base operator at New Castle Airport, where he became vice president of the supply division.
Naghshineh says he saw an opportunity to strike out on his own when his employer opted not to sell a new engine gauge for commercial aircraft that lasted 10 times longer than similar parts on the market.
“They didn’t realize how big this thing could be and it became very successful,” he said. “That’s what got us going with corporate jets.”
What started in 1994 as a one-man operation in a 50-square-foot office grew into a company that now employs 30 workers and sells parts for military aircraft all over the world.
Half of DIMO’s revenue comes from supplying parts to the U.S. Department of Defense, while the other half comes from contracts with dozens of allied nations that own U.S.-made airplanes, jets and helicopters, like the C-130 Hercules, the F-16 Falcon and the UH-60 Black Hawk.
“Today, we represent about 10 of the largest U.S. and U.K. manufacturers,” general manager Andre Baarsma said. “We handle everything from big parts like landing gear and fuel tanks down to washers and screws.”
The company’s success allowed DIMO Corp. to move into a newly renovated 18,900-square-foot building at Southgate Industrial Park off Boulden Boulevard late last year.
About a third of that property is slated for use as a future repair facility for hydraulic and pneumatic parts used to control the moving surfaces on an aircraft.
“The goal is to have that set up by this time next year,” Naghshineh said. “With some other expansions we’re planning, we’re looking at being double what we are now, minimum.”
In the meantime, DIMO’s president says he wants to help other Delaware companies experience similar growth.
“A lot of companies want to do business overseas, but they’re not familiar with the culture or the environment so, for instance, we could help someone do that,” he said. “But this isn’t about us saying, ‘Look what we can do for you.’ It’s about saying, ‘Look what we can do for each other.’ ”
Contact Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.
(Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)