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One-time Cirrus intern named company president

Cirrus CEO and co-founder Dale Klapmeier (left) has tapped Patrick Waddick to be the new company president. (Photo courtesy of Cirrus)

Cirrus Aircraft announced Tuesday that Patrick Waddick -- who started with the company 25 years ago as an intern and worked his way up the ranks -- is the new company president.

"It's the perfect time for him to take over," co-founder and CEO Dale Klapmeier said.

The Duluth-based airplane manufacturer has stabilized since the recession sent deliveries of its single-engine piston planes plummeting, but it's now in a solid position to move forward, Klapmeier said. Excitement also is evident at the Duluth plant, he said, as their light jet development program accelerates and orders flow in for Cirrus' Generation Five series of revamped SR-22 and SR-22T models that can seat five people.

The president's position has been open since September 2011, when former CEO/President Brent Wouters left the company; Klapmeier succeeded him as CEO.

Klapmeier had tapped Waddick, the company's chief operating officer, for the president's position months ago. But he waited until the Generation Five series was successfully launched before making the appointment official and public.

"It's an awesome responsibility," Waddick said. "There's a really strong culture and legacy with the company. With it comes responsibility to keep doing better."

Waddick, 47, was in college when he became Cirrus' first engineering intern. He went on to oversee the engineering division for 20 years, leading the team that created Cirrus' SR-20 and SR-22 planes with their signature airframe parachute systems. Before becoming chief operating officer in 2009, he served as executive vice president of operations for two years.

In his book "Free Flight," James Fallows included an anecdote about when the other Klapmeier brother, Alan, first hired Waddick for the fledgling company.

Waddick "had just finished his course in engineering at the University of Wisconsin," Fallows wrote. "In the summer of 1989 he drove to Baraboo and asked for a job. Alan Klapmeier said the company wasn't hiring. 'I'll do anything,' Waddick said. 'Will you sweep the floors?' Klapmeier asked. 'Yes.' Klapmeier told him to take up a broom and get to work. 'He just wouldn't take No for an answer,' Klapmeier now says."

Asked about that on Tuesday, Waddick confirmed the anecdote except for a couple of details. It happened in May 1988, Waddick said, when he was still a senior at Wisconsin. He interned for Cirrus throughout his senior year, he added.

Dale Klapmeier said he chose Waddick because of Waddick's strengths in day-to-day operations, monitoring progress, his attention to detail and success in challenging people to excel.

"A lot of his strengths are where my weaknesses are," Klapmeier said.

Waddick said engineering is his first love, which will serve him well as president.

"I think about projects in consumable bites to work through, to problem-solve," Waddick said. "That applies to a lot of aspects of the company."

The company is emerging from a difficult five years since the recession hit the industry hard. The dramatic growth that the company experienced between 2000 and 2007 came to a halt when deliveries of Cirrus' four-seat propeller planes dropped from 710 in 2007 to 268 in 2009. In response, Cirrus cut its staff from 1,300 employees to about 500. Sales since then have been flat.

"It changed overnight from a growth company to survival," Klapmeier said. "We navigated that and have a much better product today and the Vision jet."

That was accomplished with greater efficiency and tapping into the training fleet and international and other markets.

Key was the 2011 sale of the company to China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., which has invested $100 million to get the Cirrus' light jet development program back on track and moving toward delivery in 2015.

As a result, Cirrus is hiring: Staffing is up to 565, with more than 100 in the jet development program.

"We're in a much better place than two years ago," Waddick said. "There definitely was a period where the company was in survival mode. It made us really strong. We're a much better company in the last four, five years. We're better-equipped now."

News Tribune staff writer John Lundy contributed to this report.

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