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Creator and former CEO of Cirrus leaves the company

Alan Klapmeier describes the new Cirrus jet during its unveiling in June 2007. (File / News Tribune)

Alan Klapmeier is no longer employed by Cirrus Aircraft.

With the contents of his former office stuffed into boxes, Klapmeier's departure on Friday probably ends his association with the company that he and his brother, Dale, built from the ground up to become the largest manufacturing employer in Duluth. It's also the producer of the most popular single-engine airplane on the


"I don't know what I'm going to do next," Klapmeier told the News Tribune on Saturday. But, he added, "This isn't the end. It's just the intermission."

Previously Cirrus' CEO, Klapmeier was formally replaced in February by Brent Wouters, the company's former chief operating officer and chief financial officer. Klapmeier retained his post as chairman but no longer called the shots.

Today, the power to steer Cirrus lies in the hands of Arcapita Inc., an Atlanta-based venture capital firm that acquired a 58 percent stake in the company after investing about $100 million in August 2001. At the time, Arcapita operated as Crescent Capital, the U.S. investment arm of the First Islamic Bank of Bahrain.

Before the change, Klapmeier had pushed hard to develop products despite difficult economic times, but encountered resistance from others in management.

Wouters' appointment took place at a bleak time for the company. Cirrus eliminated about 250 positions beginning in September 2008, and another 100 workers were on furlough during the winter.

At that time, the company produced just three airplanes per week, operating at less than 20 percent of its designed capacity of 16 planes per week.

In June, the company announced the rehiring of 50 employees laid off in January and the increased production to eight airplanes per week.

Company officials declined to discuss specific reasons behind Klapmeiers' departure Friday but said economic times dictated a change.

"A change began in December, and in many respects, we're an entirely different organization," Wouters said, adding that the company's attention has to be on maximizing efficiency. "We're much more focused on day-to-day performance and moving to the next level."

Bill King, vice president of business administration, echoed that assessment.

"These are different days and times. They call for different things," he said. "They're not necessarily better or worse. They're just different."

Dale Klapmeier, Alan's brother and co-founder who remains at the company as vice chairman, also stressed that the demands of operating Cirrus have changed dramatically because of the economic downturn.

"We'd been strictly a growth company for the past decade, but outside forces made us change," he said. "We had to bring our focus back within the company. The little things that weren't important before became extremely important -- a matter of life and death. And what we've learned will make us a better company going forward."

Dale Klapmeier, who started making and selling kit airplanes with his older brother in their workshop in a Baraboo, Wis., barn 25 years ago, spoke of the dissimilar personality traits that made them a formidable team.

"The difference between the two of us is that Alan is a dreamer, and he's extremely aggressive in what he wants," Dale Klapmeier said. "I'm far more conservative than he is, and I've always loved the hands-on stuff."

In a last-ditch effort to hold on to some portion of the company he co-created, Alan Klapmeier attempted this summer to put together an investment group that would acquire Cirrus' fledgling jet-development program. But when the group's offer was rejected, Klapmeier could see his time at Cirrus was coming to an end.

On Saturday, he said he had reached the "acceptance phase" of the end of his relationship with the company.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed with the outcome," he said.