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What Took You So Long?
Curtiss-Wright's history stretches back to the Wright brothers and Kitty Hawk.
Elaine Pofeldt

(FORTUNE Small Business) - Most companies that shoot up from saplings to a billion in sales take between four and 12 years to do so, according to consultant Dave Thomson. Others take somewhat longer, as did Curtiss-Wright, which needed about 60 years. The aerospace and defense contractor--the product of a 1929 merger between Wright Aeronautical, a successor to the Wright brothers' company, and aviation pioneer Curtiss Aeroplane & Motor--first catapulted to $1.3 billion in sales in 1943, when it made P-40 War Hawk planes during World War II. But the Roseland, N.J., firm gradually shifted from aircraft-engine making to other types of contracting, and revenues eroded to $330 million by 2000. Because Curtiss-Wright had not invested sufficiently in R&D, its pipeline of contracts to make airplane components for defense contractors began to dry up.

Today, Curtiss-Wright is back on the fast track. In 2000, Marty Benante, now 53, a longtime employee who managed the production of parts for the F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jet, became CEO. He raised about $60 million by unloading real estate and acquired more than 35 companies, mostly in defense, that had the potential to return at least 12% on their purchase price in three years. Benante's genius was anticipating what kinds of technologies his customers, which include Boeing and Lockheed Martin, needed. The firm's sales have grown an average of 29% a year since 2000, to $1.1 billion, and profits have risen an average 16% annually. Says Myles Walton, an analyst at CIBC World Markets in Boston: "Acquisitions certainly fed fuel into the fire of growth since 2001."

Benante also continually communicates Curtiss-Wright's vision of technological leadership: "When you have great people who are willing to work together on a shared strategy, you can do very, very good things with a company." CIBC's Walton predicts good times ahead and thinks it will achieve sales growth near 10% for 2006. Top of page

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