by Dwain Hebda
Wade Radke is an unqualified Arkansas success story, launching Galley Support Innovations in Sherwood alongside his wife Gina. The Radkes have grown the mom-and-pop venture to a $5 million-per-year, 50-employee manufacturer of hardware for some of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers.
The often-decorated company is an industry leader now, but in the beginning, it was just a couple with a dream of business ownership and woeful lack of business knowledge or experience. About all they had to rely on was their drive to succeed, a catalog of courses at the local Small Business Administration office – which they both wore thin – and what Wade considers a secret weapon, his military training.
“What really helped me was the leadership training – the soft skills training, the ability to find solutions to difficult problems,” he says. “What I learned mostly from my time in the military is that ability to take two staples, a paper clip and a rubber band and supply a team a month’s worth of supplies in a forward location.”
Radke, who spent 1997 to 2005 serving in the U.S. Air Force, says that as different as the structure of military is compared to civilian life , the skills training translates very well. Preparing briefings for generals down to airmen helped his communication and organization skills, for instance. Logistics work helped him anticipate contingencies and more than that, adapt on the fly when the inevitable unexpected happened.
“You can’t account for every situation that you’re going to be in. You’ve got to be flexible,” he says. “You have a plan, a game plan, but you have to adapt as soon as something goes off the path, overcome it, and still produce a quality product. In the military, lives depended on it and here, in some instances, lives still depend on our products, being a Class 3 aircraft product.”
Radke derived so much from the military training he received that he’s adopted much of it for his own workforce, integrating it into training manuals and other company protocols. It’s also made him value military experience in a job candidate and Galley Support Innovations has proactively recruited and hired a number of veterans over the years as a result.
“We go to a lot of different veteran hiring events, our HR team does. We desire veterans for a couple of reasons,” Radke says. “One primary reason is because we feel like they have the core values of integrity, service and excellence and those are things we strive for. I can train somebody to do my job, but I can’t teach them character.”
“I know that if I can get somebody that served honorably and has an honorable discharge, that means they finished something that was very challenging, and they did it with excellence and they had character. I know that they’re moldable and trainable because the military does that.”
Radke also understands the reciprocity of benefits that exists between a company and a veteran workforce. Given the difficulty some vets have to adjusting to life out of uniform, a stable, welcoming work environment that understands what they are going through is exceptionally rare. The Radkes view GSI as a starting point for that transition and have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that, from fellowship events to feeding employees, even purchasing housing units for employees who may need it.
“It’s about community,” Radke says. “When people are in the military it was a community. You knew that you had these people that you could count on. In our traditional workforce, unfortunately, it’s very individually based. You come to work, you punch a clock and you go home.”
“So we have created a community where we want these people to know that we are with them at work, at home in their personal lives, their finances. It’s a mind, body and soul kind of scenario. It’s a community, a brotherhood and sisterhood rather than just the 9 to 5.”
The company has been highly decorated right along with its sales success. This year, the firm was recognized as SBA’s Exporter of the Year, an award to bookend its 2016 SBA Small Business Persons of the Year honors. That same year, SBA received the Governor’s Quality Award and has twice been recognized for its humanitarian efforts, in 2016 and 2017.