Global Leaders Series

A conversation with Marcus Bryson, Chief Executive of Aerospace and Land Systems, GKN

Since 1993, GKN Aerospace has been acquiring businesses with expertise in high-precision manufacturing, aerostructures, and materials technologies to build one of the world’s most capable suppliers to original equipment manufacturers (OEM). Much of GKN’s growth has taken place under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer Marcus Bryson. In January, he will become president of ADS Group, the UK’s premier aerospace/defense/security/space organization — a position he will take up alongside his role as co-chair of the strategically important UK Aerospace Growth Partnership. In the following interview with Tony Velocci, former editor-in-chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Bryson discusses GKN’s future, what it means to be a leader, and his vision for the UK defense industry.


Aerospace is as competitive as any industry sector can get, especially in the markets where GKN does business.  What is it in GKN’s culture that distinguishes it from the rest of the field?

GKN had very humble beginnings, and we’ve always managed to retain what I call a ‘small company DNA.’ We’re quite lean and we’re agile, allowing the organization to make decisions quickly. As we grow, it is really important that we maintain this culture.

The other distinguishing feature about GKN is that a very substantial percentage of our revenue is spent on technology development, which is flourishing. We’ve always had a fairly good engineering background. Increasingly, our customers look upon the technology we produce as a key differentiator.


The aerospace business climate is far more challenging today, with customers demanding higher levels of performance from all of their suppliers.  How do you think GKN is adapting to this tougher environment, and what would you say is the best evidence that the company is succeeding?

Not much more than 10 years ago some customers measured suppliers’ performance as having met expectations whether they delivered product on the 1st of August or the 31st of August. Either way, you still got a tick in the box. We’ve moved way beyond that point. It’s not quite like the automotive sector, where suppliers have a four-hour window on a specific date to deliver. So, aerospace has fundamentally changed. In the UK, the mentality within aerospace was that of a job shop. GKN has adapted well to the new environment and is committed to being a world-class manufacturer.

How much of your technology spending is directed toward relatively low-risk applied R&D, and how much are you investment goes toward more disruptive technologies?

We put a lot of emphasis on both. In applied technology, we are looking at how we can produce products much more cost-effectively.  On the disruptive front, we are making a significant investment in areas composites, which are becoming more important to commercial aviation. For years, they were slow to advance but that is rapidly changing. The next big iteration will come with the next generation of single- aisle aircraft. 

None of us know the exact timing, but it will be a composite aircraft. Before that happens, though, there will have to be some disruptive technology advances around the manufacturing and application of composites. They currently are too expensive and take too long to produce. Airframe manufacturers will be looking at build rates of 50 a month and you can’t sustain that rate of production using composites the way they are made today. It is too capital- and energy-intensive.  We will have to look at composites manufacturing in a radically new way.

We recently launched a project in the UK with the goal of manufacturing a composite wing that’s cheaper than a metal wing. Will it be radically different?  I can tell you that [...]

The industry will continue to evolve, and the quicker companies can adjust to change, the better their chances of success. Companies who are slow to change and innovate will not survive.

Marcus Bryson Chief Executive of Aerospace and Land Systems, GKN