The right stuff: Passion for learning drives aerospace career

Nick Bevilacqua, Boeing Canada WinnipegNick Bevilacqua was still a few months shy of his 18th birthday when he landed a job at Boeing Canada Winnipeg in the summer of 1986. It was supposed to be temporary stop between Tec-Voc High School and college, but he soon had a better plan — one that involved a long-haul career connection.

“I was taking a part-time engineering class while I was working at Boeing, so I thought, ‘I’ll work another year and then go to college after I quit,’” he says. “Then I found out Boeing provides financial support for education and they really promote lifelong learning, and so I decided, ‘OK, I’ll just keep working here and go to school.’”

Currently Boeing’s director of business operations and government relations, Bevilacqua was among the first cohort of students who worked in the local aerospace industry while attending RRC’s Mechanical Engineering program (Aerospace option) full-time, starting in 1992. By 1996, he had completed the program, along with others required for certification with CTTAM, the Certified Technician & Technologist Association of Manitoba.

He was in the right place, at the right time. But it took some of that other right stuff to succeed — drive, determination and perseverance. During the academic year, he went to work from 6 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., and then went directly to RRC’s Notre Dame Campus.

“I’d start class at 3 p.m. and we’d go till 7 o’clock, 8 o’clock at night every day for four years,” he says. “I am so grateful for that choice that I made, even though at the time it didn’t look like there was light at the end of the tunnel.”

Coupled with in-house training programs, Bevilacqua’s RRC education helped launch a steady climb up the career ladder, from the shop floor to manufacturing engineer and on to the executive offices.

“I enjoy dealing with people more than I like sitting in front of computers,” he says.

Hence, within two years of graduating from RRC, he became a program manager, before moving on to senior manager of engineering and product development and, before his latest move, senior manager of business operations.

The RRC program gave him a grounding in theory as well as a practical hands-on education, teaching him to machine parts, build components, work with hydraulics and much more. To this day, when he’s in high-level meetings, he understands technical aspects that might otherwise have escaped him.

The experience also built momentum for a life-long love of continued education. He earned a Certificate in Management (CIM) from the University of Manitoba and went on to graduate from the University of Winnipeg with a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in 2009, through another four-year pilot program that saw 16 managers from Boeing, StandardAero and Manitoba Hydro build on their CIMs to obtain BBAs.

While he could easily rest on his laurels, Bevilacqua now has his sights set on a master’s degree, preferably in law, since so much of his business these days pertains to law and politics.

Along with ensuring the local plant has all the systems in place to meet Boeing Canada’s production requirements, Bevilacqua is tasked with strategy development and with educating governments about the benefits Boeing brings to the province.

“We bring in $1.5 billion worth of contracts into Canada. Across Canada we have over 560 suppliers, so that really helps them put a framework around the value that we have in Canada and why we’re committed to Canada,” he says.

The local facility employs more than 1,500 people, and manufactures some 540 different components for the entire 700 series of Boeing aircraft, including the 787 Dreamliner. While the Winnipeg plant has been on the Dreamliner team from its inception in 2003, employees got to see a completed Dreamliner for the first time last July, when Bevilacqua and his team organized an event at the Richardson International Airport for workers, politicians and other guests.

Though he’s always had a passion for airplanes, Bevilacqua says building relationships with people is the best part of his job.

“I like mentoring people; I like watching people grow. I think about when I was young and wanted to grow and when I was that age I never had a mentor to kind of say, ‘This is what you should do.’”

Instead, he knocked on doors, pushed for advancement and refused to be discouraged if he ran into a roadblock.

The son of Italian immigrants, Bevilacqua was born in Winnipeg, but spent a lot of time shuttling between Canada and Italy as a child before settling here permanently at the age of 15. He attributes much of his drive to the immigrant experience. He wanted to succeed and make his parents proud, and he wants to make sure future generations have the same opportunity.

He’s a member of a strategic council that advises RRC on how it can tailor engineering and technology programs to meet the needs of industry, by advancing training in robotics for example. Ultimately, Bevilacqua wants to see both RRC and the Boeing facility grow and thrive.

“Part of my job is the strategy development, making sure we’re going to be here in the next 20, 30 years … and making sure that kids of our employees have jobs 20 years from now and that building is still standing and probably 10 times bigger than what it is today,” he says.

“I love working at Boeing; I am very humbled to be where I am. Some people say I’ve done so much — I’ve been there almost 32 years this summer — but I still feel I have so much more to go, more to do.”

— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)