Wright: Here to run a business

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal Keri Wright is the new owner, president and CEO of Universal Asset Management. The 31-year-old officially acquired the company on Monday.

Thomas Wells | Daily Journal
Keri Wright is the new owner, president and CEO of Universal Asset Management. The 31-year-old officially acquired the company on Monday.

By Dennis Seid

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Keri Wright, the new owner, president and CEO of Universal Asset Management, is no less passionate about her company or employees than when she was the company’s chief operating officer just a few days ago.

Wright, 31, on Monday officially acquired the company that hired her eight years ago and in doing so, replaced the man that recruited her.

But it was no hostile takeover. Talks about an ownership change had gone on for about a year. UAM founder and former CEO Steve Manley hired Wright in 2005, before she even finished earning her master’s degree in international aviation operations from Purdue University, where she also earned her bachelor’s degree in professional flight.

“Keri has essentially been running the company for the past several years in her role as COO, and selling the company to her will allow UAM to continue to expand under her ownership,” Manley said.

Wright, who often pilots a Cessna 400 and is a flight instructor, was flying before she could legally drive a car. This summer, she flew in a transcontinental race.

And she has been in the middle of a swirling debate involving the Tupelo Airport Authority and the city of Tupelo over who should pay for a $1.2 million proposal to repair a portion of the airport’s old runway.

The city is asking UAM to pay for half of the work, while UAM says it’s the city’s responsibility as the tenant of the facility it leases.

Daily Journal Business Editor Dennis Seid interviewed Wright on Tuesday at UAM’s Tupelo facility.

Q. What does it mean for the company now that you’re the new owner and CEO?

A. It allows us to move forward on our growth plan, to grow and expand in new markets.

Q. Can you elaborate on that plan?

A. We want to build on our global strategy. We’re looking at going into the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia and looking at opening three sales offices in the next two years.

Q. And to sell those airplane parts to those customers worldwide, you need a disassembly facility and warehouse like what you have here in Tupelo and Verona?

A. Yes.

Q. So, we’ve spoken extensively about this $1.2 million project (see the Sunday Journal). What more can you say? Have you heard from city officials since the article was published?

A. I’ve said from the very beginning that this is a partnership, and continue to emphasize that. I’ve met with the council members and the mayor and I’ve answered all their questions honestly.

I’m not sure what more I can say, but if they have more questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. But no, I haven’t heard from them yet.

Q. Are you frustrated at the impasse?

A. We’re working on long-term job growth here, which is why we signed a 20-year lease. … at the end of the day, our business exists on planes landing. Jobs are tied to planes landing.

Q. Has the condition of the old runway prevented planes from landing?

A. We’ve had to adjust the delivery of planes. … last year, we disassembled 55 planes, a record. We’re trying to meet that this year, but we’re having to alter some of those deliveries.

Q. Because of the condition of the old runway?

A. Yes. Getting a 747 stuck in gravel is not good for anybody.

Q. So what message are you trying to tell the city, the community?

A. We know there’s been a loss of funding to the airport for various reasons. … We’ve offered alternatives about the dilemma we’re facing. We’ve talked about changing our business model here to accommodate what’s happened. It wasn’t our fault that the sources of funding changed.

We were recruited here on the promise of improved infrastructure and better facilities. We’re paying five times more overhead here, but we knew we had the ability to grow in Tupelo. That’s why we came.

We need access to our front door, but the road leading to that front door needs repair. We don’t own that road, but we do pay for what’s behind that front door.

And we’ve invested a lot of capital, and said we’ll invest more, in our lease-hold area.

I’m just not sure why we’re being asked to pay for that road to our front door that, right now, we’re having trouble getting to.

I don’t want to play politics; I just want to run a business.

I want to keep the 75 people here working and I want to hire more. It’s as simple as that.


Click video to hear audio

  • tupelobeware

    This is the old college class; marketing 101. It teaches Public Psychology and hyperbole. The Public deserves better than just promises and half-truths for their taxes.
    Let’s examine a couple of the statements:
    Global strategies, WOW! But UAMs just looking.
    “working on long term job growth here, which is why we signed a 20 year lease.” Actually, it’s surprising that FAA allowed such a short term lease for aeronautical property.
    “We were recruited here…” Oh really, was that before or after Walnut Ridge regional issued the NOTAM prohibiting wide body aircraft from landing at that airfield due to damage sustained by the heavy, 400,000 pound aircraft?
    “We’re paying five times more overhead here…” Prove it, where’s the beef? It sure isn’t in your lease that’s 40% of fair, comparable value.
    “we’ve invested a lot of capital, and said we’ll invest more, in our lease-hold area.” Is this capital expense, a normal cost for doing your business? It’s pretty well assured that those capital expenditures were not local.
    Most lease-held terms require the lessee to pay for their damages. What about the runway threshold and taxiway lights that your aircraft broke?
    “…last year we disassembled 55 planes, a record.” What does this mean for local businesses?

    The points being made are that your operation destroyed the road to your front door. And there’s much more if a thorough engineering survey is done of your entire leased space and the roads leading to it.

    UAM and the TAA, involved parties, state that everybody knew what had to be done. The public wants to know who that “everybody” is and what “promises” were made.

  • JWhite

    In my opinion “MR TUPELOBEWARE” which always has some negative comments in ANY airport news, should either read the entire stories and actually make comments that relate to the entire story, not just bits and pieces like disgroundled individuals do, JUST MOVE ON…Now let’s talk about your comments on examining the statements.

    Global Strategies- Build on is defined as build upon existing global operations.


    Recruitment of UAM- Have you visited Walnut Ridge or spoken to the current airport administration and have noted per the previous newspaper articles there was NO damages to Walnut Ridge and WELCOME UAM BACK!

    Market Value- Logistically how many aeronautical companies are interested in moving to Tupelo, MS? So, without UAM the current market value revenue would be ZERO dollars. So please define current Market Value!

    Capital expenditures- Read the articles, it clearly states that 90% of the investments were purchased local and was in the excess of normal operating expense.

    Lease-held terms/ damages- It was during the last administration (TUPELOBEWARE), that the previous tenants experienced the exact same deterating infrasture which was never corrected with the lighter aeronautical activity. If these issues would’ve been corrected during the previous ADMINISTRATION, the current issues would be non-existant! Read the prior newspaper articles.

    Record Setting aircraft disassemblies and local businesses- Read the aticles in the newspaper!! It clearly states 70+ jobs with over 5MILLION dollars spent in the local economy. Not too bad for a small business.

    Points being made- BOTOM LINE- if the previous ADMINISTRATION would’ve taken care of the known issues with the infarstructure of the airport including the sinking of an APACAHURE aircraft, then AGAIN this all would be non-existant!


    UAM has welcomed guest to meet with their management and discuss ANY questions or concerns. SO UAM ENCOURAGES EVERYONE TO COME TOUR THEIR FACILITIES AT ANYTIME!

    • Just Curious

      March 16, 2011 Edition of the Walnut Ridge Newspaper

      UAM makes changes

      Gloria Wilkerson
      Staff Writer

      Universal Asset Management plans to continue narrow body disassembly projects at its current facility in Walnut Ridge despite no longer being able to land wide body planes at the airport, according to Keri Wright, Chief Operating Officer for UAM.

      The decision was made after Walnut Ridge Regional Airport’s engineer, Stacey Morris of Memphis, inspected the ramp and taxiways at the airport and discovered problems caused by the larger planes.

      “We had concerns about the weight of the big planes and the possibility of the damage they might cause at the airport,” said Dan Coker, airport commission chairman. “We asked Stacey to check things out for us, and he advised us that the large planes were causing significant stress on our ramp and taxiways.”

      Coker, airport manager Mitch Whitmire and Mayor Don House visited with Wright in Memphis two weeks ago and informed her of the problem.

      She told the group UAM would not land any more wide body planes in Walnut Ridge. Narrow body planes will still continue to land here.

      UAM currently has over 26 aircraft in various states of disassembly including both narrow body and wide body at its disassembly facility in Walnut Ridge. Wright said UAM’s business is expected to increase by 20 percent over the next 12-18 months and will include a significant number of wide body aircraft. In 2011, 45 wide body planes had been scheduled to land at the airport here.

      “We are out of room to park that many wide body planes, and their 390,000 pounds empty weight is a significant amount of weight, taking a toll on the ramps and taxiways,” said Coker. “It would cost millions to prepare those areas to support that much weight without being damaged.”

      UAM is opening a wide body disassembly facility in Tupelo, Miss., this month and will transfer its warehouse facilities in Pocahontas and Walnut Ridge to a 453,600-square-foot warehouse in Tupelo.

      Although UAM’s facility in Pocahontas will be shut down, Wright said they hope the Walnut Ridge airport can accommodate the company’s planned arrival of narrow body aircraft for disassembly.

      “We are pleased to continue narrow body disassembly projects at our current facility in Walnut Ridge,” Wright said.

      “When we joined the community over five years ago, our intent -as it remains today – was to create a prosperous and sustainable global business in Northeast Arkansas.”

      Commissioner Coker said a NOTAM (Notice to Airmen) will be published today informing pilots that no wide body planes may land at the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport.

  • tupelobeware

    Nice try JWHITE, but poor logic and wrong association. You must be a part of UAM and went to the same school for marketing since you talk in generalities and really don’t say anything. The whole is only as accurate as the parts. The apple may look great on the outside but it’s the worm that hurts.

    What articles have you been reading and to whom have you talked to at Walnut Ridge. According to the engineer from Memphis, Walnut Ridge did sustain damage and would reach “significant levels” if “heavies” continued to land and taxi on their surfaces. Check the NOTAM. That’s not something that indicates damage wasn’t occurring.

    Your points and questions are without objectivity and are meant to demean individuals of the previous administration.

    FAA doesn’t have by-laws, they have rules and regulations. Do your homework.

    What capital investments were purchased locally? The aircraft, the equipment, maybe the nuts and bolts, but 90%?

    It was stated that it is a global business not a small business. And talk is cheap. MDA requires FTE employees. Chose your article. The numbers of employees (nothing said about FTE) range anywhere from 45 to 80. I guess the average is close enough.

    What specific deteriorating infrastructure (is this what you meant? Must not have spell checked) are you referring to left unchecked by previous administration and who were the tenants? Better go check with them?

    It might be better if you reread your sources. Most, if not all of the problems with infrastructure, fiscal, air service, safety and operations began in 2010.

  • JWhite

    I could argue points all day, however the bottom line is UAM is here, bringing jobs, a growing company, and contributes to the local community.
    What’s the status of your current employer? How many companies are experiencing growth?


    • Just Curious

      Very powerful statement. You are either the owner or the one that was responsible for bringing them here. As Walnut Ridge’s Mayor said “Good Luck”

  • Huh

    According to AirNav, http://www.airnav.com/airport/KTUP, the maximum runway load at KTUP is 150,000. According to Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_747, the smallest 747 weighs 358,000 lbs empty. Seems this pavement problem was, or should have been, anticipated. Who enforces or regulates these limits.