Rockwell Collins has developed a “low-risk” integration plan for merging B/E Aerospace, which it acquired last month for $8.6 billion, into Rockwell, according to chairman, president and CEO Kelly Ortberg.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based Rockwell—which specializes in, among other areas, flight deck avionics—in October 2016 announced it would acquire aircraft cabin interior product supplier B/E. The acquisition, which was approved by both companies’ shareholders in March, closed April 13.

B/E becomes the Interior Systems unit of Rockwell Collins, and immediately becomes the largest of Rockwell’s four business units, with estimated annual sales of $2.9 billion. Speaking to reporters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where a major B/E aircraft seat manufacturing facility is located, Ortberg said Rockwell will largely leave the former B/E to operate as it has previously. B/E president and CEO Werner Lieberherr and his executive management team have been retained, with Lieberherr now serving as Rockwell Collins Interior Systems EVP and COO, reporting directly to Ortberg.

“The number one feedback we got from our customers is, ‘We depend on both of you. Don’t screw it up in the integration.’ We’ve structured our integration plan to be extremely low-risk,” Ortberg said, explaining that Rockwell does not “have to change our vision at all. They fit well and give us a larger international footprint … We’ve got some great opportunities to make one-plus-one equal more than two as we bring the two companies together.”

Lieberherr added, “Rockwell is the leader in the cockpit. We are the leader in the cabin. It’s a perfect match.”

Ortberg noted there is little overlap between the two companies’ businesses. “This was not an acquisition to deepen ourselves in avionics,” he said. “Our whole strategy here was to expand our portfolio. We’re just expanding our capability, so there’s not a lot of two factories doing the same thing that we have to rationalize.”

Ortberg told ATW he is focused on ensuring the cultural integration of the two companies goes smoothly, but said Rockwell and B/E have similar corporate values. “We’ve owned the company for a little over a month and if I walk into a conference room, I can’t tell the difference between who’s legacy Rockwell and who’s legacy B/E,” he said. “We’re both focused on customers.” He added that extensive employee surveys have been conducted “so we realize where the differences are” and can anticipate them proactively.

One difference is that 78% of B/E’s contracts for aircraft interior products are directly with airlines, while most of Rockwell’s commercial aviation contracts are with OEMs such as Airbus and Boeing. Ortberg said he likes that the merger will bring Rockwell closer to airlines, and believes Rockwell can now offer carriers a comprehensive product suite.

“We can go to airlines—maybe they’ve always bought Rockwell Collins avionics but haven’t bought B/E interior products, or maybe they’ve bought B/E seats but not our avionics—we can bring that together,” Ortberg said. “Werner has contacts at airlines that I don’t have and I have contacts he doesn’t have … I like our product line. I like our combined portfolio.”

One aspect of B/E’s business that particularly appealed to Rockwell is that airlines generally retrofit aircraft seats every five to seven years. “Interiors get retrofitted two or three times in the life of the aircraft,” Ortberg said. “We don’t enjoy that in avionics.”

Now that the B/E acquisition has been completed, “we’ll be out of the major M&A market for a couple of years as we service our debt,” Ortberg said. “Having said that, we’ll look at smaller companies that we can bolt on. They’ll be $50 million [acquisitions] or less, not transformative … We may add a few things here or there, particularly if it’s something that helps harmonize the flight deck and the aircraft interior. But don’t expect anything big from us for a couple of years.”

Aaron Karp aaron.karp@penton.com