There aren’t many people that can say they’ve worked for the same company for over 45 years. Don Rowell is one of them. Rowell started with Sensenich (pronounced “sen-sen-ick”) Propellers as a senior in high school and has since worked every job within the company. Forty-six years later–he’s President.
Rowell is proud of his 42-person Florida team (plus 10 in Pennsylvania) and the work they’re doing. At Sensenich, the team serves both the aviation and airboat markets with aircraft-grade birch propellers, partnering with dealers and distributors across the globe.
Sensenich recently celebrated its 90th year in business. The spark of inspiration that started the company began in 1927 when brothers Harry and Martin Sensenich were tired of trudging through snow to the mailbox at their Pennsylvania dairy farm and decided to build an engine and propeller-driven ice sled for the trek.
Initially, says Rowell, the company hired family members – cousins, uncles and aunts. And, then in 1932 (the company incorporation date) they hired their first non-family member.
When airboats became a part of the business model, the company knew it needed to be located where the customers were. Tampa Bay was a nice fit being close to market demand, airports and other customers in neighboring states, thus the Plant City location was born. The management team was drawn there because it reminded them of the small-town feel of their Pennsylvania shop.
“Being closer to the market was good for the business,” says Rowell. “We now dominate the market and the people here have a good work ethic.”
A household name in the aviation industry, Sensenich specializes in wooden and composite propellers, designed for appearance and optimum performance when compared to its metal counterparts. Per year, Sensenich makes approximately 2,500 wood propellers and 8,000 composite blades out of Plant City.
“It’s about looks, lower cost and if you have a prop (propellor) strike the ground, a wood or composite propeller will break which saves damage to the engine,” Rowell explains. “A metal propeller will stop the engine suddenly which causes major engine damage.”
Now, Sensenich is an FAA Production Certificate Holder, which is an honor bestowed on only a handful of companies in the U.S. In addition, it’s also an FAA approved repair station.
“We stress to our employees that people’s lives depend on what we’re doing,” Rowell says. “Because they’re flying behind their propeller, it needs to be safe and durable and stay together.”
Senior Vice-President Darrin Grooms has the same excitement he did 28 years ago.
“At 18, I got hired part time to sweep floors and I was captivated by how interesting Sensenich was,” he recalls. “Don (Rowell), having moved his entire family to Plant City to start from scratch, told me that this was a place that wasn’t going anywhere but up–I believed him.”
Don Wade, owner of C&D Aviation, has worked with Sensenich for over 15 years and says, “We find their customer service and craftsmanship to be unmatched. Sensenich has been making props for the Piper J-3 Cubs since the 1930s and when our customers see the prop, it adds to the quality of work we do.”
Rowell has seen many changes, most notably in how customers interact, especially through social media.
“Building customer relationships and product reputation is critical to long-term growth. We’ve survived and thrived after several market shifts in propeller materials and use cases,” says Senior Vice-President Steve Boser, with Sensenich for 29 years. “Sensenich has enough critical mass to bring deep experience and manufacturing scale to new projects, yet is small enough to quickly deliver and innovate.”
Reflecting on his 45 years and looking to the future, Rowell notes, “I look back at the hard work that we did to develop this composite side of the business and how that’s the future of the company. It was hard work, but I have satisfaction in what we’ve accomplished. Back in 1997, we were planting a tree and now in 2023, we’re reaping the fruit.”
In Plant City, Sensenich has carved countless propellers and in the process, carved a legacy for itself out of quality craftsmanship, ingenuity and birch.
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