ONTARIO - Experienced people make a difference. No one knows that better than Rick Otto and Richard Delman, vice presidents of Otto Instrument Service, Inc.

For six decades a team of skilled technicians and managers has led the small business. With their knowledge, Otto Instrument has transformed itself into an aviation company that can provide maintenance, repair and overhaul services to a range of aircrafts, Otto said.

With facilities in Ontario and Sun Valley, the aviation company celebrates its 65th anniversary this year.

On Friday evening, Otto and Delman debuted a short video to their employees documenting the company's history as well as highlighting its family-oriented atmosphere.

"Our legacy is the ability to have a positive effect on the lives of others," Otto said.

It also will be made available to Otto's clients in the coming year.

"Our employees' dedication to growth has been key," said Delman, who has been with the company since 1965.

Celebrating employees

Otto, whose father, William, started the company in 1946, said the main reason for Friday's celebration was to thank all those who have worked for the company through the years.

"We have been in business for 60 percent of the time aviation has existed," Otto tells employees. "It's kind of amazing when you look at it. Without the great people we have it wouldn't have been possible."

At Otto Instruments it is not rare to find employees who have been there for decades or to see generations of families that have worked there.

Which is the case with Rickie Mota, who has had both parents work in Ontario. Her mother, Gladys, recently celebrated 23 years with the company.

"I've always wanted to work for the company, I've been around it my entire life," said Mota who has been with the company for seven years.

Starting as a stock clerk Mota is now the company's continuous improvement team leader overseeing various facets of the company.

She recognizes that it couldn't have happened if she wasn't mentored by Delman, Otto and others on the administration staff.

"They believe in their employees," she said. "They give you the opportunity to grow and they nurture and develop their employees."

A family story

Otto said his father, who died 16 years ago, was an avid aviation enthusiast. He came to California in the 40s when there was an aviation business boom, which included the arrival of Lockheed and Northrop.

The elder Otto started the company in 1946 after spending many years working for the military at Norton Air Force Base, now San Bernardino International Airport.

Its first location was at Flabob Airport in Riverside, Otto said. When times were tough, the elder Otto even began fixing television set antennas as a way to drum up business.

The turning point for the company came during the Cold War, when most of those planes were coming into Southern California for repair.

Otto said his father was contracted to overhaul aiicraft instruments.

Business was booming his father had three shifts working around the clock and the company expanded into a building in San Bernardino, which is no longer there, Otto said.

Then his father was convinced to move his operations, rent-free, to then Ontario International Airport. When Otto Instruments moved to ONT in 1953, the only other tenant there was Lockheed.

The company remained at ONT until 1995 and during that span the company moved to various locations at the airport, including the old administration building and the space now occupied by Guardian Jet Center.

Otto said dad was a hard worker but never forced him into the family business.

"I started by pushing brooms, painted instruments," he said. "When we couldn't afford anything else I would do the accounting on my dinning room table."

Through the years, Otto said his father gradually transferred more of the company's stocks and responsibilities to him.

A mechanic himself, Otto said he never imagined doing anything else but working for the company. 

New leadership

Between the Ontario and Sun Valley plants there are 100 employees, with the company headquarters in Ontario just a block south of ONT in an industrial complex.

During the current recession, Delman said one of the company's strengths these past couple of years has been its diverse portfolio, being able to provide service to anything from general aviation planes, corporation and military aircraft.

The company also is certified to work for companies in Thailand, China and several European countries, Delman said.

"We have the capability to work on 30,000 different aircraft instruments," Delman said.

In recent years, especially when 9/11 affected the aviation industry, Otto Instrument was able to thrive because military business picked up, Delman said.

"We've been fortunate in taking advantage of every opportunity and never passing up an opportunity," Otto said.

But Otto, who professes not to be a businessman, said much of the recognition should be given to his employees, who are experienced in running a corporation. It's their leadership that has helped the continued expansion, he said.

He also credits his and Delman's knowledge and connection to the industry. Both men have been flying for years.

"You do get a different perspective when you are a pilot and a mechanic," Otto said.

In recent years many larger manufacturers have eliminated their maintenance departments for older planes because it is not cost efficient, Delman said.

Otto Industries typically has moved in and taken over, acquiring needed equipment and attracting customers, he said.

That's how the 35,000 square-foot facility in Sun Valley became part of the business, he said. Three years ago the company also bought the 17,000 square-foot facility next door.

A skeleton crew works there now but Delman said the company is poised for more growth in the next six months.

The growth won't end there as Delman and Otto have plans to expand the business into other states within the next six months.

"We're just really proud of what we've been able to achieve," Delman said. "We know his father would be too."