The sky’s the limit
President and CEO of Dean Baldwin Painting LP brings opportunities and representation
By Edna Ruiz
Photos provided by Dean Baldwin and The Miner Agency
Giving up has never been an option for Barbara Baldwin-McNulty. When she faces an obstacle, she figures out how to get through it. That mindset has led her to become the president and CEO of Dean Baldwin Painting LP, an independent aircraft painting company that has provided expert painting services to the aviation industry for more than 58 years.
She oversees a company that operates in five states, employs about 400 people, and occupies more than 560,000 square feet of aircraft hangars and administrative space. Her most recent endeavor was opening four brand-new aircraft hangars at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport in the middle of a pandemic.
Her successes have not come easy. Baldwin-McNulty was born and raised in Havana, Cuba, by her mother, Maria Teresa Frias, and three big brothers. Life was pretty good — until it wasn’t.
“I remember the Bay of Pigs invasion because the bombs were dropping. I woke up and it sounded like continuous thunder,” Baldwin-McNulty said. “I got out of bed and looked for my mom and brothers. They were all sitting together, watching as the airplanes circled off in the distance dropping bombs.”
Baldwin-McNulty was only nine years old during the Bay of Pigs Incident in April 1961 – too young to comprehend the full scale of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War tensions between Castro and Eisenhower, and this failed US-backed invasion of Cuba by Brigade 2506. She remembers seeing military tanks parked outside of her Catholic school in the days leading up to the incident, but it wasn’t until the bombs dropped on April 17 that she knew her home was no longer safe.
Her mother knew it too. In 1961, Maria Teresa fled with her children, deciding her children’s safety was worth losing everything they owned. By October 1962, a quarter of a million Cuban refugees had crossed the ninety-mile stretch from Cuba to the United States. Over the next few decades, 750,000 more would join them. Like many of these families, Baldwin-McNulty and her family immigrated to Miami, Florida.
“It was quite frightful,” Baldwin-McNulty said. “Everyone always says to me, ‘You’re such a strong woman.’ But when I started school here in the United States, if my mother was not at that fence line after school to pick me up, I would be bawling because I was so scared.”
Not only was she in a new country, but when she started fourth grade in Miami-Dade County, the only English words she knew were “cat” and “dog.” Baldwin-McNulty was determined and worked hard to learn more. One teacher helped her in ways she said she will never forget: Rose Garcia.
“She really made a difference,” Baldwin-McNulty said. “I don’t really remember a language problem after fourth grade.”
Baldwin-McNulty had to leave school in ninth grade to help her mom put food on the table and pay bills. Baldwin-McNulty worked a full-time day job with her mother, then went to night school while her mother went to her second job. Her brothers were actively serving in the military.
“Our whole life changed. But you know, you’re happy you’re alive. You’re happy you’re free. You move forward and do the best you can,” she said.
She kept going and homed in on her love for numbers. Math had clicked for her from the beginning, and while she kept climbing up the ladder in her accounting job, she knew there was still more to learn. She took Accounting I and II at Miami-Dade Community College.
“From then on, it was by the seat of my pants, and I rushed forward,” she said.
The Start of Dean Baldwin Painting LP
Baldwin-McNulty was 19 when she married her first husband, Larry Baldwin. Larry worked at a grocery store and helped with his father’s side business painting aircraft parts. In 1975 Eastern Airlines hired Larry to paint aircraft full time, but he kept helping his father. That side business gradually grew. When Larry’s father retired in 1978, the business had six employees.
Larry left Eastern Airlines to continue growing his father’s business. It wasn’t long before Baldwin-McNulty left her accounting job to help. In the early 1980s they moved to West Palm Beach while expanding the business in Miami.
“This was an opportunity to make it our own. It’s ours. We either make it or break it. If we don’t make it, then we figure it out,” Baldwin-McNulty said.
In 1995, Baldwin-McNulty became a majority owner and CEO of the company. The first major expansion happened in 1999 with the opening of the first full-service facility in Roswell, New Mexico.
After the 9/11 attack in 2001, the aerospace industry faced major setbacks. Airlines were flying less and losing money, so they cut back on expenses like painting.
“One of the companies we serviced went bankrupt within a couple of months, another one moved out of state, and our biggest customer said, ‘I’m hurting. I have to keep all of the money in-house.’ After 17 years of doing their work, they gave me a six-month notice that they weren’t going to use our services by the end of the year,” Baldwin-McNulty said.
In 2003, they closed their business in Miami and relocated San Antonio, Texas, to support VT Aerospace facilities’ paint and appearance requirements. San Antonio has since become Baldwin Painting LT’s corporate office and is still Baldwin-McNulty’s home today.
Baldwin-McNulty wanted to expand after the move to San Antonio, but many banks rejected her small business loan applications.
“Being a woman with a minority-owned business going to talk to the banks,” she laughed, “good luck.”
But she kept going, trying, and failing until she found someone who would help. Eventually, her determination paid off. When the small business loan funding came through, she used it wisely. Within a few years, the facility in Roswell started seeing $13 million in annual sales growth. By 2012, they began operating a Goodyear, Arizona, site, then opened a new state-of-the-art full-service paint facility in Peru, Indiana, in 2013. That same year, Baldwin-McNulty became the sole owner of the entire company.
Moving to Macon
In 2020, when most companies were shutting down and facing serious financial insecurity, Baldwin-McNulty was implementing construction plans for a brand-new aircraft facility in Macon, Georgia. Of course, a COVID-19 pandemic-era expansion wasn’t planned, but giving up isn’t in Baldwin-McNulty’s vocabulary.
“I’ve always taught my children to believe. If you don’t believe, you won’t get anywhere,” Baldwin-McNulty said. “I tell them I’d rather see them fall flat on their face than see them sit on their behind.”
Her ambitious spirit keeps her going and is the reason she made a $21 million investment into the Macon facility, creating 115 jobs in Macon-Bibb. Hers is one of the five facilities nationwide that serve customers such as ATSG, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Amentum Aviation, Envoy Airlines, JetBlue Airlines, SkyWest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, UPS Airlines, U.S. Air Force, and many other organizations.
“The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority (MBCIA) is incredibly proud of all that Barbara and Dean Baldwin Painting have done in their short time here as one of our newest corporate citizens. One of the strongest industrial sectors at the Middle Georgia Regional Airport has been Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (‘MRO’) of large body planes. This industry brings along with it the types of head of household jobs we are always seeking out. To support our current and future MRO operators, we recognized the significance of having paint capability at MGRA,” said MBCIA Chairman Robby Fountain. “When we started the search, we never thought we would be so fortunate as to have found Dean Baldwin Painting looking for their next home. It was a perfect match between DBP looking to expand their operations and MGRA in need of paint capabilities. This is the type of match that will reap benefits for all parties involved for decades to come, and we could not be happier about having DBP here in our community.”
Macon has been a great fit for the Dean Baldwin Painting as they are keeping their bays full with work and are actively looking to hire more employees.
While the Macon facility may be the fifth operation in the country, it may not be Baldwin-McNulty’s last. She said she may have one more expansion left in her career, but she is hopeful that at least one of her five children — who already work for the company — or 15 grandchildren will carry on her legacy and keep the company alive.
“If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Baldwin-McNulty said.
For women in leadership, she highly stresses education’s importance. While that doesn’t necessarily mean getting a college degree, she does advise finding the one thing you’re best at, or what interests you most, then learning as much as you can about that topic. She believes one should never stop learning.
“It also helps to surround yourself with good people,” she said. “I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by positive people, including my staff. My staff and employees mean the world to me. I always want what is best for them, and I know they feel the same.”
Baldwin-McNulty sometimes finds herself being the only woman at the table, and while that may seem intimidating to some, it’s not to her. Through her persistence, she turned a company that started with 25 employees and $140,000 in annual sales into a hugely successful minority-owned company with 400 employees and annual sales in excess of $30 million.
With all of her success today, she never forgets where and how it all started.
“My mother gave up everything. We had a house. People taking care of us. She lived off her dad’s will in Cuba, and she gave it all up. She was packing tomatoes and waiting on tables just to feed her children,” Baldwin-McNulty said. “I think it’s the sacrifices that you see that also make you appreciate and understand that life is not easy. You have to work hard. It doesn’t get handed to you.”
Dean Baldwin Painting LP is hiring
Aircraft painters: Earn up to $29.35/hour + benefits
Ready to start an exciting new career or learn a skilled trade while being compensated? Submit your application and resume: deanbaldwinpainting.com .