No one can accuse Dennis Muilenburg of shying away from a big challenge. Muilenburg is the president and chief executive officer of Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security division. The unit counts $32 billion in sales and a global work force of 62,000. He must navigate the division through uncertain waters amid potentially large government budget cuts and increased competition.
The international mining community is racing to turn the tables on the People’s Republic of China by challenging its absolute dominance of the market for rare earths, a series of elements in the periodic table critical for the U.S. military’s high-technology communications and weaponry.
Jim Ramsey never dreamed he would become a leader in the satellite communications industry. He just wanted to be a soldier. But his U.S. Army superiors had other ideas. They decided to transfer him from infantry to combat support, specifically as an officer in the Signal Corps. Ramsey was anything but happy about his impending transfer in the late 1980s.
Combining alpine skiing with avionics may not be a standard formula for business success except to Brad Lawrence. The 64-year-old avionics executive is pursuing an aggressive business model that fits with his personal recreational philosophy as he takes his high-technology company forward in an era of tighter defense budgets. Based in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, Lawrence’s Esterline Technologies Corporation is at the forefront of broad new economic imperatives reshaping defense contractors in this time of shifting Pentagon funding priorities.
The General Services Administration and the Defense Information Systems Agency have made the first contract awards under their combined commercial satellite communications program, and more are expected soon. Part of an effort that began approximately two years ago, the deals mark a major shift in the way federal government organizations procure these space-based services. And though industry has its doubts about this new arrangement, the agencies in charge of the program believe the plan will benefit users and providers alike.
Export controls of military-related materials long have been a bone of contention between government and industry, but 2010 ushered in an array of changes, with adjustments to current laws and talk of broader reform. Leaders of private-sector organizations have pushed hard for legal decision makers to simplify the sale of products to foreign entities so domestic companies can keep pace with overseas competitors. And though these industry personnel might sometimes label the governing agencies as obstacles, administrators of the law also want restructuring efforts to move forward.
In the real world, predicting the military’s requirements is not the work of soothsayers. Instead, it requires traditional and nontraditional defense contractors alike to keep their eyes wide open and their ears to the ground. If they plan to sell a solution to one or all of the armed services in the coming years, they had better be paying close attention today to technical gaps as well as wish lists. And although companies going after military and government business are similar in many ways, their approaches to garner that next big contract are often very different.
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance computer networks and Internet-oriented applications play in today’s federal arena. After all, Pentagon officials constantly stress the military superiority inherent in net-centric warfare in which voice, data, satellite images and video provide essential battlefield information in real time. In this electronic enclave, U.S. fighting forces always stay at least one step ahead of the enemy.
Lisa N. Wolford grew up loving water sports. A former competitive swimmer, she worked as a lifeguard as a teenager and young adult. Later she took up motor boating, kayaking and sailing as well as jet and water skiing. But probably because she came of age in land-locked Nebraska, Wolford never did learn how to surf.
That proved no hindrance later in life. As a federal information technology executive, the former U.S. Marine Corps radio operator figured out how to catch a big wave and ride it to success.