Executive Dinner Keynote Examines Breadth of Innovations at Lockheed Martin

Bruce Tanner, Chief Financial Officer for Lockheed Martin Corp., earned his Master's of Business Administration degree in Finance from The University of Texas at Arlington in 1990. He returned to campus Tuesday, April 13, to give the keynote address on innovation at the College of Business 2010 Business Week Executive Dinner. The Arlington Chamber of Commerce was a co-sponsor of the event.

Lockheed Martin executives emphasized their commitment to recruit, educate and develop the company's next generation of engineers and other highly-skilled employees. They noted the recent gift that established the Lockheed Martin-Goolsby Endowed Scholarship and Program Support benefiting UT Arlington's Goolsby Leadership Academy, a leadership development program for select undergraduate business majors.

Tanner told the capacity crowd that he earned his graduate degree while working for Lockheed in Texas by attending mostly evening classes. And he said: "What I learned here has been fundamental to everything I've done since, and I'm delighted to be back."

Here's a sampling of what else Tanner said:

On the F-35 Lightning II (the Joint Strike Fighter):

"This is a supersonic, stealthy fighter jet that can take off vertically, can gun its engine and hits almost 1,300 miles per hour. And then it can ride more than 41,000 pounds of thrust to vertically land on a dime in confined areas at sea or on shore. It's a major achievement, even for a company like ours."

On improving worker safety on the factory floor:

"It used to be that if you had to install a part located at the bottom of the aircraft, you crawled down underneath it. That's more than uncomfortable—it means a greater chance of injury... Now, if you have to install a part at the bottom of the aircraft, you activate a hydraulic lift, and the aircraft comes up to you. A small change, but it's an important one, since a number of the people assembling these planes are over 50 like me. These ergonomic innovations are saving a lot of knees and a lot of workdays as well."

On how innovation transforms other industries:

Tanner said a variant of the targeting software Lockheed Martin engineers developed in the 1980s for precision-guided weapons is now used by the FBI for fingerprint and biometric analysis to catch criminals. Satellite technology developed during the Cold War space race helps power the GPS in cars, he said. And airflow technology developed for the JSF has helped the USS Freedom, a littoral combat ship, go faster than any naval ship has gone before and turn on a dime. "It's a Somali pirate's worst nightmare," Tanner said.

On competition:

"I'll say that to outgrow your competitors, it's not enough to out-do them. You have to out-behave them as well."

On job opportunities at Lockheed Martin:

"The average age of our workforce is right around 50. And with Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, we're facing what you might call a 'silver tsunami'... Last year we hired slightly more than 15,000 people. This year we'll need 12,500 more, a trend that's going to continue for the foreseeable future."

On the need to recruit students to study engineering:

"Because of the nature of the work we do, outsourcing will never be an option for our company. We must hire U.S. citizens in virtually every case. For us, the fight for technical and engineering talent is at home."

On encouraging young ideas in the workplace:

"In our information systems division, some of our younger workers suggested we build a chat function into products we sell—a great idea that no one else had ever considered before and that might have not ever been heard in the past, when decision-making was based more on seniority. Similarly, to help commanders in Afghanistan collect, archive, search and share video generated by all those unmanned air vehicles flying above war zones, we took a page out of the YouTube playbook to create an intuitive, simple interface for commanders to use, thanks to new ideas from video-savvy workers."

On learning from mistakes:

Tanner told the story of Kelly Johnson, who ran the company's legendary Skunk Works center for many years, and an early, unsuccessful test of the U-2 high-altitude spy plane in which the arirplane's landing gear broke, the brakes overheated and the plane caught on fire. Tanner said Johnson surveyed the damage and declared, "What a great test!" "You test to identify problems so you can fix them," Tanner said. "You learn. You refine. You improve... The fact is trial and error are crucial parts of the discovery process."