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  • Executive Support Systems: From Bullets to Hospital Beds

    Marilyn Hewson was made CEO of Lockheed Martin (Lockheed) in January 2013. Lockheed is the third largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world, and the largest provider of information technology services to the U.S. government. She has been with the company for 31 years, and the company celebrated their 102nd anniversary with a fiscal year 2013 revenue of US$45.358 billion. Their core businesses are aerospace and defense, space exploration, and IT, and they have been diversifying into such fields as energy, data analytics, and healthcare, to address the shrinking defense budget.

    Mrs. Hewson was trained as an economist, receiving her master’s degree in the field from the University of Alabama. Additionally, she has attended executive business training programs at both Columbia and Harvard, building on her undergraduate business degree. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Export Council, which is the nation’s most prestigious advisory board on international trade. She has sat on many additional boards, including Sandia National Laboratories and the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation.

    As President and CEO, she holds the most senior position at the company, and has seven Vice Presidents (VP) who are her direct reports. They oversee approximately 116,000 employees at 17 subsidiaries. Her primary business function is overall strategy. In this capacity she must have a working knowledge of every business function in the organization, including research and development (R&D), production and quality control, sales, marketing, distribution and logistics, management accounting, public relations, and even recruitment of high-level executives.

    Mrs. Hewson must make an exhaustive array of decisions. To begin with, she must be an expert on governmental affairs. This includes not only political considerations at the national, state, and local levels, but knowledge with agencies with widely different cultures, from the Department of Defense (DOD) to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

    Additional, she routinely makes decisions in Lockheed’s dealings with foreign governments. Her position is closer to that of ambassador, given the economic clout the company holds. This entails an ongoing sensitivity to those foreign nation’s relationships with the United States.

    As a high technology company CEO, she oversees some of the most advanced platforms and systems ever created, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle. This requires a highly educated and skilled workforce, and a conversant knowledge of the science and engineering that make these complex projects run.

    Aerospace and defense have some of the longest development life cycles, often spanning decades. Because of this, she must make decisions about identifying our future adversaries and what kind of technology they will have developed. While ultimately Lockheed makes these decisions in tandem with the government, it is often company scientists and engineers who have the expertise to make the best predictions.

    Finally, she must make the same assortment of decisions that senior leadership in any capacity must address, such as the national and worldwide economic climate, legal and regulatory issues, judging who Lockheed’s largest competitors will be (such as Boeing and Northrop Grumman), and dealing with shareholder relations. This last is particularly important, given that her predecessor was removed for having an affair with a subordinate.

    To make these decisions requires information from countless sources. She must be up-to-date on world affairs, and breaking news that can impact the political scene and defense posture of the country. She needs upcoming changes in regulations, scientific papers that describe developing technology, legal advice on both national and international law, and an array of the latest economic forecasts, in addition to daily reports on the state of the market.

    Given how vast the scope of information is to develop strategies for Lockheed, her position requires a combination of information systems and human input to filter and assimilate. With her constant travel schedule and social obligations, the information system that supports her work should be focused on her direct reports. Each of these VPs must have access to sales figures, corporate intelligence, worldwide news, the latest technology journals, in-house legal counsel, professional accounting developments, and other sector specific information streams that would be included in an executive support system (ESS).

    Since it is their job to filter this endless stream of information, the interface between Mrs. Hewson and her VPs must be controlled but flexible, allowing them to access her immediately, while simultaneously providing structured, scheduled reporting times. She will need a light but powerful laptop that is durable enough to be carried everywhere, given that neither a tablet nor cellphone would provide enough functionality.

    Finally, her technology must be completely secure, utilizing the state-of-the-art, and constantly being updated and scanned for threats. As one of Lockheed’s core revenue streams is IT, the company essentially has an in-house testing lab and front row seat to what works and what has failed. This should give them a competitive advantage in developing a cutting edge ESS.