New BAE leader puts focus on people
DeEtte Gray's strategy for growing BAE I&S starts with culture
- By Nick Wakeman
- Dec 11, 2012
For the new president of BAE System’s Intelligence & Security business, the best leadership training she received was 20 years ago, when she walked into a public middle school as the new math and science teacher.
“When you go into that building, you are on a stage from the minute you walk in to the minute you walk out,” said DeEtte Gray, who took her new job at BAE in June running a 7,000-person, $2 billion a year organization.
Teaching sixth and seventh graders taught her a lot about herself. “You learn what pushes your buttons and you learn how to control that,” she said. “I learned leadership and temperament. And remember, schools can be very political places too.”
Gray joined BAE from Lockheed Martin Corp., where she had worked for 13 years, and was vice president of the company’s enterprise IT solutions business. She started as a software developer at Lockheed and then quickly moved into management. She was a vice president by the time she was 38 years old.
Just 43 now, Gray jokes that she never had a career plan, but she does have a guiding principle: reaching for assignments that make her stretch her abilities.
Whether it was moving from the classroom to local government programming geographic information systems, and then to the world’s largest defense contractor, Gray said she has always looked for the next challenge.
The move to BAE is no different. The job doubles the number of people she is ultimately responsible for, and it comes at one of the tougher times in the government market.
Her business at BAE was built through a series of acquisitions over the last 15 years, and “we still have stovepiped businesses, so we are trying to get some efficiencies across the business,” she said.
The process of creating shared human resources and financial systems were already underway when she joined BAE. Gray is continuing that effort and is particularly interested in leadership and technical training.
“My biggest priority is building a sustainable, growing business and that’s difficult today,” she said. “But there are several ways to do that.”
Identifying and then developing key talent is a critical component of her strategy, Gray said.
Finding those rising stars is part of a culture change she is leading at I&S.
“We aren’t there yet, but when you build a culture you start with what does top talent look like? What are the types of behaviors that top talent have?” she said.
Managers need to review their talent like they review financials. The annual review process has to include discriminators of top talent.
“You have to make sure your managers set the right example and that starts with management training,” she said.
A key is rewarding and recognizing good behavior. “Eventually it becomes part of the culture. People identify top talent and people want to be them,” Gray said. “And you have to communicate it.”
Gray’s focus on BAE’s talent as part of her strategy is there because the company’s people are the key to the company’s success, she said.
“It is a very humble company, which is good, but in a competitive market you have to talk about the things you are good at,” she said.
The company’s talent lines up with areas of growth: intelligence analysis, training, cybersecurity, systems integration and development and IT support.
Gray’s leadership team at BAE I&S includes Paul Falkler, vice president and general manager of IT and cybersecurity solutions, Jordan Becker, vice president and general manager of geospatial intelligence, Kate Hall, vice president and general manager of global analysis, and Brian Sheridan, vice president and general manager of what the company call its SpecTal business, which provides specialized security and intelligence consulting.
The competition BAE faces in them market is intense so the management challenge is positioning your company to be competitive, Gray said.
“Budgets are shrinking so you have to be relevant and agile in the way you bid, and the way you work day-to-day with your customers,” she said. “You need a culture where everyone is thinking about how do we improve?”
That focus is as much internal as customer facing, particularly when looking at internal processes, Gray said. “Can you do something in 2 steps that now takes 10?” she said.
Gaining internal efficiencies isn’t a matter of piling more work onto fewer people. “I don’t believe we are going to get where we need to be by cutting people or salaries, but we have to be asking are doing things that add value?” she said. “If we are doing something that doesn’t add value, then we should stop doing it.”
In just the first few months on the job, Gray has been focused on getting to know her company and identifying the discriminators that will help BAE compete in a tough market.
While the company has distinct technology capabilities in areas such as cyber, training and enterprise IT management, Gray’s focus always loops back to people.
“I want to build a culture where people want to work and they become your discriminators,” she said. “It isn’t rocket science, but it is back to basics and in this market you have to stay focused.”
Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.