Q&A

Northrop's Kathy Warden on international opportunities, management goals

In part two of our interview with Kathy Warden, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Information Systems, we explore her strategy for the international market and dive deeper into her management philosophy. Click here for part one.

WT: You mentioned that there are certain regions you want to have a presence in. What are those regions, and what capabilities are you bringing?

Warden: Two key focus areas for us right now are the Middle East, where the opportunity is for missile defense, cybersecurity and growth and modernization of their own forces. This includes things such as C4ISR and building out the infrastructure for operations and command and control.

Kathy Warden

Kathy Warden, Northrop Grumman

In Asia, which is the second region of focus for us, there are more mature capabilities already in place that need to be upgraded, and then there are some new capabilities that are needed.

In Australia, for instance, our key emphasis is C4ISR. They sit at a place in the region where they are very close to the shipping channels, and having situational awareness of what's happening on the seas is very important.

They also are a target for a large amount of immigration coming from the north. Again, being able to patrol the waters around their country is important. Those are capabilities Northrop has today and they are already mature. So, it is a matter of bringing them to the region and helping them deploy them.

WT: How are you doing that?

Warden: Each region is at a different stage of maturity, and the level and sophistication of the solution they want varies.

We’ve made some acquisitions. For example, last year in Australia, we bought M5 Network Security, which is focused on cyber.

We’ve also been growing organically, and now have two country executives -- one based in the United Kingdom, serving Europe and North Africa, and one based in Australia. We’ll be adding others as well.

WT: How much of this is driven by the U.S. Defense Department’s strategy pivot to have more of a focus on Asia?

Warden: Largely, it isn’t driven by the pivot, but I think the pivot is more representative of that region’s growing importance economically, so security in that region is more critical.

But we are also focused on that region in terms of direct sales to the countries and building out their capabilities to defend themselves, autonomous of the U.S. pivot to that region.

WT: With such a large business, how do you get people to feel they are part of the same team?

Warden: We have been on a journey for about four years around engagement. We are emphasizing the importance of communications, making sure people have what they need to do their job, making sure our priorities are clear, making sure that we are responding to people's need for career growth. It's about an investment in our talent.

But it is a journey. We've been on it for four years, but we'll be on it for a long time. You never fully get to the destination of every employee being mentally connected to the company. But, we've made great strides and we'll continue to do that.

WT: Are there particular programs that you have in place to accomplish this?

Warden: We focus on mentoring at various levels of one's career. We also have leadership acceleration programs that help people who have the desire to move up in their career and take on leadership roles to be good leaders in the company.

We have programs oriented around technical talent to ensure we're hiring strong technical leaders, and that they have a career path so that we have the expertise to deliver in the key areas.

This is a big deal. The demographics of this industry has been talked about at great lengths, but as we move through this next decade, we will lose a lot of the talent. How will we replace it?

We are on a campaign to ensure that we continue to attract entry-level talent. That will continue to be a focus area for us.

WT: When you look at entry level talent, are there particular areas you are focused on?

Warden: Absolutely cybersecurity, and that means network engineering and computer science skills.

We’ve always done a lot of hiring of electrical and mechanical engineers. Software developers are in high demand and will continue to be into the next decade.

WT: There is a lot of competition for those skills.

Warden: A lot of competition. We were fortunate for the last decade that some of the commercial industries were in hiring lows, but now they are hiring more aggressively.

I think being in an industry where you are fulfilling a greater calling – serving your country – resonates.

Some people chose not to go into the military, but still have a desire to give back. Our industry offers that.

WT: What do you see as your top challenges over the next year to 18 months?

Warden: It’s continued uncertainty over the budget. The budgets proposed by the president, the House and the Senate don’t include sequestration, so we’ll once again be in a cycle where those cuts will have to be addressed in a fairly quick order.

We’ll also likely be in a continuing resolution for six months, maybe longer.

That creates a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the industry and for our customers. We need to be partners with them in responding to that.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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