Lockheed's Linda Gooden shares the lessons of her career
Insights cover the challenges, triumphs and principles that shaped her success
- By Nick Wakeman
- Mar 14, 2013
It’s almost hard to imagine Lockheed Martin Corp. without a substantial IT business; after all, the company has been ranked No. 1 on the Washington Technology Top 100 for 18 years.
But in the late 1980s, the company had only two standalone IT contracts outside of the Defense Department. Revenue from IT work was listed under “other” in its financial statements. Lockheed and Martin Marietta had yet to merge.
This is where Linda Gooden, the executive vice president of Lockheed’s Information Systems and Global Services business, got her start. She ran a project for Marietta at the Social Security Administration for another IT legend, Renny DiPentima, who was the deputy commissioner for systems. He later became CEO of SRA International.
He issued a task order contract in 1988 to build software incrementally. He wanted an easy way to fire the contractor if things didn’t work out.
Gooden ran that project, and as she and her team looked at technology and policy trends of the late 1980s and early 90s, they realized that a new business model was emerging.
Linda Gooden of Lockheed Martin
She convinced corporate to invest in an IT business that, at the time, only had about $8 million in revenue. The goal was $23 million in the first year. She gave them $25 million.
From there, she was off and running. As she prepares to retire and hand over IS&GS to Sondra Barbour on April 1, Gooden leads an organization with 31,000 employees and $8.8 billion in annual revenue.
Not bad for a girl from Youngstown, Ohio.
In the first part of a two-part interview, Gooden talks about the trends and challenges driving the market. In part two, she'll explore the challenges and opportunities that drove her career.
What’s been the most critical skill that’s helped you succeed?
Gooden: I love to read anything and everything. It helps me stay current. I read three papers every morning, and two or three blogs. I make notes and send them out to people.
It’s important because you need to understand what is happening on the external environment because that influences your strategies and where you are driving the organization.
Four years ago, it was clear the IT budgets were not going to increase. They were going to be flat at best.
We could step back and shrink the business and push to generate more profits, or we could develop a strategy that will allow us to go through this bath tub and come out the other side better for it.
That’s the strategy we took. We are taking care of our core customers, but we are extending our capabilities to the international and commercial markets.
We’ve won air traffic control contracts, and the census contract in the United Kingdom. We moved into Australia, and bought a small company doing work in the intelligence community there. We’ve grown that.
Now we have 700 to 800 employees in the U.K., and 400 in Australia. And we’ve moved into the Middle East, where we’ve won a contract with United Arab Emirates for a command and control system.
We’ve asked, how do we leverage our capabilities in health, energy and cyber in the commercial space? And we are seeing traction in all three.
We are making good progress, so we are excited. It’ll take time, but we’ll come out better than we were.
How are the skills you need to succeed today different from when you started?
Gooden: The biggest difference is the speed of change. Working without having all of the information, working in areas of ambiguity and being able to adapt quickly are critical skills.
When I started, it was knowing your craft, and understanding the technology. If you write code in machine language, you have to know it. You have to know how to debug it.
Skills we didn’t focus on that you need today are the soft skills: How you work with people, how you listen to customers, how you manage change. Those are much more critical to success than they were when you got a new computer every two years, or the government turned over every four years.
Now, it is very critical that you have this other set of skills, but I wouldn’t walk away from technology skills either. I still love the computer.
What do you think your successor’s biggest challenges will be?
Gooden: Keeping focused. She can’t let the sequester and the other budget items take her eye off of where she wants to lead the organization.
All leaders today, rather than worry about what may happen, should stay focused on enabling the customer’s mission. If you do that, and do it well, you’ll continue to get business.
In the case of Sondra, we have the strategy, and it is really about continuing to refine and execute that strategy.
Beyond focus, what should her priorities be?
Gooden: She needs to make sure we deliver solutions that are agile, modular and affordable.
By modular, I mean that we can update them over time without major cost implications.
Another area is to continue our partnerships with commercial vendors. When you look at the top six vendors [Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Cisco, NetApp, Juniper and EMC], they are investing $25 billion in research and development. The government can’t do that. We can’t do that.
We have built centers with our partners so we can take advantage of that deep investment in R&D, and bring our domain expertise to deliver better solutions to our customers.
What do you think are the great technology opportunities going forward?
Gooden: The big ones are the cloud, predictive analytics, quantum computing and cyber.
Cyber is embedded in everything we do. We have put up a cyber university and boot camp, where we train and certify systems engineers and systems people. We now have 2,000 cyber warriors that are trained and ready to go to work.
We do cyber work internationally and commercially, and we see that only growing. It’s the 21st century problem.
The next area is cloud. Not so much because it is sexy, but because there isn’t enough money. People can't make the investments they had years ago, so we have to make sure people are optimizing their resources, and that they have band on demand when they need more.
For us, big data is predictive analytics and correlating a lot of data. We have a working relationship with a quantum computer group at USC. We are looking at that because cyber and big data analytics are going to be driven to a level that quantum computing will be necessary.
We want to be ready to start adapting to those technologies.
Further out is nano technology, and how we use that in applications, but that is still in its formative stages.
How does an organization the size of Lockheed stay agile and adaptable?
Gooden: You keep working at taking processes out. When you see a process come up, you work to take it out.
We pay attention to the layers between me and the people on the floor, and we’ve tried to keep the layers below eight.
And you hire people who are agile and adaptable. If you get leadership thinking that way, they bring the full organization with them.
What was your toughest decision?
Gooden: The government decided that we couldn’t do systems integration, and do the other work we do. And the systems integration unit was always our systems engineers. The best of the best. We called them colloquially our big brains.
We had to divest that business because of new organizational conflicts of interest rules. [The business was sold to a private equity group and is now called the SI Organization.]
We had also purchased a small business, PAE, which was strong on soft power, but it didn’t line up as well with Lockheed Martin’s aspiration as it could have.
So, portfolio shaping to get rid of things, instead of the portfolio shaping where you add things; that was hard for me.
There are a lot of good people who are now working somewhere else.
What’s been your biggest regret?
Gooden: Nothing. I don’t have one. Everything is a learning experience, whether it goes how you like, or if it goes differently. You learn from it.
I’ve never been one to want a do-over. Except in golf.
Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.