Ross Wilkers


An early take on Wes Bush's Northrop legacy

News that Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush will step down from the role at this year's end and hand the reins over to Chief Operating Officer Kathy Warden is certainly a momentous event for the defense contractor.

And it is probably fitting that Bush started his CEO tenure with one bold move in a change of location and ends with another in closing the blockbuster acquisition of Orbital ATK last month. There and all points in between, he led Northrop through a series of changes that reshaped the company's standing in the defense sector and broader federal market.

So close to his first day as CEO, Bush said Northrop would move its headquarters to the Washington, D.C. area from the former and original longtime Los Angeles hub to be closer to government customers. Northrop completed its move to the current Falls Church, Virginia site in 2011.

Northrop also was an active reshaper of its portfolio under Bush's leadership. Also in 2011, Northrop spun off its former shipbuilding business into what is now Huntington Ingalls Industries. At the time, Northrop said it made the move to gain sharper focus on its core aerospace, defense electronics and technology services lines of business.

That spinoff came two years after Northrop sold its TASC defense advisory services business to private equity firms KKR and General Atlantic in a deal started by Bush's predecessor Ron Sugar. TASC combined with fellow defense services company Engility in early 2015.

Northrop largely shied away from large acquisition during Bush's tenure until the Orbital acquisition to gain more of a foothold in space and missile defense. Up until the Orbital deal, Northrop's last big-ticket acquisition was in 2002 of TRW, where Bush led its U.K. aeronautics business at the time. His Northrop career has also included roles such as president and chief operating officer, as well as chief financial officer.

The Orbital deal also pushed Northrop closer to the $30 billion-revenue mark, ahead of Boeing to be the third-largest defense contractor on scale behind General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin.

Northrop also emphasized what it has touted as increased discipline on program bids with Bush at the helm. The company within the past year has decided not to bid on four major aerospace and satellite programs and more recently the Navy's MQ-25 unmanned tanker, as reported by Inside Defense.

That discipline also was reflected in Northrop's technology services segment that houses much of its IT work. Northrop has increasingly sought to tie that business closer with its aerospace and mission systems segment that house the company's core platforms.

A major win came nearly three years ago when Northrop bested a rival Boeing-Lockheed Martin team to win the massive Air Force B-21 bomber project. Defense analysts at the time saw that as an upset for Northrop, which was able to bid a much lower price than the Boeing-Lockheed offer.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also connect with him on LinkedIn.

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