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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

What Lockheed's NASCAR deal really says about the company

On the surface, Lockheed Martin’s new partnership with NASCAR and the American Council On Renewable Energy might seem pretty simple.

Lockheed gets to market itself to a broad audience in NASCAR’s 100 million fans. The partnership with ACORE bolsters the company’s “greenness.”

But, as I listened to Frank Armijo, vice president of energy solutions for Lockheed, and Michael Brower, ACORE’s president and CEO, and Mike Lynch, NASCAR’s vice president of green innovation, I could tell that there is something bigger going on here.

I see this partnership as part of an ongoing shift at Lockheed Martin as it moves more aggressively into new and adjacent markets.

The partnership gives Lockheed and ACORE access to NASCAR’s fan base where it can promote renewable energy policies and businesses. Part of that promotion will be encouraging young people to move into science and technology fields.

For NASCAR, it continues the organization’s push into green technologies, particularly biofuels. The race cars now burn fuel with 15 percent ethanol produced by American grown corn. NASCAR kicked off its green program five years ago and is seeing success in both awareness among its fans as well as in concrete changes at its racetracks, Lynch said.

The Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania has a solar farm that produces three megawatts of power for the track and 250 homes in the area. The goal is for all of NASCAR’s racetracks net producers of energy when not in use and zero consumption on race days, he said.

The partnership with Lockheed and ACORE will further those goals, he said. “We’ve got ideas all day long.”

After the presentation, I had a short one-on-one with Armijo to see how the partnership fits with Lockheed’s growth strategy, and what it says about the kind of company it is becoming.

Energy is one of the adjacent markets Lockheed has publicly identified as a growth area. That much I knew, but what I didn’t know is that the business has been growing 40 percent a year.

Another aspect of the business that I found interesting is that it draws on capabilities from across the company, including the IT, command and control, big data and analytics and heavy engineering.

The company is involved with energy management for facilities as well as the power grid. It’s also deeply involved in power generation and distribution. It includes wind, solar and biomass energy.

Traditionally Lockheed is synonymous with defense and military systems, and its approach to energy shares a similar ethos.

“Energy is a national security issue,” Armijo said.

It’s also a global issue which widens the potential marketplace for Lockheed, potentially bringing new government customers as well as commercial customers.

In China, the company is working with a developer of a new resort to build a power generation facility using thermal currents in the ocean.

Armijo said the company has been providing energy-related solutions to customers for decades, but no one has ever really connected that back to Lockheed’s identity as a company.

If the energy business continues to grow as he describes, then Lockheed’s identity is going to change. This partnership with NASCAR is just one early indicator of that evolving identity.

Will Lockheed ever stop being a defense contractor? I don’t think so. Its sights are set on the government market, but it won't be limited by that market.

Over the last 15 years, the company has built a huge IT business. Over the next 15 years, energy might emerge as the next big sector for the company.

Or, it could be something else. The bottom line is Lockheed is changing, and we should pay attention.

Here is a link to more on the NASCAR-ACORE partnership.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:25 AM

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