Drew, appointed to head Exelis’s information systems business in Herndon, also joins a cadre of high-ranking women at some of the largest local contractors, including chief executives such as Marillyn A. Hewson at Lockheed Martin and Phebe Novakovic at General Dynamics.
Exelis, which was spun off from ITT in 2011, has long been known for its radios and jammers, among other products. In recent years, however, Exelis has increasingly moved into technology services, including air traffic management services.
Drew’s appointment seems likely to bolster that shift. With a doctorate in computer science, she has long worked in information technology and communications. She led Boeing’s integrated defense and security solutions organization before taking over business development for Northrop Grumman’s mission systems sector in 2008.
After Northrop Grumman spun off its advisory services business into the Chantilly-based Tasc, Drew rose to senior vice president of its strategic capabilities and technology group, overseeing more than 4,000 employees.
At Exelis, she said she plans to expand the company’s core capabilities — from an air traffic management program to maintenance work on NASA satellites — to pursue global aviation customers.
“There’s various needs, whether it’s global en route air traffic control or smaller scale regional kinds of work,” she said. “My role is to help us grow.”
Exelis has also made acquisitions to improve its position. The company late last month completed its purchase of Melbourne, Australia-based C4i, which provides advanced communications software for air traffic management, among other applications.
Exelis paid about $16.8 million for the company.
Drew said the focus on aviation will help the company weather the uncertainty of the U.S. defense budget.
“The air traffic market is growing,” she said. “We’re looking to balance the portfolio.”
Drew, who has planned several visits to Exelis locations in places such as Albuquerque, N.M., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Rome, N.Y., is also not a stranger to a company finding new footing after a spinoff, given her experience at Tasc.
“It actually creates opportunity,” she said. “You have an opportunity to invent to some degree.”
Still, Michael S. Lewis, managing director of consulting firm the Silverline Group, said Exelis, like many other contractors, will face challenges in expanding into more international work.
“All the companies ... are going to face the head winds of the U.S. domestic market,” he said. “The offset of the international business I don’t think is great enough to tune out the negativity or the head winds that these firms are going to experience.”