Northrop makes changes near the top

September 2, 2012

Falls Church-based defense contracting powerhouse Northrop Grumman is one of the few local contractors that has not named a new chief executive this year.

Both General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin selected their next CEOs, while Computer Sciences Corp. and Science Applications International Corp. welcomed a change of leadership.

But that doesn’t mean the contractor isn’t seeing its fair share of new faces. This summer, it announced a slate of promotions, including moving Linda A. Mills from president of the information systems business to corporate vice president for operations.

Kathy J. Warden was picked to succeed Mills, while Thomas E. Vice was promoted to lead the aerospace systems sector, and Gloria A. Flach to head its electronic systems unit.

Capital Business recently sat down with Mills to talk about the changes. What follows are excerpts from that conversation:


Linda Mills of Northrop Grumman. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN)

What will you be doing in your new position?

I’ll be responsible for all of the internal operations within the company. This is really the next step in our evolution to ensure that we continue to be focused on performance.

We’ve seen Northrop getting smaller. Are you done shrinking?

The last couple of years, we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on shaping our portfolio. We now have a portfolio that is in alignment, so that’s not to say we’re not going to find things here or there we still might want to address, but we have it kind of where we would like it for right now.

What are you doing about sequestration?

The government hasn’t really issued any guidance on sequestration. Just to be prudent as a company, we’ve been of course going through some planning. It has to be more scenario-based than anything else. As we get more clarity, then we’ll adjust our plans.

What do you mean by scenario-based?

That’s having different scenarios and [considering] how sequestration might play out. Is it full sequestration? Is it a continuing resolution? Or some combination of the two? The scenarios are around what actions might you take in the near-term or the long run, what the size of the reduction might be, etc. If anything happens, you’re ready and prepared.

There were multiple internal promotions recently. What does that mean for Northrop?

We have a pretty deep bench, so we’ve decided to take advantage of that bench. We’ve been being very thoughtful and thorough about it.

Some noted there are quite a few women, which we’re seeing at other defense contractors.

When I was promoted to sector president, people were commenting on the Lindas — [Lockheed Martin executive] Linda Gooden, [BAE Systems Chief Executive] Linda Hudson and then me. Over time what you’ve seen is women in key leadership positions. It’s sort of blossoming.

Why do you think there are so many?

Many years ago, women and minorities were promoted into leadership positions, and they’ve been successful and continued to be promoted. Diverse people tend to create diverse organizations. Creativity and innovation have increased.

The whole industry is in flux. Where do you think it’s headed?

We wish we knew. You’d probably see the same comment across the industry.

Is Northrop where it needs to be?

You never know what you don’t know, but we’ve been really trying to be very proactive. You saw that with the very strategic move we made when we sold our advisory services [business, known as TASC]. We were the first that did it because we could see what was the likely outcome.

Are there risks to being a leader?

From what we’ve done to date, I haven’t really seen that. When we look back, I think they were exactly the right decisions. We also spun out our shipbuilding business, which I think was also the right decision. They’re flourishing, and we’re focused again on our core capabilities.

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