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Q&A with Northrop Grumman chief executive Wes Bush

Northrop Grumman chief executive Wes Bush,  inside of his office in Arlington.
Northrop Grumman chief executive Wes Bush, inside of his office in Arlington. (Jeffrey Macmillan - for The Post)

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By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010

In the three months since Wes Bush took the reins as chief executive at Northrop Grumman, he's made plenty of waves at the giant government contractor.

He used his first day on the job to announce the company would leave its longtime headquarters in Los Angeles and move to the Washington area to be closer to its biggest customer -- the federal government, to whom it sells nearly $25 billion a year in military planes, ships, missiles, software and other equipment. He pulled out of a controversial -- and potentially lucrative -- deal to build the U.S. Air Force a fleet of aerial refueling tankers, because he didn't think his plane had a good chance of winning. And he has led a company-wide push to focus more on profitability and performance instead of simply raising revenues.

At 48, he's one of the youngest chief executives in the defense industry. An electrical engineer from MIT, Bush spent much of his career at TRW, which Northrop acquired in 2002. At Northrop, he's served as the company's chief operating officer and chief financial officer and ran its space technology sector.

Capital Business recently sat down with Bush for a 30-minute interview in the company's government relations offices on the 29th floor of a glass office tower in Rosslyn, overlooking D.C. monuments and the Potomac River. Here's some excerpts from that chat:

What's wrong with L.A.?

We've been headquartered in Los Angeles since 1939, and it is home to much of what we do. We have about 30,000 employees across California, so our decision to move our corporate office to Washington is not a decision to leave California. . . . But as we thought about our corporate office and our ability to serve our customer, it became very clear we needed to be here. This is where our customer base is headquartered. This is where the key decisions are made that influence the things we care the most about.

A lot of the senior executive team already spends much of their time here in Washington, but when things come up on short notice it is a long flight from California.

Don't you have one of those super-fast planes to get you here?

No. We just want to be available outside of the day-to-day business activities and to be better known in the defense community. We want to not just be here for the scheduled meetings, but it is about being part of the community where key decisions are being made.

You made the announcement of your move your first day on the job. How did that go over?

It was clearly something we had been thinking about for some time. And I'm naturally inclined when I know we're going to do something to go ahead and do it. Don't wait around.

So you've narrowed your search to Northern Virginia. Why there?


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