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Thompson: Lockheed Emerges from CEO Shakeup in Good Shape

photo of Sara Sorcher
November 12, 2012

Some members of the defense community welcomed the announcement that Marillyn Hewson will become president and CEO of Lockheed Martin next year after Christopher Kubasik resigned after an ethics investigation found he had a "close personal relationship" with a subordinate employee.

“I think Lockheed comes out of this surprise in better shape than it went in,” Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, and consultant to the defense giant and many of its competitors, told National Journal.  “It has proven that it has a strong ethical culture. Secondly, Hewson is probably better suited to the CEO’s job than the person who was removed. There are too many people in the defense industry that are ego-driven, and Hewson is the exact opposite. She’s tough but she’s always nice and she listens. That’s what Lockheed Martin needs.

“The last several years have been pretty stressful for their relationship with the government customer, particularly on the F-35 fighter [jet],” Thompson continued. “They need a CEO who can mend the relationship and get along with all the players in the Pentagon.”

Kubasik on Friday left his role as vice chairman, president and chief operating officer. He was due to succeed Lockheed's outgoing chairman and CEO, Robert Stevens, on Jan. 1. Hewson, 58, was already due for a big promotion to fill Kubasik’s current role next year—now she will take his place until the end of the year when she transitions to become CEO. Hewson has been at Lockheed Martin for about three decades, serving as executive vice president of the Electronic Systems business area for nearly three years.

Many of Lockheed’s senior executives are “self-made” men and women, born of modest means and worked their way up the ladder, Thompson said, describing how Stevens was born in the declining mill town of McKeesport, Pa.,  joined the Marines, and eventually rose to head the major defense company. “That’s true of Marillyn, too,” Thompson said. “She was born in modest circumstances and basically worked her way up by taking every assignment they gave her.” Hewson was born in Junction City, Kansas, and got her bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s degree in economics from the University of Alabama. She also attended executive development programs at the Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School.

Lockheed’s overall strategy is to protect the programs they have already won while looking more broadly for opportunities, even beyond defense into areas like energy and cyber security, Thompson said. Hewson chairs the board of directors at Sandia Corporation, which also conducts energy research, and has a diverse range of technology business experience, which could make her a good fit.

Stevens, who is retiring, on Friday referred to Hewson in a statement as an "exceptional leader with impeccable credentials and deep knowledge of our business, customers, shareholders and employees." Stevens also said he was "deeply disappointed and saddened by Chris's actions, which have been inconsistent with our values and standards.” The other person involved in the improper relationship no longer works at Lockheed.

Appearances do matter, when your only customer is the political system, Thompson said. “The prospect of having a CEO who not only had broken the rules but was actively concealing the fact would have been troubling to anybody if they’d known.”

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