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Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company with extensive and diverse operations. The company employs more than 113,000 worldwide, and its operating units include aeronautics, information systems and global solutions, missiles and fire control, mission systems and training, and space systems. Lockheed Martin reached $45.4 billion in sales in 2013 and it has a backlog worth $82.6 billion. When operating at this level in the global marketplace, a company requires a strong culture to drive it forward.

“The values of this company are part of the reason why I chose a career here,” explains Shan Cooper, vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company and general manager of the company’s facility in Marietta, Ga. “The values – performance excellence, do what’s right and respect others – are at the forefront of everything we do here. Also, they are aligned with my personal values. I really love this company and what it stands for.”

She has demonstrated these feelings by the fact that she has been with Lockheed Martin for more than 12 years. Cooper joined the company in 2002 as senior manager, diversity workforce management, and then progressed through positions of increasing responsibility at the corporate headquarters until being named vice president, diversity and equal opportunity programs in 2004. From there, she moved up to being the vice president and deputy of human resources for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, where she was responsible for the human resources operations and site security for more than 27,000 employees across the country. After that, Cooper served as vice president of human resources for Lockheed Martin Information Systems and Global Solutions in Gaithersburg, Md. In that position, she was responsible for all aspects of the human resources function for 36,000 employees in 48 U.S. states and 64 countries. 

Cooper was named to her current position in January 2011. As general manager, she is responsible for the 6,300-employee Marietta operation, which designs, produces, modifies and maintains military aircraft for the United States and other countries. Some of Marietta’s programs are the C-130J Super Hercules, P-3 Orion, C-5M Super Galaxy and F-35 Lightning II. Her responsibilities also include the company’s subassembly sites in Meridian, Miss., and Clarskburg, W. Va., and she serves as the company’s vice president of business ethics. 

“I was really attracted to Lockheed Martin because I loved the mission and the fact that the company is really impacting the world,” she says. “I come from a military family, so that made the company appeal to me. Also, the Lockheed Martin leadership team is full of really great people.”

Removing Barriers

Cooper first was introduced to the world of Lockheed Martin when she was getting her MBA at Emory University. Her first job out of college was as a bank teller, but she soon realized she wanted much more than that out of a career. After Emory she joined Lucent Technologies and then became a consultant to Fortune 500 firms with some of her friends who had gone to Wharton School. 

“Consulting was good, but it was a lot of travel and that was not the life I wanted,” she says. “I joined Lockheed Martin in 2002 and became the first chief diversity officer for the corporation. I worked in human resources, then had my own division in human resources, and now I’m on the operations side. It is such a diverse company and I’m lucky to have such varied career experiences.”

She believes collaboration and teamwork have enriched her experienced throughout her career, and she wants to encourage both of those values in her current position. “I recognized that we don’t get successful on our own,” she says. “My job right now is not to get in the way, remove barriers from my team and further develop the talent we have so we can reach an end goal together. I believe we can do that if we work hard, understand the company’s mission and in the process, have fun.”

Time for Development

Cooper is focused on developing her team and acting as a mentor because that type of support in her own life has led her to the leadership positions she enjoys now. She explains her parents were major influences in her life. Her father is a pastor, for example, and from him she learned the importance of working with people through their challenges and respecting people. 

“I have been blessed with mentors, who have been just phenomenal in my life,” she says. “Much of what you learn is not written in a company handbook – you need people to guide you. I really appreciate the people who have coached me along the way and invested their time in me, and that’s what I want to do with people in my team.”

In fact, mentoring is a big part of Cooper’s approach to talent development. She conducts talent reviews once a month and says she is available at any time for discussions about employees’ careers, particularly to hear about their career aspirations. 

“I conduct one-on-ones with employees at all levels because that is important to me,” she says. “I’ve found that to be a leader, you have to go out and serve. Find your passion and serve.”

She explains it is important to work throughout the talent pipeline so that everyone on the team is having the right experiences and getting ready for the next level. She also wants her team to learn from her mistakes.

“It’s all a very structured process, but it’s very important to spend time with people,” Cooper says. “It can take a lot of time, but I can’t stress how important it is. I spend at least three to five hours per week on employee engagement – that’s how you figure out what’s going on.”

‘Mission First, People Always’

Working closely with one’s team is not only helpful for individual growth, but it’s also important when a company must deal with challenges. In the past few years, Lockheed Martin has seen its main customer – the U.S. government – become faced with challenging budgets and potential sequestration has affected the contractor’s sales. Even so, that does not mean Lockheed Martin can slow down or reduce the quality of its products and systems, so teamwork has become even more important. 

“We spent the last two years on how to be more efficient, and working together in a different way so we can be more efficient and therefore more affordable,” Cooper says. “We have a very patriotic workforce and they take their jobs very seriously. The team rallied with me, understanding we have to change to be more affordable to continue serving our customer.”

She explains communication with her employees is the key to putting together a strategy and executing it successfully. “We are very resilient here,” she says. “We’ve gone through layoffs and we’ve gone through major changes. But we rallied and take on the change with great poise. We always say ‘mission first, people always.’ I see a great future for the company and this team because we are better positioned to serve our customer. 

“We will continue to focus on performance, and when our customer has needs, they will come to us,” she adds. “It will continue to be ‘mission first, people always’ with us. I work with amazing people who are resilient, creative and innovative. It is a real team here – if one division is having a challenge, we rally.” 

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