How do you manage something like that, with this level of complexity, that many people, that many locations and customers?
I’m looking to an executive vice president that’s running that business. Once a quarter, he has to review with me that program alone—How is it performing?—as well as his normal quarterly performance review. That is how I manage the business, for quarterly reporting and for monitoring it for our board. Beyond that, I am engaged directly with the Pentagon on this program. We do program reviews with the Pentagon; I’m in those reviews, I’m at the top seat at the table.
Do you go there or do they come here?
I go there, but I also go to Fort Worth, and they come to Fort Worth if they want to see the production in place. In the past week, I’ve been on program discussions with my team four times at a minimum. Even though I have the regular review of monitoring how the program is performing, there are always things we’re working on.
At some point, I engage in reviews of where we are in that process, or as we roll out to a new customer. I was in Fort Worth last month because the Koreans just received their first aircraft. I go to every one of those roll-outs; I’m there to speak and to participate with the customers. When I go to Europe, I’m meeting with ministers of defense and chiefs of air forces on this F-35 program. They want to know that I’m committed, that I’m engaged, that I’m looking after what’s important to them as a buyer of what we provide and as a partner to them in helping them keep their people safe. I’ve built a lot of relationships around the world with our customers that I find are critically important. One of our philosophies in this company is put the customer at the center of everything we do.
When you got here, though, that might have been a little bit different from the initial feedback you got?
That’s correct. I’ve definitely seen a change in our organization, and what’s best to me is getting the unsolicited comments from our customers who say they see a difference. I took over as CEO on January 1, 2013, and I had my first leadership meeting with all of my vice presidents and up in the corporation, roughly 300 people, at an offsite.
So from January 1 up to that point, I was able to do a listening tour [with customers] and then come in to my team and say, “This is what I’m hearing, and this is what we’re going to do about it. We are going to improve our customer focus. And we’re going to make sure that it’s customer first in everything we do.”
Then I basically tasked my team to put together a customer relations summit. We brought in customers to speak to us about how they viewed us and how they saw our relationship. I had workshops in that summit.
All the customer-facing leaders, vice presidents and up, in our corporation came here, about 150 of the leaders of the corporation. We spent two days on what are we going to do about it; out of that, we put together a set of actions and went about working down those actions. Every time I speak to groups, up until today, I always talk about it; I make sure the tone at the top is “This is number one. We’re going to put the customer at the front of everything we do.”
I was pretty brutal, frankly. I said, “You know, I go in and talk to customers, and I hear stories about somebody answering their smartphone in the middle of a customer meeting. Now why would you ever do that? Right? Or they come in with their talking points, and they just drill and they’re not listening; they’ve got an objective for the meeting, but they’re not listening to the customer.”
At the end of this summit, all of my direct reports, as well as this group of 150 some-odd people, we signed a commitment together on the action plan that we were going to go put in place. It was a big board up on the stage. We wanted to make sure we did it on the stage, so everybody saw it. We made a commitment. And I have not let that languish over the years. You can let things get stale if you don’t continue to keep the focus on them. That’s important.