We had the pleasure of speaking with Rockwell Collins’ Senior VP in of Washington Operations, Mr. Bobby Sturgell. A former Navy aviator, NTSB advisor, and head of the FAA, Bobby told us how Rockwell Collins planned to maintain growth and keep American soldiers safe abroad and civilian air transit passengers safe at home, as well as how being data-driven and transparent helps an executive weather a tough political climate.
GovConExecutive: How do you plan on sustaining growth despite expected cuts in the Defense budget?
Bobby Sturgell: If you look at Rockwell Collins’ business model it’s a fairly even split between the commercial and defense sectors. We are very well positioned in the commercial transport industry particularly going forward with the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350. Looking at the 2010 Defense budget, a lot of the anticipated cuts are in the out years and relate to supplemental appropriations for the two war efforts. We will continue to position ourselves in sectors that have seen stronger growth and continue working with our customers to solve their problems and provide the capabilities that they need. At the end of the day our focus is on providing valuable, cost efficient, electronic solutions and we are going to continue to provide that capability.
“Facts are a stubborn thing and hard to argue with. Be principled, transparent and always try to do the right thing. Let them know what you are doing and let them know how you reached that decision. It won’t always be politically popular.” -Bobby Sturgell
GovConExecutive: How will Rockwell Collins continue to modernize the US Army?
Bobby Sturgell: I think if you dig into the details you’ll see that there is continued support for the portions of that program that we’re involved in, so in the long run, we are well positioned. Networking is one of the key technologies that Secretary Gates has said he would like to see accelerated and we are heavily involved in that area. Some of our networking technologies are the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS), which includes ground mobile radios, and the Integrated Computer System for the Future Combat System. If you look beyond FCS we are also in key positions in two new modernization programs: the Ground Soldier Ensemble program and the Mounted Soldier System program. We continue to see ourselves as a strong partner in Army modernization.
GovConExecutive: How do Rockwell Collins products protect our soldiers fighting overseas?
Bobby Sturgell: Just about everything that we do on the defense side helps to protect our soldiers, primarily through improving their situational awareness, through radio or networking technologies or visual display products ranging from heads up displays (HUDs) to displays on vehicles, and of course we are the world’s leader in GPS military technology. We are very involved with weapon accuracy improvements as well. A couple of great examples are our Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR) program: we’ve delivered more than 300,000 of those units. They continue to set the standard for navigation position and situational awareness for the soldier. On the airborne side some recent helicopter deployments have included our integrated cockpit which we think provides better situational awareness for aviators and increases their safety as well.
GovConExecutive: You served as head of the FAA and on the NTSB. How do advanced aviational electronics protect us from domestic tragedy?
Bobby Sturgell: I think that when you look at the avionics side of things it really comes down to the human factor: better situational awareness enables better decision-making in the cockpit. Rockwell Collins has some very innovative Communication, Navigation and Surveillance technologies; the integrated displays, enhanced vision systems, synthetic vision systems and we invest about $900 million a year in R&D, something that we are not scaling back despite a tough economic climate. We are going to continue to provide innovative technologies in the cockpit, which are of key importance to the pilot.
GovConExecutive: Would you like to share any special measures that you and your staff take to secure your networks?
Bobby Sturgell: Like everyone else it’s an everyday concern for our company, just like it is for all of the companies in the private sector and in the government. We’ve got an intranet in the company and we’ve got multiple measures to secure our system that we constantly work to improve and we also participate with governmental cybersecurity efforts. Our CEO, Clay Jones, was recently in Washington to participate on the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC), discussing emerging cyber security issues. From a company perspective we have leadership involved and we’re involved with DoD efforts to secure mobile networks, which run into some of the same problems as fixed networks.
GovConExecutive: You have to be thick skinned to succeed in government contracting. Do you have any advice for executives taking flak?
Bobby Sturgell: That’s a good one. I certainly have taken a little flak over time but I think what serves a person well over time is to be data-driven. Facts are a stubborn thing and hard to argue with. Be principled, transparent and always try to do the right thing. Let them know what you are doing and let them know how you reached that decision. It won’t always be politically popular. I was heavily involved in the New York/ New Jersey airspace redesign and it was not politically popular but it is the right thing to do. If we don’t get that airspace squared away we’re not going to improve the performance of the ATC system, plain and simple. One of the things that attracted me to Rockwell Collins is its corporate philosophy about building trust every day. When you deal with the government – or any customer for that matter — you shouldn’t promise what you can’t deliver. You should be a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars and you should know your customer and be transparent. That is certainly my philosophy and it is one of the reasons why I joined this company.
GovConExecutive: You’ve taught at Top Gun and you’ve landed Naval aircraft on carriers in bad weather. How do you maintain grace under pressure?
Bobby Sturgell: That’s implying that I’m graceful. I don’t think I have ever been called that. I think training and preparedness are a large part of success. We had a couple of sayings in the fleet: ‘You fight like you train,’ and ‘If you aren’t having fun – you’re not doing it right.’ Rockwell Collins is very innovative in providing great training solutions and our new CORE simulation technology is another great example of how this company provides value in the training solution arena.
GovConExecutive: What is something most people don’t know about you?
Bobby Sturgell: I am a huge lacrosse fan and I just finished up being the assistant coach on my seven year old’s lacrosse team.