Jeremy Wensinger is the president of Cobham Defense Systems. Prior to Cobham Defense Systems, Wensinger served as the president of Government Communications Systems at Harris Corporation. We had the opportunity to learn about some of the biggest challenges he is facing in business and how he will work to overcome them. Wensinger believes the defense market is changing, and he shared with us how he plans to be successful in this shifting environment.
ExecutiveBiz: Can you tell me your priorities and goals for 2010?
Jeremy Wensinger: Our goals for 2010 are to return to our shareholders low double digit growth while continuing to meet or exceed expectations externally, as we have over the past five years. Every day, we read about one program or another that has found its way into a difficult time in terms of execution, so a continuing priority for me and the team has been for us to continue delivering on our commitments to our customers. Over the last two years, we have added nearly a billion dollars worth of revenue to our portfolio through a series of acquisitions and integrations that have enabled us to deliver more value to our customers. To meet and exceed customer expectations, our strategy has been to continue our execution on programs as we integrate what had been standalone companies and demonstrate that we are adding more value through that integration.
These integrated companies firmly position us in the C4ISR marketplace, where our end goal is to provide warfighters a complete perspective of their situation so that they can more effectively and efficiently execute their tasks on behalf of the United States and our allies. At Cobham Defense Systems, we have articulated that concept as “360 degree mission perspective.“ By effectively integrating the right companies, we create the synergy between them that enables our employees to deliver “360 degree mission“ perspective to our customers.
“Our biggest challenge candidly, as I look out five years and 10 years, is to get a hold of those elementary education students and attract them to science first of all, and then attract them to the aerospace and defense industry.” – Jeremy Wensinger
ExecutiveBiz: Could you tell us some of the biggest challenges that you're facing now and how you'll overcome them?
Jeremy Wensinger: I'd be surprised if you talked to anybody in our space that didn't say that one of the biggest challenges is talent. The aerospace and defense industry has an aging workforce. I think the biggest challenge we face today is attracting young talent in the U.S. (and abroad for that matter — but principally in the US) to seek engineering and aerospace as a career of choice. When I look at the number of engineering graduates that the U.S. is going to turn out this year, roughly 60,000, you have to wonder how many of them are going to be attracted to the aerospace industry. Our experience is that not as many as we would hope would be attracted to that space. Our biggest challenge candidly, as I look out five years and 10 years, is to get a hold of those elementary education students and attract them to science first of all, and then attract them to the aerospace and defense industry. I can remember as a kid watching the space program and being absolutely in awe about NASA's ability to put a man on the moon. I never lost that fascination with the whole space program. Where is that call to arms today for our young people ““ where they see that type of interest and desire to get involved in science and technology? Our ability to tackle and attract and retain the best talent is directly correlated to the next five years for us. That is the biggest challenge I have with our business.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see your biggest opportunity for growth? What emerging markets will you be pursuing?
Jeremy Wensinger: I think there are two emerging markets for us: One is an emerging market in the U.S. that relates to the integration of these companies, and the other is in India.
In the U.S., if I look back at the company 18 months ago, many of these opportunities that I am looking at today in the C4ISR market would not have been available to us. If I look at space apertures, space electronics, if I look at some of the integration of some of the communications equipment and some of the sensor equipment on aircraft and helicopters and even on the ground side the ability to deliver last mile communications ““ some of those things we would have been a part of as a component provider and now with the integration of these companies we are securely positioned in our ability to be more relevant to our end customer and provide more value to them.
Internationally, India is one of the biggest markets we've made investments in. As a company we have opened an office in India. We've sold into India for many, many years, but most recently, our integrated approach has led to us seeing tremendous growth in our Indian offering.
Whatever the geographic market, our focus on open architectures that are relevant to today's war fighter creates a growth opportunity by making sure we don't lock our customers into proprietary solutions. Here's an example I like to give to illustrate my point:
Why can my nineteen year old have more capability sitting on the couch at home than our war fighter can have in-theater? I walk in and my nineteen year old is sitting on the couch and he's got his IPhone, his laptop open, he's waiting for an Xbox game to load, he's DVRing a show and he's got his history notes on his laptop. And if you ask him what he's doing he'll tell you, “Nothing.“ Their ability to consume content is different than my ability to consume content, and we need to unleash that ability in the war fighter. Locking them down with some proprietary solution only ensures that we'll have the same communications equipment 10 years from now. That's what we do today, and it isn't the answer. I'm not saying the answer is the iPhone in-theater, but I will tell you if you give that war fighter, especially that nineteen year old, data they will turn that into information they can use to accomplish their mission.
ExecutiveBiz: Tell us your thoughts on the current environment in the US defense market and how are you able to be successful in this environment?
Jeremy Wensinger: It's a great question because I do think the market is changing. I think that we have seen the material change in the way in which our war fighter fights and the threat that we have and I think our industry is catching up to the fact that these elegant perfect solutions that drove a lot of development during the Cold War and took decades to field aren't as useful in the war we are fighting today. I've heard the Secretary of Defense use 80% solutions ““ I think he is absolutely right. Give the war fighter incremental capabilities faster than the perfect solutions decades from now. I think that purely changes the way in which we look at how we spend our R&D dollars. If you look at what R&D is it is Research and Development ““ I will tell you we're spending a significant part of our dollars on the “D“. We're doing much more development than we are research. If you were to go back ten years I don't think that would have been the case. For us to be relevant to the war fighter within this fiscal year and within the next three years we will be focusing specifically on our development activity to make sure that we are delivering that incremental capability to that war fighter. I think that's a fundamental shift in the US defense market.