Dr. Ray O. Johnson serves as senior vice president and chief technology officer at Lockheed Martin, where he guides the corporation’s technology vision and provides corporate leadership in the strategic areas of technology, engineering, production operations and program management.
The Air Force veteran previously served as SAIC’s SVP and general manager of the advanced concepts business unit.
In his conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Johnson discusses the importance of STEM education in building U.S. capabilities for the future, his expanded role as a result of a recent Lockheed reorganization and how he stays ahead of government acquisition.
ExecutiveBiz: How would you describe your role as chief technology officer at Lockheed Martin?
Ray Johnson: We recently went through a corporate staff reorganization that expanded my role beyond strategic leadership in the areas of technology and engineering to now also include production operations, program management, and supply chain operations. Combined, that represents 72,000 people in the corporation in those positions, including 60,000 engineers, scientists, and technologists.
ExecutiveBiz: Are those individuals directly under your leadership?
Ray Johnson: Some are directly and some are indirectly. The corporation is organized into five major business areas. So, in addition to my headquarters staff who lead enterprise-wide initiatives, the senior technical person in each one of our five business areas reports directly to me. That person then represents all of those engineers and scientists who work within that business area. We are using that same model for the production operations and program management functions. The senior production operations person and the senior program management person within each business area also reports to me.
ExecutiveBiz: Why are STEM education program so important to the U.S.?
Ray Johnson: Science, technology, engineering, and math, and the associated innovation, have been the cornerstone of economic development in the United States since the beginning of our nation. As we look at the situation today, we have a generation of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who are getting ready to retire. You can think of this in large part as the Apollo generation.
During the space program, many people entered the field of engineering and science to support the Apollo program as part of our national security; those people are now retiring. So we are concerned about the number of young people who are needed to replace these important technology positions.
To remain competitive, the United States needs to recognize that we are seeing a gap in the number of young people entering STEM fields. We want to inspire students to pursue these disciplines, which we know are critical not only to our national security, but also to our economic strength and our global competitiveness.
We think that success in this area depends on collaboration among industry, educators, policy makers, and families. And as an industry leader, we’re committed to working with these constituencies to make sure that we raise the level of what it means to be a scientist or an engineer—raise it to a level of celebrity similar to that of athletes or movie stars.
Lockheed Martin has been supporting STEM education in many ways—50 percent of our corporate giving goes to STEM education programs. That amounted to more than $13 million in 2012.
And, we have STEM outreach activities like “Engineers in the Classroom,” where our engineers go into the classroom, partnering with teachers, to give the kids hands-on experiences. We think hands-on experiences are very important as we transform difficult mathematics, science, and engineering to something very practical and fun.
We have also been proud to support the U.S.A. Science and Engineering Festival, which has taken place twice in the nation’s capital—once on the Mall and once at the Washington Convention Center—where we were able to bring hundreds of thousands of people into thousands of engaging demonstrations to let them experience what STEM really means in a hands-on sort of way.
I participated in both of those events, and it was wonderful to see the diversity of the crowds: girls in the pilot seat of a helicopter simulator, boys putting curious hands-on nanotechnology, and families of all backgrounds asking inquisitive questions about green energy. These were wonderful events, and we will again be the host and founding sponsor of the spring 2014 event.
ExecutiveBiz: What do you believe the current federal budget environment’s impact will be on research and development? Where does R&D go from here?
Ray Johnson: As you may know, we are celebrating our 100th year as a company, and a hundred years of innovation. During our centennial anniversary, we can think back at all the wonderful things that Lockheed Martin has been responsible for in the development of systems.
We have used innovation to develop those systems, and we are going to use innovation to meet the challenges that we face today. We live in an environment that we call the New Reality, which we describe as an increasing set of global security challenges operating within a constrained resource environment. We believe that innovation plays a major role in meeting these challenges.
As a result, we have implemented initiatives on the technology and engineering side to tackle affordability head-on and generate innovative solutions.
Some of those solutions involve advanced materials that can reduce the cost, size, weight, and power usage of systems. Others involve advanced manufacturing, where we use digital design from the design phase through the sustainment phase to reduce costs. We are bringing all the engineering and advanced technology capabilities to bear on this affordability challenge, and working with our customers to meet their challenges.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you stay ahead of the curve of what the government wants to do with acquisition and procurement in technology?
Ray Johnson: We look ahead and we also look to the current. I think the key is to have a balanced portfolio. History has shown that in times of economic downturns or defense drawdowns, making investments in future technologies is important. So you cannot give up on future investments. At the same time, there are near-term challenges that have to be met.
We believe strongly in that balanced portfolio approach. Some of the areas that we are making investments in for the future include mobility and cloud computing, recognizing that data and decisions are being extended through mobility and that everyone wants to always be connected.
Closely related to that is cybersecurity. As mobility and cloud computing increase, the surface area of attack also increases. As the number of mobile devices increases, so do the pathways to the network. We have very large cybersecurity initiatives to help make sure that the information on the networks is secure, that communications are secure.
We are trying to move beyond the current computing architecture into quantum science and quantum computing. We have purchased a computer from a company called D-Wave that has been installed at the University of Southern California where we are researching the next generation of computing architectures.
Also, I mentioned advanced materials and nanotechnology. We are working with basic material structure that can change the way engineers do design. It can actually have fundamental changes in the engineer’s design manuals and it can affect size, weight, and power, and also support new manufacturing methods. So those are some of the areas that we are working in.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some lessons you learned in the Air Force that you bring with you today and use in your current executive role?
Ray Johnson: I think the main lessons that I brought out of the Air Force and have applied in my post-Air Force business life are the importance of leadership, the absolute importance of teamwork, and, finally, a mission focus.
The single most important thing that serving in the military teaches you is that the mission comes first. That mission focus is important because the missions that we support and the customers that we serve are absolutely vital to the nation’s security. We take on some of the most important global security challenges that the world faces. Having that mission focus enables us to, as a team, to successfully meet those challenges.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve been on both the buying side and selling side of government contracting technology. Wow has industry changed since you first became involved in contracting?
Ray Johnson: What is important to have in the government-industry partnership is strong technical capability on both sides. When I was in the Air Force working in acquisition, I always tried to bring a strong technical component and technical understanding to the table when I spoke with industry counterparts. That is what we strive for and want to achieve today.
The best partnerships can be achieved when both industry and government have a good understanding of the trade space and a good understanding of the environment they operate in. We continue to work to develop a strong industry partnership to match that strong government partnership so we can have—especially in times of affordability challenges when tradeoffs have to be made—a good, solid business and technical understanding that will help us all make the right decisions and achieve the best outcomes.
ExecutiveBiz: With all the things on your plate, including speaking engagements, how do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?
Ray Johnson: The term that most people entering the workforce today use is work/life integration and that is the way I look at it. With mobility and always being connected, the key is to love what you do.
I am fortunate to currently have and previously have had jobs that I love. So that balance occurs much more naturally. It is not an “either/or,” it is an integrated “both.” Again, technologies enable a better integration. Young people entering the workforce today are mission focused and want to do a good job, but they also want some flexibility when they do that job.
This is what I mean by work/life integration: you need to be home for an appointment at four o’clock, but you know that you’re going to be back online at seven o’clock to put in a couple of hours in the evening. That is the kind of integration that I think people want to achieve, and that certainly is the kind of life/work or work/life integration that I have achieved.
ExecutiveBiz: So moving forward in 2013 and beyond, what are you most excited about for Lockheed Martin?
Ray Johnson: I am excited about the opportunities that we face, given the new technologies, the advanced manufacturing, and the quality of the workforce. The people who are entering our workforce today come with a drive, motivation and understanding, ability to communicate, and desire to work together as teams that I think the industry has not seen before.
Everything begins with people and talent. As the nation’s number one defense contractor, we bring together that extreme talent with advanced technologies, new manufacturing and digital technology together to meet the challenges that we face in this new reality.