Liz Huldin serves as director of human resources for Boeing Network & Space Systems.
The Motorola and Honeywell veteran joined the firm in 2009 and most recently served as director of M&A, integration and international rewards for the corporate Human Resources strategy, compensation and benefits group.
In her conversation with ExecutiveBiz, Huldin discusses Boeing“™s work in STEM education, how the company acquires its talent and the importance of attracting and retaining veterans at defense and aerospace firms.
ExecutiveBiz: You joined Boeing in 2009. How have you evolved with the company and how has Boeing evolved in your time there?
Huldin: It’s been very exciting. When I joined in 2009, I joined in a merger and acquisition role that looked at what we were doing across our businesses. Interestingly, I spent a lot of time with our Network & Space Systems business because a number of our acquisitions over these few years have been in this business area, in particular the ArgonST, SMSi, and eXMeritus acquisitions.
I evolved with the businesses and, ultimately, into this role with N&SS, looking at how can we better leverage what we were doing and continue to grow in some of the new markets that we were seeking to be a stronger player.
ExecutiveBiz: In terms of your M&A experience, Boeing acquires much smaller firms than itself to boost certain aspects of the company. So I was wondering, from an HR perspective, what is it like trying to join two organizations together like that? What are the challenges?
Huldin: That’s how I ended up in human resources — trying to solve the challenge of bringing together two businesses that have run independently. I think a big part of it does come down to the culture of the businesses as well as the work statement that they have. It’s really important and it needs to be seen as a priority when we’re working through an acquisition.
In other words, you want to have people focused on what it takes and you want a lot of cooperation. It’s really important to understand why you’re acquiring a business and recognize that you’re doing so for certain reasons and that you keep those reasons focused. With something like ArgonST, it really helped us increase our capabilities with the Navy as well as in a number of different sensor technologies. We really see the dividends today in our Electronics & Information Solutions division.
ExecutiveBiz: Where does Boeing draw its talent and how does it recruit the best people?
Huldin: Within Boeing, we get the luxury of having a balanced strategy. We have very strong internal development, so once people are in Boeing, they tend to stay. And they can have pretty robust careers, even moving across whole industries, from commercial into defense, and across functions. So once we get somebody in here, it’s a good place to be.
We also have really strong external hiring and recruitment efforts. In particular, in a business like N&SS, we are often looking for experienced professionals in the software and engineering areas. And, as you can guess, especially in the Potomac Region, the markets are very competitive. So we’re constantly looking for people and getting our name out there.
We also work a lot with bringing recent college graduates into the company. We work with a number of different universities and colleges, even on a global basis, but here locally as well. We also look a lot toward veterans and returning veterans. In the last two years, we were able to hire 3,600 veterans into Boeing.
We use our career websites for the remainder of our hiring, but it’s really about keeping a strong pipeline and then once people are in, helping them develop into the jobs they want and the careers that we need as Boeing continually changes and grows.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve worked at a number of companies including Motorola and Honeywell and you talked in your last question about moving across whole industries. Can you talk about a little of your experiences at those companies and how the public and private sectors are different.
Huldin: It’s something I get to draw upon daily, especially as we see the defense markets evolving into the commercial arena. The business that I was with when I was with Honeywell was actually a friction material business in ceramic brakes. We’re talking a highly commoditized, second-tier supplier type of business that had more operations outside the U.S. than inside the U.S. That experience, as I move across Boeing, has been very helpful as we look into growing in markets outside of the U.S. and looking at talent and the challenges we have in those markets.
It’s also very helpful as we look at some of the challenges we have from a competitive nature — where our customers are saying, “how can you give us what we need and give us solutions that cost less and still be able to attract and retain people?“ With Motorola, I had the good fortune of working across all of our businesses, again very much on a global basis.
Motorola had a very strong state and local government radio business that also had some of the customers we have here at Boeing in the Network & Space Systems business. They also had a network business and a mobile phone business. So what’s really exciting was very fast, high“‘moving cycle times. We are really trying to get talent that’s ready to go and can make a big difference in a fast cycle and in a tough market.
ExecutiveBiz: You’ve held a number of management and executive roles at companies where you focus on international business as well as M&A. How have those roles have helped you thrive in your current position?
Huldin: They’ve helped because I feel I’ve had a good blend of both what I call strategic or core roles as well as business experience. I have also seen what it takes to move in and out of companies and in and out of industries, so a little bit of flexibility. I think it helps tremendously within Boeing to be able to understand and respect what’s been a very strong and successful way of doing business, but also be able to translate as we move into new markets and as we continue to expand into markets beyond commercial aviation, which we are known for.
It kind of reminds me of the days I was at Motorola. At some places I would go, the first thing they would say was, “Well, you don’t make TVs anymore. What do you make?“ I get to do the same thing with N&SS, because while it may be challenging sometimes, we’re the cool businesses. We’re the ones that have the space exploration business and satellites and some of those other pieces as well.
I had somebody the other day say to me, “You really have met an astronaut in this role?“ And I said yes, I have!
ExecutiveBiz: Why is hiring veterans so beneficial for government contracting firms such as Boeing?
Huldin: Clearly we’re in the defense business and government contracting. But Boeing is much bigger than that. We have a big commercial business as well. I think that there’s a huge commitment to people who have learned so much and have put themselves out there. And it’s a passion of my own that’s shared by a number of people across Boeing.
We have a lot of veterans already here. So there’s a lot of interest. We have over 24,000 veterans working here at Boeing. Veterans represent a huge talent base that we need to support. So it’s very much something in which everyone wins. It’s really exciting.
I’ve been out at a few different recruiting events as well as some mentoring events. Helping people transition from one career and one vocabulary in the military into the private sector is great. When it’s in an industry that they have some awareness of or might fit, I think it actually helps sometimes with that transition. We’re glad to do it and we’re definitely benefiting from it as much as the people we recruit.
ExecutiveBiz: What are you most excited about moving forward, going into the summer of 2013?
Huldin: I think we have some great opportunities as a business. Our focus markets are great places to be. There’s the security, space and C4ISR markets here at Network & Space Systems. We know there are challenges but when I look at what we can do and think of myself as a business person specializing in people, we can help make sure we’ve got the right people and that they’re engaged.
There are opportunities out there now with the market to be able to attract people who, maybe in the past, we might not have been able to attract to Boeing. There are places for them to use their skills and to make a real difference. We’ve got the 702 small platform satellite, which is an all-electric satellite that’s really making an impact in the market. And we have the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is really exciting.
ExecutiveBiz: You hear a lot now about not having enough qualified people in engineering, science, and math. How involved is Boeing in STEM education and growing the engineers, mathematicians and scientists of the future?
Huldin: Very involved. We have a number of different STEM activities that we stay engaged with and that’s really across Boeing and the businesses. And it goes everywhere from early education STEM all the way up through university and college level. And we try to take a holistic approach.
We use something we call skills“‘based volunteerism, where we try to make sure our own engineers and technical talent are able to get out and work with STEM. We also put some investment into STEM activities because we know this is the way of the future. And we know that can align with what we’re doing with veterans and returning veterans. We have worked with a number of groups, including some universities, on how we get to a better place in helping promote STEM“‘type degrees for returning veterans who are wanting to go back to school.
One of the most exciting things, I think it was two months ago, Roger Krone, the president of N&SS, was the keynote speaker at the Achievement Rewards for College Students (ARCS) awards event. These are graduate students in the Potomac Region whose research is focused on STEM“‘related activities. We sponsored a student through this group last year and we’ll be doing that again this year, so it’s exciting. We recently took part in an event honoring some of the scholarship students we supported with the Northern Virginia Urban League, which is another good place for promoting STEM within the high schools.