Global Leaders Series

A conversation with Bob Stevens - Executive Chairman, Lockheed Martin

As the world’s largest aerospace/defense contractor and the parent of the famed Skunk Works, Lockheed Martin has been responsible for many of the most innovative, futuristic platforms the world has ever seen, starting with the SR-71. In the company’s long evolution, however, the enterprise also has experienced difficulties serious enough to threaten its viability. In the late 1990s, after completing multiple mergers in a short period, the company seemed to lack focus and was seen in some circles as too big to manage. That is when Bob Stevens was promoted to Chief Financial Officer and led one of the industry’s most dramatic turnarounds in the post-Cold War era.

From 2004 through 2013, Stevens served as Chairman and CEO, and is now Executive Chairman. In the following interview with former Aviation Week & Space Technology Editor-in-Chief Tony Velocci—the second in Dassault Systemes’ Leadership series—Stevens shares his thoughts on the customer experience, the challenge of balancing short and long term goals, and how he defines leadership.  


Aerospace customers have grown more demanding in recent years.  How is Lockheed Martin trying to respond to these new expectations?

The demands and expectations from our customers can and do change rapidly.  Not long ago, our government customers wanted transformational technologies; technology that would skip a generation.  To achieve that goal, our industry fundamentally retooled, allocating more resources to R&D, accelerating more bold concepts, taking on more risk, and pushing the culture to reach far.  Now we have been asked to be much more conservative, to abandon leap-ahead exploration and focus on technology that’s “good enough,” to reduce costs and focus on affordability.  For industry, this change is dramatic and requires substantial time and attention.  It is much easier for the government to declare a change in policy than it is for companies to implement that change.  I think Lockheed Martin has been the industry leader in driving ahead on this new course.

What is your idea of the optimum customer experience?

When the customer is successful in their mission.  It is very hard to have any one customer at any one time completely satisfied.  However, we can give them the capabilities they need to accomplish their mission by listening to what their challenges are, and understanding how we can allocate resources and apply our experience and energy to contribute to their success.  If our customers are successful, we are successful.

What is the definition of leadership?

Leadership is the ability to prepare an organization for change and direct it through uncertainty.  Leaders understand the essence of the enterprise, what it believes in, and why.  They assess the world in which we live and what it’s apt to look like in the future.  They then bring their perspective forward, lay in the resources, prepare the workforce, set the standards, invest in technologies and people, and inspire and motivate others so the enterprise will prosper and contribute to a very defined set of goals in the future.  The leaders at Lockheed Martin have been able to do that very, very well because we fully immersed ourselves in the process of leadership development.  I could not have been more proud to serve on this team of extraordinary people.



If we can improve quality and lower costs for our customers, make the work environment safer for our employees, and create a better product, we will incorporate an idea from wherever we find it.

Bob Stevens Executive Chairman, Lockheed Martin