Global Leaders Series

A conversation with William Swanson -CEO (ret.), Raytheon Corporation

Conducted at the end of 2013, the following interview is one of the last interviews before the Raytheon Co., Chairman and CEO Bill Swanson announced his retirement. Former Aviation Week & Space Technology Editor-in-Chief Tony Velocci spoke with Swanson to kick off the first in a series of dialogues with A&D leaders on their views of what it means to compete in this complex environment and the lessons on which they are drawing to help them succeed.


Everyone experiences a profound lesson early in their career that ultimately proves instrumental to their success in later years. Did you have such a lesson?

I was Raytheon’s youngest plant manager, and from my office window I saw the lot where the plant’s 7,000 employees parked. I felt as much like a mayor of a small town as I did a plant manager. The sight made me realize that one of my responsibilities was to make sure all those people returned the next day, and I remember thinking how could I as a manager and a leader make sure that happened?

I learned that process discipline across an operation—whether it’s a plant or an entire business—was key to success. It is the most underappreciated part of doing business, and that applies to all industry sectors. Wherever I go I ask questions of different [nonaerospace] companies about how they do business in terms of servicing their customers. Health care providers, energy firms, banks, you name it—it seems most do not have IT systems that interface and they don’t utilize common processes. They simply are unaware of the rewards that come from process discipline.

What does the term ‘customer experience’ mean to you?

It means never losing sleep about the product we are going to deliver to any of our customers. I would rather they have to worry about some other supplier. The first step in delivering a superior experience is listening to what your customers expect of you. We follow a pretty simple formula based on fundamentals: Listen to what our customers say, act on what they told us, confirm that we did what they wanted us to do, and find out how we can optimize their experience with Raytheon.

What is your approach to balancing short-term financial goals and strategic goals involving operational performance?

One of my biggest ‘ah-has’ as a leader was that if you do all you can to take care of your customers and ensure their success, you’re also taking care of your shareholders. At times many companies focus way too much on the bottom line and investors at the expense of their customers.

Sometimes an investor will ask, ‘If I’m not the most important [stakeholder], who in the world is?’ My counter is that if you lose your customers, you will go out of business. Our customers are going to be with us for a long time, and if we perform well enough to meet their expectations, then our shareholders should be taken care of.



One of my biggest ‘ah-has’ as a leader was that if you do all you can to take care of your customers and ensure their success, you’re also taking care of your shareholders.

William Swanson CEO, Raytheon Corporation