How to Inspire Innovation

Remarks by CEO and President
Marillyn A. Hewson


The Wings Club ‘Sight’ Lecture

Yale Club, New York, New York

November 14, 2013


Good afternoon.   And thank you for inviting me to be with you today.

Before I begin my remarks I want to apologize for not being with you in person at the Yale Club. I had an urgent commitment that required me to be here in Washington today. Thank you for understanding, and thank you for your very warm welcome.

When Ralph Heath reached out to ask if I might give this year’s Wings Club “Sight” Lecture it didn’t take long to discover that I’d be following in the footsteps of giants. The list of aerospace legends who delivered “Sight” Lectures is remarkable. Igor Sikorsky, Wernher von Braun, Juan Trippe, Neil Armstrong – the list goes on. So to say that I’m honored to be here is an understatement. Thank you again for your invitation.                         

When I thought about what I wanted to share with you this afternoon I didn’t look any further than the suggestion from General Harold Ross Harris, one of the original members of the Wings Club. General Harris founded the “Sight” Lecture, and he suggested that the lectures cover “hind-sights, insights and fore-sights” of aviation. This progression from the past, through the present and into the future means one thing to me: innovation. In particular, how we inspire innovation.

Since 1903, when the Wright brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, innovation has driven the aerospace industry like few others. And I’d suggest that innovation is more important – and more necessary – today than at any time in the history of our industry.

Our challenges are great. Global security threats continue to escalate. The Department of Defense has initiated a strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. Sequestration requires that the U.S. military do more with less. Affordability is the first word we hear from customers around the globe and rightfully so.

So the question for us this afternoon is how do we continue to inspire innovation in the men and women who propel our industry forward? How do we ignite the spark of genius – the “Ah-Ha!” moment – that creates legends?

For Lockheed Martin, the impact and influence of the famous Kelly Johnson – both the man and the myth – continues to this day. Kelly was one of the great airplane designers in history and the first director of the Skunk Works, where many of our advanced, top-secret programs are developed. And when it comes to inspiring innovation, we begin with Kelly and his famous  14 Rules and Practices by which he managed the Skunk Works.

If we examine Kelly’s 14 Rules in detail, they’re a perfect reflection of the man. He was a no-nonsense manager with a down-to-brass-tacks leadership style that was reflected in his motto: “Be quick, be quiet, and be on time.”

His rules spell out a management approach heavy on collaboration and light on bureaucracy. They are designed for an industry that is fast, agile and driven. For example, one of Kelly’s Rules was that: “There must be mutual trust between the military project organization and the contractor… very close cooperation and liaison on a day-to-day basis.”

Another of his rules was that: “The number of people having any connection with the project must be restricted in an almost vicious manner.  Use a small number of good people…”

What can we draw from these rules today? I’d suggest three lessons:

First, innovation stems from a relentless focus on the things that matter most. Kelly hated waste. Eight of his fourteen rules had to do with efficiency. He cut needless reports, delegated wherever he could, and was obsessive about eliminating duplication. He wanted his teams focused only on things that drove projects forward so that they put maximum energy into innovation. Efficiency and innovation go hand-in-hand.

The second lesson is that partnerships drive performance. Kelly knew how vital trust is to government-industry partnerships. He knew the value of relationships and the importance of shared purpose, shared processes, and shared values. He knew how important stability is to a business, and he stated that specifications should be laid out in advance and not changed mid-stream, and that funding should be stable.

Make no mistake, Kelly was willing to be flexible. His rules called for a simple, agile design process because he knew that mutual partnerships would result in a better end-product for both the government and our company.

Finally, I’d suggest the third lesson from Kelly’s Rules is the vital role talented people play in innovation. Kelly knew how to surround himself with the best people and to empower them to achieve great things. His rules called for strong leadership on both government and industry teams, and a reward system that recognized great achievements, no matter what the level of the employee.

Three Lessons: prioritize what matters most, drive performance through partnerships, and let your best people reach their full potential. I’d say those lessons apply just as much today as they did 50 years ago.

Today, Lockheed Martin strives to carry those lessons forward. If I were to spell out our modern-day rules and practices for inspiring innovation, I’d say as leaders we must:

  • Create a climate where people can do their best work;
  • Embrace the best ideas regardless of where they come from;
  • Embark on missions that matter with a vision that inspires; and …
  • Exemplify strong values in all that we do.

Let me take these principles one at a time. I want to talk about how these principles have inspired innovation that led to the development of some of the most iconic aircraft in the history of aviation. More importantly, I’ll suggest how these principles are inspiring the development of next-generation technology.

First, to inspire innovation we must create a climate where people can do their best work.

Let me give you an example. The invention of stealth technology is one of our industry’s greatest innovations and one of its most interesting stories. The F-117 Nighthawk is Exhibit A for the game-changing power of stealth technology. The fighter’s ‘diamond-faceted’ airframe is recognized around the world by aviation enthusiasts of all ages and is unique in the history of airplane design.

Yet while the F-117 is one of the most recognized aircraft in the world, most people don’t know the story behind the story. Most people don’t know about the inspiration that led to the innovation – the singular spark that led to the invention of stealth. It’s a fascinating story, and one that I’m going to share with you today. More importantly, I’m going to suggest what this story means for inspiring innovation in the 21st Century.

The story of stealth began in the late 1970s. Soviet radar-guided, ground-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft batteries (including the SAM-5) were so technologically advanced that they posed a grave threat to fighter aircraft of the time. The Air Force was deeply concerned about the survivability of its fighters in the face of these threats. The question on everyone’s mind was how would the U.S. maintain air superiority?

The answer came in the form of an exceptional 36-year-old mathematician and radar specialist named Denys Overholser. Denys worked at the Skunk Works in Palmdale, California. The Director of the Skunk Works was Ben Rich who had taken the reins from Kelly Johnson.

One afternoon Denys dropped by Ben’s office and presented him with the Rosetta-Stone-breakthrough for stealth technology. The gift Denys handed Ben – over a cup of decaf instant coffee – would make a fighter so difficult to detect that it would be invulnerable against the most advanced radar systems yet invented.

Denys had just read a long, dense technical paper written by a Russian scientist that explained how radar waves were reflected at various angles. In a case of incredible irony, the Russian scientist had tried to interest Soviet authorities in his work and was ignored.

However, in 1975, “Chief Skunk” Ben Rich did not ignore his young, relatively inexperienced radar specialist. Instead, Ben listened intently as Denys argued that he could use the algorithms from the paper to design an airplane that would be virtually invisible to radar. Despite Ben’s misgivings, and the skepticism of more senior engineers, he gave Denys three months to design and build a scale model of a fighter that would reflect radar.

After the model was built and tested, Denys entered Ben’s office to give him the radar cross-section numbers. Ben asked him how good the numbers were. Denys replied that the new shape was one-thousand-times less visible than the least visible shape ever produced at the Skunk Works.

Ben took a moment to let that sink in. Then he asked what that would mean if the Skunk Works made the model into a full-size tactical fighter. Would the radar signature be as big as a Piper Cub, a T-38 trainer, an eagle? What?

According to Ben’s autobiography, Denys replied:  “Ben, try as big as an eagle’s eyeball!”

I thought you would enjoy listening to Alan Brown, the first Chief Engineer of the F-117 explain how lowering radar cross-section numbers is all a matter of angles and degrees. Alan’s demonstration explains the F-117’s striking, diamond-faceted shape.

So what’s the lesson to be learned about driving this kind of innovation? At the Skunk Works, Ben Rich created an environment where everyone was empowered to bring ideas forward no matter how unconventional. No matter the engineer’s background, experience, or job title, everyone’s voice was heard. Every idea was evaluated on its merits. In short, Ben created a climate, where people could do their best work. And in the case of the F-117, that climate inspired one of the greatest innovations of aerospace engineering.

A second principle to inspire innovation is that we must embrace the best ideas regardless of where they come from.

That was certainly the case with the F-35, Lockheed Martin’s 5th Generation multi-role, multi-variant stealth fighter. The F-35 began as the Joint Strike Fighter program, an effort to create an international 5th Generation fighter with three variants:

  • F-35A for conventional take-offs and landings;
  • F-35B for short take-offs and vertical landings; and …
  • F-35C for aircraft carrier take-offs and landings.

Nine partner countries signed on to help develop the F-35. Each of these partners contributed to the development of the operational requirements and design and test programs and incorporated the expertise of a global network of allies. Israel and Japan have both selected the F-35 through the Foreign Military Sales process. The F-35 is now in Low Rate Initial Production with suppliers in all partner countries producing component parts for all aircraft, not just those being built for their country.

So we really are embracing the best ideas of partners and suppliers from all over the world. For example, one of the most impressive things about the F-35 is its short take-off/vertical landing, or STOVL, capability. The F-35B’s STOVL system is powered in part by the next-generation Lift-Fan which is built by Rolls-Royce of the United Kingdom. Our engineers worked side-by-side with Rolls-Royce to develop the Lift-Fan technology as part of the F-35’s overall STOVL system. We did the same with Pratt & Whitney for the F-35’s engine.                                                          

In total, the F-35 is the work of a global supply chain spanning thousands of companies around the world. Today’s F-35 is the result of the combined efforts of tens-of-thousands of dedicated men and women as part of one of the world’s most sophisticated supply chains.

I can tell you from first-hand experience, embracing the best ideas – regardless of where they come from – helped inspire innovation and continues to inspire it today. I’ll never forget watching the first F-35B STOVL test almost 13 years ago. That was a defining moment for the entire F-35 team.

I thought you might find it interesting to see the F-35B in sea trials off the USS Wasp. Here it’s being piloted by Royal Air Force Squadron Lieutenant Commander, Jim Skofield.

That’s pretty amazing. Yet I think you’ll agree with me that what’s really exhilarating is to imagine future innovations – programs still on the drawing board – that students like the ones in the audience today will help propel skyward. So let me take a minute to address the students.

It’s encouraging to see bright young people like yourselves getting ready to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace. If you ask me, there’s no better place to be, and that’s not just because of the brilliant people you’ll get to work with or because of the incredible technology you’ll get to create. It’s because of the meaningful impact you’ll get to make for our customers and for our nation and our allies.

And that leads me to the third principle to inspire innovation: Embark on missions that matter with a vision that inspires.

I don’t think there’s a nobler mission than helping to keep our troops safe, and that’s what sound battlefield intelligence can do. For generations, we’ve been proud to help the military create better, faster, more reliable ways to collect rich, real-time intelligence. The U-2, the SR-71, the Corona reconnaissance satellite: each provided intelligence that was absolutely vital to national security. And the U-2 is still going strong, 58 years after its first flight. In each of these cases, it was the mission that inspired those teams to push the envelope further than it had ever been pushed.

And as we look to the future, vital missions are still driving our teams to reach new heights of innovation. One of these missions was on the cover of the recent November 4th issue of Aviation Week. It showed an ominous-looking, stealthy, needle-nosed aircraft with no cockpit. The title of the cover was: “Son of Blackbird.” The online version of the story generated such massive interest that the Aviation Week website actually crashed.

The story of the SR-72 begins over two decades ago when its predecessor, the legendary SR-71 Blackbird, was first retired from service. Since then, our Skunk Works team has been exploring ways to create the next great supersonic intelligence platform – one that would go even faster and higher than the Blackbird.

Well, two weeks ago, the world got a glimpse of what we’ve been working on. With the SR-72 we have an affordable; hypersonic; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and strike platform that could enter development in demonstrator form as soon as 2018. This twin-engine, technological marvel is designed to cruise at Mach 6 – about twice the speed of the SR-71 – and will have the optional capability to strike targets.

The mission of the SR-72 is of strategic importance to our nation. Our adversaries are fielding weapons that are increasingly mobile and versatile. The task of finding and stopping these weapons is getting tougher and all the more vital to global security.

The answer is an aircraft that can accelerate to Mach 6 – a speed we view as the “sweet spot” for air-breathing hypersonics. At this speed – about 3,600 miles per hour – the aircraft is essentially untouchable by air defenses and even other aircraft. It could fly over any point in the world, at any time, reaching targets thousands of miles away in an hour.

As our program manager put it: “Speed is the new stealth.” Try to imagine a plane flying twice as fast as the SR-71. There’s nowhere for the bad guys to hide. The message to our adversaries would be clear: you will be found. Now that’s a mission that matters.

For years, though, the challenge was how to build an engine that could reliably go that fast. Modern turbine engines have a maximum speed of Mach 2.5. To get to Mach 6, you need a ram-jet engine where air compression accelerates the jet to unheard-of speeds. The challenge is that ram-jet engines need a ‘running start’ to reach maximum speed. The plane needs to be moving at Mach 3 to 3.5 for the ramjet’s air compression to take over.

So the question was how do you bridge that ‘thrust chasm’ between Mach 2.5, the top speed of modern turbine engines, and Mach 3.5, the speed at which the ramjet takes over? Well, recently working with Aerojet Rocketdyne, we overcame the problem.

While I’m not at liberty to discuss exactly how we did it, I can tell you that we’ve achieved this innovation affordably by using an off-the-shelf turbine engine rather than creating a new engine from scratch. This is just another example where we’ve solved a difficult challenge by connecting our employees to the importance of the mission.  

I am confident that the SR-72 will be inspiring engineers in our industry to do their best work for decades to come. 

The fourth principle to inspire innovation is to exemplify strong values that resonate with employees, partners, and customers alike.

This principle is part and parcel of the other three. It’s fundamental. It’s written in our DNA. At Lockheed Martin our values are very simple and very clear:

  • Do what’s right;
  • Respect others; and …
  • Perform with excellence.

A company’s values are what set it apart, enable it to weather the challenges that test every company, and inspire it to achieve ambitious goals. In my experience, people want to work for an organization and an industry that align with their values. Customers and suppliers want to work with organizations with that same alignment.

Some say it was Alexander Hamilton who first said if you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything. It’s our values that help Lockheed Martin stand for something. It’s our values that give employees confidence that we’ll stand with them in uncertain times. It’s our values that give global customers confidence that we’ll stand side-by-side with them, support their missions, and deliver on our promises. And it’s our values that let our suppliers and teammates know that we’ll stand by our commitments.

A strong foundation of values builds trust and collaboration. It engages employees, suppliers, and customers. And it encourages the creativity and teamwork that leads to innovation. Values are at the heart of everything we do. I know many of you feel the same way.

In conclusion, Kelly Johnson’s 14 Rules continue to inform the principles that inspire Lockheed Martin innovation today:

  • Create a climate where people can do their best work;
  • Embrace the best ideas regardless of where they come from;
  • Embark on missions that matter with a vision that inspires; and…
  • Exemplify strong values that resonate with employees, partners, and customers alike.

It’s these principles, and others I’m sure, that will open new frontiers for the aerospace industry. In the not too distant future we will fly from San Francisco to Tokyo in minutes, and travel to asteroids, to Mars, and, ultimately, to the stars beyond where other worlds and new opportunities to inspire innovation await us.

Thank you very much.


Chief Executive Officer and President Marillyn A. Hewson


F-117 and Stealth

Alan Brown, the first Chief Engineer of the F-117, explain how lowering radar cross-section numbers is all a matter of angles and degrees.


British Pilot & Maintainer Test F-35B on USS Wasp

Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Jim Schofield and Lieutenant Commander Robin Trewinnard-Boyle of the Royal Navy discuss the F-35B's performance during ship suitability testing onboard the USS Wasp in August 2013.