In this new monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers.
Paul Markwardt has spent four decades at BAE Systems, holding various general management, business leadership and engineering and program management posts after starting out as a systems engineer working DoD programs.
Earlier this month, Markwardt became the company’s vice president of business development for Electronic Systems, serving a greater than $5 billion business sector with a portfolio of products including electronic warfare, precision munitions, controls and avionics, power and propulsion systems, and C4ISR technologies.
He previously served as vice president and general manager for the Survivability, Targeting and Sensing Solutions (STS) business area within the Electronic Systems sector, and vice president and deputy general manager of the Electronic Systems sector. Markwardt holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the State University of New York at Buffalo.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
I have been involved with the defense industry my entire 40-year career at BAE Systems (and its legacy companies). During my career, I have held diverse roles in engineering, program management, business development and general management. Until this month, I was serving as a vice president/general manager for a business area with greater than $1 billion in annual revenue, and just took on my new role as VP of business development for our Electronic Systems sector.
I started out as a systems engineer working on advanced communications technology for the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy. One of my earliest projects involved performing field testing of a networked communications system with the Army at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. This was a great experience for me as a design engineer, being able to work side by side with Army users on the system that I led the design for. What amazed me the most was how differently the Army users operated the system from how I imagined it would work when I was designing it. This showed me the importance of getting early user engagement in new development efforts, so that critical end-user requirements can be incorporated into the system from the start.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
Early in my career, we won a program to demonstrate the ability to control a long-range unmanned aerial vehicle via a satellite link. Other companies were having challenges accomplishing this. We were successful in proving out this capability in a six-month timeframe and this success was one of the capabilities that led to the launch of this program. However, we were not allowed to bid on the new program. I quickly realized that we did not have strong relationships at all levels with the customer community that launched the program. My key lesson learned in this effort was that it isn’t enough to have the strongest technical solution; you also have to win the trust of the decision-makers to be successful on new programs.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
As I was growing in my career, there was not a formal mentorship program in place. However, I did have a number of excellent leaders that I was able to learn from. Some of the most critical lessons I learned from these leaders were: create an open, inclusive and constructive environment that allows all employees to excel and contribute to the success of the business; establish a transparent and open relationship with our customers to allow the development of a true partnership that can focus on the success of the program through any challenges that arise; surround yourself with excellent people with different experiences than you; and make sure you help people grow in the business – even if that means they rise above you.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
For most of my career I have focused on being a mentor to our future leaders. Each year, I typically have about five future leaders that I spend time with. I let these leaders drive the direction of the discussions we have – many bring forward some of the challenges they are facing in their current efforts, while others are looking for help establishing networks within the organization. In our discussions, I will ask for their near- and long-term career objectives and help them establish a plan that leverages strengths and addresses potential gaps they may have to make sure they are in the strongest position possible to be selected for new roles that help advance their careers. I share with them the lessons I have learned in my career (such as the ones above) and also ask questions so that they can determine the best path forward for themselves. Mentorship is clearly one of my most important roles for the company and one that helps me learn about challenges going on across the business. As such, I believe that I gain as much from mentoring – if not more –than I am able to give.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
I believe that success is measured by the ability to win and successfully execute business, providing products and capabilities that give our warfighters a competitive advantage over adversaries. To do this, it is critical to have a balanced focus on the needs of our customers, our employees, and our shareholders.
What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?
There is an important and significant focus on increasing the quality of products and capabilities we provide to our customers. It is critical to the success of our warfighters that our products work every time they use them. The men and women that build our products, both in our factories and in the factories of our supply chain, are very critical to help us achieve this success. We need to focus on providing them with the right tools, training, direction, designs and requirements in a very timely and transparent manner to allow them to achieve the objective of zero defects. The supply chain is becoming more and more integral to our success and should be treated as an extension of our own business. We need to accept our role to assure their success and to prevent their failures. Training efforts to roll out AS9145 aerospace standards and/or Lean development and manufacturing should help our supply chain become stronger partners.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
I have seen significant culture changes in the defense industry during my career. Many defense companies, including BAE Systems, have been on a journey over the past 15 years to increase the diversity of their workforces. I believe that we understand the clear evidence that shows diverse teams do a far better job at creating novel solutions to the critical problems that we face in business. Creating an inclusive environment is critical for leveraging and maintaining a diverse workforce. For me, inclusion means assuring that the work environment is a safe and respectful place for all employees and that everyone is comfortable speaking up so that we can truly leverage the diversity of our workforce. When every member of the team feels this way, they can bring their “whole selves” to work, and we multiply our innovative and problem-solving potential beyond what was otherwise possible.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
As near-peer threats become more and more sophisticated in their defense capabilities, it is critical for us to find novel solutions that can be quickly and reliably fielded. The sector within BAE Systems that I am a part of, Electronic Systems, is very well known for our radio frequency and optical electronic warfare capabilities. We must continue to form partnerships with other defense companies, universities, and government labs, and leverage diverse talent within our companies to make sure we are developing the most advanced and applicable technologies to counter the capabilities of these near-peer threats. Deploying cognitive solutions, machine learning, and other quickly adaptable technologies will be critical for our ability to defeat rapidly emerging threats that our warfighters face. Along with this, we must focus on providing high-quality products in an increasingly shorter demand cycle. It is exciting working for a company that applies leading-edge technologies to solve difficult and critical problems that our warfighters face today and tomorrow.
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