In this 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.
Rebecca Torzone is the vice president of airborne sensors and networks engineering and sciences at Northrop Grumman Mission Systems. She has been with the company since 2000 and risen through increasing program management positions in the company’s superconducting electronics and airborne and ground radar business. In her current role, she has executive responsibility over all aspects of engineering, sciences, analytics and logistics supporting program execution across the 2,000- person division.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
Building a career within the defense industry was my “Plan B.” “Plan A” was to be an astronaut. This goal got me into STEM education. I joined the defense industry while aiming to be picked by NASA as a civilian astronaut recruit, but had to revise my expectations after the space agency changed its height requirements – I’m only five feet tall. But it worked out for the best – I honestly truly enjoy the defense industry, collaborating with the talented people both at Northrop Grumman and at our customer agencies. I love what I do and I am proud to be contributing to our government’s mission to protect our country and support our warfighters.
As a defense and aerospace company, we build systems and solutions that help warfighters on the front lines. It hit home how important this work is while I was teaching at a local college. One of my students, who served in the armed forces, shared with the class that the real-time battlefield information system known as Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) – a system that I had worked on at TRW/Northrop Grumman, saved his life when he was deployed.
What are some challenges you faced in your career?
As a mother of four children, my No. 1 challenge is work/life integration.
It’s equally important to me to be an engaged parent as well as a high-performing employee. The demands of both can often collide, especially for a Type-A personality like me. Sometimes it’s a juggling act, but with the flexibility afforded by technology and the support of my leadership and teams, somehow it’s always managed to work out.
It is also important to acknowledge that your personal definition of work/life balance will evolve – sometimes rapidly. Remember to take breaths every now and then, and look up from your work to celebrate your successes.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
I’ve been very fortunate to have engaged with mentors and leaders throughout my career who encouraged me to take some risks and accept stretch assignments that increased my technical skillsets and leadership capabilities.
However, early in my career, I wish that more female mentors would have told me that it was possible to grow in my career while still being a good parent. Back then it seemed like it had to be a choice – sacrifice time with your family to keep up with male counterparts in the workplace, or stagnate in your career. But I know now that you can have both. I wish more people had guidance for me on being a strong leader, as well as a high-performing mom.
I’m thrilled to now be in a position where I can impact further change through example, and help to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive work culture where people are comfortable being their “whole self” for the future generations.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
To me, mentorship shouldn’t be forced. It’s not about having regularly scheduled meetings. It’s about timing and being there when your mentee needs you – even for a quick chat on the weekends. I’ve taken Saturday calls where a mentee just needed to talk through an issue.
It’s also about honesty. I’ve had mentors give me very direct feedback – not always what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear. They said, “Here are some of your blind spots as well as some of your strengths.” If I didn’t get that advice, I wouldn’t be in this position today. I also think it’s important to talk about work/life integration and how having it improves your performance in the long run.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
Achieving clear results is my measure of success. Depending on the position, it could be achieving goals for the customer or the business. For instance, when I was running the operating unit for the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar, success was fielding that expeditionary radar to the U.S. Marine Corps on schedule and within the cost established. Now, in my current role as vice president of engineering and sciences, success is measured by my team driving technical execution to meet the milestones for the business.
As a leader, I’m responsible for helping other people achieve measurable results. That’s why I’m focused on people, because when our people have the tools, knowledge and organization they need to thrive, our business thrives and we deliver exceptional results to our customers – and that benefits the national security of this nation. In the end, success or failure all comes down to the leadership of our people.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
Today, diversity and inclusion is interwoven in our culture and values. Now, we realize that diversity and inclusion drive performance. Having people at the table with different backgrounds and experiences creates an environment of collaboration where great ideas ignite innovation which drives tangible results – it is exciting to be a part of such a pivotal and critical cultural shift within the workplace. This mindset shows in the fact that Northrop Grumman ranks highly as a company for diversity as well as LGBT employees.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
The defense community offers us the ability to work on things that matter. We develop solutions that go to into the field of military service to save lives and bring our soldiers home safely. I tell people coming into this industry, the more you can put yourself in the environment of the user, the better because the mission will become personal and you will inspired to deliver better products.
I had the opportunity to go to Fort Irwin Army Base in Barstow, California, a real-world training environment. I was literally shot at that day, albeit safely, as part of a war-gaming exercise. I put on the tactical gear and crawled through tunnels with rats and snakes. This experience shaped how I think about the design of systems that will be used by soldiers in some of the most difficult operational environments. These tools also need to be effective for operators in psychologically and physically stressful situations.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
I think the composition of the national defense will move faster than we’ve ever seen it move before. Our adversaries are becoming more flexible in their response to our countermeasures, so we’re stepping up our game.
This is where digital engineering comes in, that ability to rapidly adapt solutions to meet emerging requirements. For example, creating “digital twins” of our products and modeling, and then simulating and testing them, in a digital environment before we start bending metal. Northrop Grumman is in the midst of this digital transformation because we know we have to deliver faster and better to protect our nation from emerging global threats. It’s absolutely necessary.
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