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Eller College Home > News, Events, and Multimedia > 2004 Technology Executive of the Year

2004 Technology Executive of the Year

Vance D. CoffmanVance D. Coffman
Chairman of the Board
Lockheed Martin Corporation

December 9, 2004

Thank you, President Likins, for that very laudatory introduction. At a moment like this, I feel a little like the great Jack Benny, who once received a similarly impressive award and said, "I don't really deserve this. But then ... I have arthritis, and I don't really deserve that either."

In all seriousness, I am deeply honored to be selected as the 2004 Technology Executive of the Year — and I accept this distinction on behalf of the 1,200 Lockheed Martin employees who work in this magnificent state. I would also like to congratulate the other award recipients — and say what a pleasure it is to meet them and learn about their contributions to Arizona and its high-tech economy.

Let me begin by taking note of the name of this event. “Technology and Management 2004” is, appropriately, co-sponsored by the College of Engineering and the Eller College of Management. As someone who was initially trained as an engineer and, over time, acquired managerial and leadership skills, I can attest to the critical importance of “crossover” between these sometimes distinct professions.

When one looks back at the history of our country, and the extraordinary prosperity we have enjoyed — not to mention the prosperity we helped bring to other countries — one is led to ask some basic questions: How did we get here? How did five percent of the world’s population come to produce 30 percent of the world’s economic output? And what keeps America at the forefront of the world economy and world technology?

The key to success has certainly not been our cost of labor, since our average worker compensation has consistently been among the world's highest. As someone once noted, "If wages alone [determined economic competitiveness], Haiti would be the industrial capital of the world." Natural resources are important — but they are not the answer either: There are many nations rich in natural resources, but poor in living standards.

I believe that what has propelled U.S. leadership in the world economy — leaving aside the two vital factors of freedom and the free enterprise system — has been our ability to “out-invent” the rest of the world. In other words, we have a history of developing new technologies and successfully bringing those new technologies into the marketplace.

The list of American success stories reaches back to the earliest days of our republic:

  • Fulton and the steamboat
  • McCormick and the mechanical reaper
  • Morse and the telegraph
  • Roebling and the suspension bridge
  • Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone
  • Eastman and the Kodak camera
  • Edison and the light bulb
  • Granville Woods — an African-American competitor of Edison’s — who developed the “third rail” system for powering streetcars and subways
  • The Wright brothers and the first powered aircraft
  • Ford and the automobile assembly line
  • Grace Hopper and the first user-friendly business software program
  • Kilby and Noyce and the integrated circuit
  • Gates and Jobs and many others who brought the computer out of the workplace and into the home
  • And, of course, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who created the first Internet search engine, originally called “BackRub,” and which is today known to users worldwide as “Google.”

From steam engines to search engines — it’s quite a record.

Now, technology is a tricky thing. As this audience is certainly aware, no one today can simply invent a better mousetrap and expect the world to beat a path to your door. The American Model has shown that to succeed, one must not only invent a better mousetrap — one must also patent it, get regulatory approvals, raise capital, correctly market the product, price it, distribute it, and then pay whatever taxes come due on the profits — assuming there are profits.

To do all that, one must be more than simply an engineer, and more than simply a manager. Bill Gates once described his role at Microsoft as follows: "I ended up doing a job that's a mix of skills ... a mix of technology and leadership and management." Speaking as someone who also found himself embracing a similar mix of skills, I found myself doing things I never anticipated to make my company successful. I have described this evolving job description as doing what others either couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Today I will call it “busi-neer.”

To put the issue another way, a half-century ago the great Spanish philosopher and author Jose Ortega y Gasset made a very prescient observation. In his book "Mission of the University," he wrote, "[There is a need today for] a kind of genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius for integration. Of necessity this means specialization, as all creative effort does, but this time the [person] will be specializing in the construction of the whole."

“Specializing in the construction of the whole.” I would suggest that this is a kind of shorthand for saying that America's legendary management skills and our technological creativity are both critical to our global competitiveness.

At a time when our whole way of life has become more and more dependent on technology — when technology itself is vastly more complicated, integrated and internationalized — and when the capital markets become less and less tolerant of error — when all these conditions are present, as they are today, the management of technology is critically important to the success of any enterprise. However ironic the recent announcement by IBM to exit the personal computer market, it is another affirmation that no company can afford to be out of sync with the marketplace, either technologically or managerially.

Which is not to say that external developments cannot re-cast the entire technology-management equation overnight. We all learned that bitter lesson on September 11th, 2001 when we discovered that what we thought was a relatively contained threat became a national security issue of the first order.

The post-9-11 world has presented America’s Homeland Security apparatus with a challenge of almost unimaginable proportions.

Consider these questions:

  • How do we secure a nation that has more than 700 airports, with approximately 20,000 commercial flights on a typical business day?
      
  • How do we secure a nation that has 95,000 miles of coastline and 7,500 miles of land borders, where two million rail cars, 11 million trucks, and 6 million shipping containers enter our country each year?
      
  • How do we secure a nation that relies more and more on vulnerable electronic systems — such as the Internet — for an ever-increasing share of commerce and financial services?
      
  • How do we safeguard all of those points of vulnerability? And — just as important — how do we make our homeland more secure while preserving the civil liberties we cherish?

A few months after 9-11, a respected former Defense Department official had this to say: “Labor-intensive solutions that are currently in place are not going to work [over the long term]. We’ve got to embrace deep-technology solutions or we will pay a huge price for inefficiency.”

While not abandoning “labor-intensive” applications where appropriate, I think the official had it about right: We’re going to have to develop Homeland Security measures that depend on extremely efficient, extremely accurate, extremely reliable information technology solutions. And, just as important, those systems will have to be integrated. As recent Congressional hearings have demonstrated, the right hand of the government must know what the left hand is doing.

Fortunately, integrated technology solutions have been in development for some time. For various reasons, companies and governments already collect enormous amounts of mundane data on people and enterprises. Until recently, most of that data was not analyzed or shared among government agencies. After 9-11, we came to realize that by “fusing” data from multiple sources — such as vehicle registrations, credit card spending, phone records, airline reservations, banking activity, visa violations, postal deliveries and the like — patterns can emerge.

And like a photograph in a developer’s tray, what appears at first to be random dots in a murky image can suddenly merge — and, with the right perspective, the picture of a terrorist plot may be discovered — and prevented. Indeed, recent news articles suggest that there have been numerous planned attacks that have been thwarted by using such integrated technologies.

To some, the shift of commerce and security to the IT field doesn’t quite fit the usual image of America’s aerospace-defense industry. Forgive the use of my own company as an example, but for most of our history we have been associated with “platforms” such as aircraft, ships and rockets. Perhaps you have heard of the Lockheed Martin F/A-22 and Joint Strike Fighters, or the Titan and Atlas launch vehicles, and Aegis Cruisers.

But in fact, the rise in IT solutions has necessitated a fundamental change in the entire structure of the defense industrial base. After closing dozens of manufacturing facilities at the end of the Cold War, today we have more clean rooms than shop floors, more systems architects than metal fabricators, more computer programmers than welders and riveters. As a matter of fact, the defense industrial base of the year 2004 bears little resemblance to that of 1980, 1990, or even 1995, and we will be compelled to continue to shape the face of our business as we move forward.

I might add that since the mid-1990s, Lockheed Martin has been the largest single IT provider to the federal government. We provide services across the whole spectrum of information technology. A few facts that may surprise you:

  • We have as many software engineers as Microsoft or Oracle.
  • Our satellite ground systems handle more data per day than all U. S. cable companies combined.
  • We are responsible for the systems that manage and control more than 60 percent of the world’s air traffic.
  • Our Data Capture System — created for the U.S. Census Bureau — processed nearly 148 million handwritten Census 2000 forms with an accuracy rate of much greater than 99 percent.
  • Likewise, we developed the technologies that enable the FBI’s AFIS System to match one fingerprint against a database of 420 million prints in just minutes.
  • Our simulators train truck drivers to drive trucks, pilots to fly aircraft, and astronauts to work in space.
  • And, of course, we do a significant amount of IT work for the Armed Services — both classified and unclassified.

In other words, what we do for the federal government — in many different venues — is turn data into knowledge, and knowledge into action.

So to conclude: Where does this cross-current of trends and suggestions for improvement leave us? They compel us toward the realization that, in order for America to continue its economic prosperity and enhance its national security, we seek a new category of professional manager — one suggested by the term "busi-neer." If we were to place a help-wanted ad to find such people, it would sound something like this:

  • High-tech venture seeks leaders to cope with rapid change.
  • Must be thoroughly versed in traditional business disciplines such as strategic planning, global marketing, financial management, inventory control, human resources, and ethics.
  • Must be equally grounded in technical issues such as controls theory, differential calculus, thermodynamics, relativity theory, fluid dynamics and quantum mechanics.
  • Must have uncanny ability to bring new technologies to market, and be able to show healthy profits in record time.
  • Long hours and stressful working conditions are standard.
  • Not much time for on-the-job training, must be able to vault to the top of learning curve within 48 hours.
  • Physical requirements: Must be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and move faster than a speeding bullet ... simultaneously!

Joking aside, the good news I leave with those of you working on your education at The University of Arizona is that you will be well-prepared to be the “busi-neers” of tomorrow’s marketplace. And I have no doubt you will exhibit that spirit of innovation and energy and commitment that have served America so well for 200 years and will continue to be so vital in the new century.

I am delighted to have had this opportunity to discuss these issues with you, and I thank you again for this very prestigious award.

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