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SPIE DCS 2021: Lockheed Martin holds the line during pandemic

15 Apr 2021

Military-aerospace supplier reveals how it maintains supply chains and recruits new blood while facing past year’s biggest challenge.

Pandemic and budget-related impacts to the global supply chain have driven change in multinationals’ and larger companies’ approach to partnerships with small businesses and the resources they provide.

A presentation at SPIE DCS on Tuesday by defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin (LM) focused on the importance of cultivating productive and mutually beneficial relationships with suppliers while simultaneously driving economic development in local communities.

The talk by Rita Flaherty, Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for the Tactical & Strike Missiles also addressed the challenge of virtual recruiting, encouraging diversity in the workforce while attracting local talent and highlighting the avenues for small business to connect with the company.

Flaherty leads a team of experienced Strategy and Business Development professionals with significant US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps personal and professional ties. She has held this role since 2019, having joined LM in 2001.

Vital supply chains

“I want to highlight the importance of interconnectivity between the various links in the supply chain,” she said. “How can a business with a large footprint like Lockheed Martin positively affect local communities but also how can the loss of just one small business drastically impact the output of a large company?”

“Lockheed Martin employs about 114,000 people worldwide and we are principally engaged in the development and manufacture of advanced technology systems products and services.

“I work in the Missiles & Fire Control (MFC) part of the business. We focus on both offensive and defensive weapon systems Our portfolio is extremely diverse and we have more than 50 different products and services which include everything from hypersonic missiles to state of the art sensors.

“At MFC we are approaching 20,000 employees worldwide with plans to hire another 1000 people over the next three years. It’s important to note that about 4% of our total workforce is dedicated to maintaining our global supply chain so this is an important part of the business for us.

“This segment of Lockheed Martin business alone procures roughly $5 billion worth of parts every single year while coordinating with more than 1400 suppliers. To say that we rely heavily on our small business partners is a total understatement there simply is no other way to create the 100 million-plus parts that we use every single year.

Pandemic drives change

In 2020 – during the Covid-19 pandemic – more than 21% of LM’s suppliers were small businesses and through its supplier diversity programme the firm spent $1.2 billion with women-owned businesses in more than another $968million went to what Flaherty called “small disadvantaged businesses”.

“We knew that it would be critical for us to keep these parts of the supply in the game through upfront investment. That’s why one of our first steps was to work with the US Department of Defense to accelerate payments down the food chain giving first priority to small and vulnerable suppliers,” she said.

Throughout 2020 LM averaged between $300 and $500 million in accelerated supplier payments per week and continued averaging $400 million per week throughout the first quarter of 2021.

Flaherty said that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way LM operates; prior to the onset of Covid-19 the Labour force was working almost exclusively on site and off site working was fairly rare.

So when lockdowns were imposed, “the switch was flipped over the course of one weekend just like happened to many of you. It was no small feat to accommodate the influx of network bandwidth that was needed which completely changed the rhythm of our meetings in our interactions and moving to socially-distanced workstations,” she said.

“We needed to adopt new technologies quickly and also help maintain productivity while adjusting to a 4 x 10-hour work week to allow our employees the flexibility to work around Covid-related challenges at home.”

“Today, approximately 60% of the MFC labour force is working remotely. That number has come down from a peak of about 80% through the course of 2020 so after working through those logistical issues we turned our attention to keeping the wheels moving forward in recruiting new employees.”

Maintaining recruitment

Flaherty continued, “it’s imperative that we continue to bring in new and fresh ideas throughout the pandemic so conferences like SPIE DCS are incredibly important for that effort. We have also embraced the shift in work styles and pivoted to expand our candidate search opportunities by offering flexible work location arrangements such as full time remote.”

Despite the pandemic LM has invested nearly $7 million over the past two years into STEM and vocational scholarship programs as part of the company’s overall commitment to prepare the next generation of diverse talent for the future.

“Another item of importance is creating employment opportunities for people from a variety of different backgrounds, experiences education levels and perspectives. We cannot let the pandemic discourage or create barriers to segments of the future workforce,” she said,

“This includes helping to address a nationwide skills gap that may be growing due to disparities in access to schooling during you guessed it the Covid-19 pandemic. I encourage all of you to please offer networking personal development and community building for current as well as future employees. In conclusion, I want to reiterate the importance of every single link on the chain of the global supply chain – no matter how big or how small.”

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