In-Focus Podcast

Building the Base Episode 16: The Honorable Ellen M. Lord, former Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment

Instagram Podcast 11.30.22 V3

In this week’s episode of Building the Base, Hondo and Lauren join The Honorable Ellen M. Lord, former Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, to discuss the future of the defense industrial network.  

Ellen emphasizes the necessity of frequent and rich communications between Congress and the Department of Defense to properly budget programs while also allowing for the program to flex as necessary. She argues that commercial technology is becoming increasingly important to the warfighter. To that end, the DoD must have the capability to immediately grant a contract when they find a technology that fits a critical need.

Hondo, Lauren, and Ellen go on to discuss a variety of topics, including:  

  • Consolidation in the Defense Industry 
  • Financial Security 
  • COVID as a Flashpoint 
  • Partnering with Allies 
  • Beneficial Ownership of Contractors 

Podcast Transcript

BENS Intro 00:00
The business executives for national security welcomes you to building the base here thought leaders and practitioners discuss how we can ensure our shared security and prosperity. They’re shaping the future of the national security industrial base. Your hosts or Silicon Valley defense expert Lauren Bedula, along with Ben’s Distinguished Fellow and former head of acquisition for the Navy, Marines and special operators, Hondo Geurts.

Lauren Bedula 00:30
Welcome back to building the base, Lauren Bedula here with my co host Hondo Geurts. And we are thrilled to have the honorable Ellen Lord with us today. Elon served as Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and sustainment from 2018 through 2021. And prior to that was CEO of Textron systems, which is a multibillion dollar global aerospace and defense company. And Ellen brings 30 years of experience in the defense industry with us today. So we’re so excited to talk about her experience on both sides, industry and in government. And now Alan is serving on boards and working with tech companies. But he’s also a commissioner on the 14th person commission on planning, program budget and execution reform, which is a commission that Congress established to look into a lot of the issues we talked about on our show. So thank you, Ellen, so much for joining us.

Ellen Lord 01:19
Thank you, Lauren. Thank you for having me here today.

Lauren Bedula 01:23
Well, Elena, as I mentioned, you’ve had such an interesting career both as a successful CEO and then also serving in government as an Undersecretary of Defense. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how you started on this journey?

Ellen Lord 01:36
As certainly, in college, I double majored in chemistry and biology, and found that I really liked the hard sciences went on and got a master’s in chemistry and started on a straight technical career. But what I found was I was particularly interested in leveraging technology into business applications. So fast forward, I was 33 years at Textron, a global multi industry conglomerate about 11 years in automotive than about 22 in aerospace and defense. And incredibly unexpectedly, I got a call asking me, if I would consider working at the DOD for the Secretary of Defense Secretary Mattis at the time, which I had no idea how all of this worked. And I’ve reflected on it a bit and thought that part of the reason I really enjoyed being in the aerospace and defense industry was because there was a mission, there was a whole ecosystem focused on something that was much bigger than just me. And I like being part of significant things. So reflecting on the fact that I worked with a lot of people who had served and given a lot for that country. I thought it was time for me to step up. So it all began.

Hondo Geurts 02:55
Yep. And then you saw probably the most drastic transformation of aerospace and defense over those 20 years. And a lot of what we talk about here on the show is industrial base, industrial network future that and you and I spend lots of time talking about that in the building. But take us back maybe for those maybe last 20 years before he came into the department, a lot of changes, a lot of consolidation. What What’s your sense on where some of those productive when maybe what are some of the unintended consequences that came about, you know, what you saw there for the couple of decades at Textron?

Ellen Lord 03:34
Well, first of all, I don’t believe that anyone in the Department of Defense should mandate consolidation. I believe in free markets. So the last supper and so forth. You know, hindsight being 2020, I’m not sure that served us all so well. But major changes, I think, in our whole system has been that we have transitioned from the government developing most of the innovative technology to industry, developing technology, yet all of our systems and processes focus on the government developing about 90%. And we have the major primes who have set up organizations to be very efficient and effective in that type of system. However, it doesn’t fit where we are today. So the biggest change that I’ve seen over that time, is the fact that commercial technology is incredibly important to the warfighter. Additionally, we look at warfighting in a different way. It is no longer primarily kinetic we have a lot of gray zone warfare that’s what the DEP SEC def. Cath Hicks wrote some very good papers at CSIS on so now we need to look at this much more complex warfighting system that has to focus on cyber Security, it has to focus on malicious actors in the financial systems. And now more than ever, I believe our national security is inextricably linked with our financial security, which makes us have to look at things differently. So if you really want to deconstruct that a little bit and say, what’s different about what we’re doing in terms of procuring in DOD, we now have a situation where most of our systems are hardware enabled, yet software defined, and we treat hardware and software to a large extent as exactly the same thing and procure them the same way. And that needs to change. Because really, hardware is mostly a commodity now, it will be around for a long time, whereas the software is being updated all the time. And we just need to look at that differently. We also are focused on digital engineering, we don’t have the paper or the pencil, we do a lot of reviews online, we look at sandboxes. So all of these things really mandate doing our work differently. And we know that speed is critical. Yet our business systems are virtually the same as they were 2030 years ago, where the pace of innovation, it has picked up tremendously. So that’s our that’s the biggest change. And that’s the biggest challenge.

Hondo Geurts 06:33
Yeah, it was. Well, you and I just came from another session kind of on this topic with the Atlantic Council, and somebody mentioned that the DoD is got to transform or has transformed from a exporter of technology to an importer of technology.

Ellen Lord 06:49
Well, absolutely. So DARPA, whose great organization, the different labs, from the military services used to develop a lot of the technology. Now it’s how do you be a smart buyer and integrate that technology and have architectures that will allow you to have a backbone that you can plug and play all the latest, you know, different modules, whether they be sensors, or effectors, or whatever it might be.

Lauren Bedula 07:16
So as we think about digital transformation, you were Undersecretary of acquisition at a very interesting time 2020 when COVID hit and really sped up digital transformation in some ways. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that time and some of the efforts that you took in response?

Ellen Lord 07:33
Yeah, absolutely. I think the silver lining of COVID is that it gave us urgency and focus. There was an urgent problem in that the nation had to deal with this virus that could have had incredibly dire consequences. It did have been a bad consequences. But from a national security point of view, we could have ground to a halt in terms of what we were doing in terms of delivering capability downrange to the warfighter. So we very quickly put out mandates saying that national defense companies were critical infrastructure, they could stay open, they didn’t have to follow a lot of the mandates. I was actually on the phone with governors and other individuals explaining and incredible cooperation. We also talked with overseas embassies about the same type of thing. We also took the opportunity to focus efforts at DOD, we were very much behind what HHS was doing, whether it be PPE, whether it be advanced pharmaceutical ingredients, obviously, then operation warp speed, looking at vaccines, but we were able to leverage our scale and our capability to help HHS, but what it really did was make the issues very, very clear. One of them just one example, was the fact that we realized we did not understand the beneficial ownership of a lot of companies in our supply chains. And often we had visibility one or two levels into the supply chain, but not the 678 levels down there. And this was a huge issue as we were getting counterfeit materials and so forth. But it really urged us and made us accelerate the application of key new technologies, one being AI so that we worked with companies who could go in and in hours illuminate a supply chain that would have taken, you know, 30 analysts three weeks to do before so that we can make sure we were only procuring goods from trusted sources.

Hondo Geurts 09:55
Yeah, I mean, it’s actually a pretty good example of what we were just talking about of How the department can work with outside groups and, and leverage that technology with a sense of urgency and focus that that really allows amazing outcomes. You spoke a little bit about this conundrum we’ve had as a country about industrial policy, and particularly in the DOD, we, on one hand, we kind of don’t want to have any industrial policy on the other hands. Sometimes that’s led to things like not understanding our supply chain, you’ve seen it from both sides as a CEO, and and in your former role, what what’s your sense on the role of industrial policy? And where do you think we’ve done well in industrial policy? And maybe we’re, where do we need to do some more work looking towards the future, if we really need to create the industrial base we need for the next 50 years?

Ellen Lord 10:49
Well, I think one of the things we have done well, however, we haven’t scaled it to the degree we might, is looking at mechanisms like the defense production Act, Title Three, where we might have a critical product or service that we need, from a warfighting point of view, yet there’s a lumpy demand signal, or there’s not enough volume to create a virtuous business cycle. So that industry wants to invest and have the capacity and the capability to produce whatever it is, that’s when the government identifies that and in fact, there was, I think, a report that we should be very proud of the 13 806 report came out of an executive order issued in 2017. The report was released in 2018. And it identified fragilities in our supply chain of a variety of types. When you identify that and we know it is critical to have, whether they be energetics or other things, then we can come in with defense production Act, Title Three, and basically give a grant to companies to either build a plant, to equip it, to build tooling to train a workforce to overcome that activation energy, if you will, to have the capability to produce. I think that’s good industrial policy. I think what we don’t want to do is pick winners and losers, and so forth and tell people they can’t merge, or they should merge and that type of thing. But I think good industrial policy looks out to the future where we need to go. And we just now have a new national security strategy and new national defense strategy, we need to think about what we will need as a nation in the future. And if market conditions just in the typical free economy are not going to prepare us for that, then that’s where government needs to step in, and really accelerate, delivering that capability. So

Hondo Geurts 12:58
you and I, in our former roles loose used to lament a lot of micro electronics. So chip sack might be one of those kinds of things where the market may not drive it, but we need it from a national security perspective.

Ellen Lord 13:12
It’s fantastic that it got passed. I personally think it was about three years too late, we had talked about taking some of the copious COVID money that was never allocated, and putting it into micro electronics. But it’s a that’s a case where government really was the root cause of offshoring all of that capability. Here with micro electronics, we develop the vast majority of the intellectual property here in the US, but we export the manufacturing and the packaging of it, because it’s been kind of death by 1000 cuts from an industrial point of view, whether it be onerous environmental regulations, and no one wants to pollute, and you know, have a world that’s unsafe. However, the permitting processes, just all of the regulations made it very difficult to do micro electronics manufacturing in the US. Additionally, we decided as a nation and I think this is a very sad thing that it was not particularly honorable, to be in the trades to go and have a technical position where maybe you had a two year degree, or you did some type of on the job training, if you will, and we lost all of that capability for the people that had the skills to be able to run the lines in the factories. We also then decided that the way to tax was to tax industry disproportionately, both at the local, state and federal level. For all these reasons manufacturing not only micro electronics, but to a large degree. microelectronics went off shore. And frankly, not until COVID struck. And we found that we had these supply chains that were totally dependent on offshore sources, that we were in a very precarious position. So I think it’s helpful the chips act, I think it’s perhaps a little late. And now, we’ll see where it goes.

Lauren Bedula 15:23
So on the topic of manufacturing, you mentioned, you spent time in the automotive industry, and some draw parallels between the defense industrial base and the automotive industry, because the legacy automotive industry had consolidation at the top was dominated by a few large primes. And so we’re seeing this in the defense industrial base, from your experience as a mid sized or large, mid CEO. What’s your take on where the defense industrial base is going with that consolidation? And is there anything that DOD or the defense community can learn from the automotive industry, and some of the disruptive players that have emerged as a resolutely,

Ellen Lord 16:01
I think you can’t do things the same way you always did them? Because part of the reason there was such consolidation in the automotive industry was all of the regulatory burdens on there, whether it be Corporate Average Fuel Economy, again, there were workforce issues. So it was offshored. And I lived through that and automotive industry with a lot of production in Mexico, for instance, and other places. But I think there was a significant wake up call when all of a sudden, you know, Toyota and others had incredible quality and functionality and a value proposition that consumers bought. And that then we started to see the downsides of some of that, say nothing of the fact that the probably the largest issues, we didn’t have the jobs here domestically. So again, that hurt our economy. But it really took some trailblazers, like Tesla, to say, you know, what, we don’t need the same old dealer network and showrooms, we can do things differently, we can directly market. And now we see with a lot of EVs, a lot of new sort of business models coming along, I think, between COVID and the threats we see from China, what we see with Russia and Ukraine, we’re having one of those moments in the national defense industry, where we know we have to do things differently. However, there’s a lot of inertia in DOD, because it’s a huge, huge organization. And you have a lot of turnover, whether it be the uniforms, whether it be the politicals. So you can try to make some changes, but you might be out of your job and a few years. And it’s hard to get that stickiness to get it going. So we see all of these Commission’s all of these think tanks saying, we know that we need to leverage cutting edge technology, whether it be AI, quantum hypersonics, energetics, whatever it might be. And we need to move more quickly. But they don’t know how to work with the system to get it done. And frankly, we in my opinion, have been given a lot of authorities through statute from Congress. Actually, many of them have been translated into policy and implementation guidance, but I DOD, yet, we’re not seeing the leadership initiatives to train the workforce and mandate that we use these. And that’s for lots of different reasons. We have a workforce also that is very, very risk averse, because we tend to dwell on our mistakes as sort of human nature. And if you’re in the media, it’s a lot more interesting to talk about something that went horribly wrong, because they’re gonna get a lot more clicks than something that went wonderfully right. So we have a huge leadership challenge, to paint a picture of what the art of the possible is linked that back to the mandates we have in our national security strategy, our national defense strategy, and then incentivize our workforce, our government, civilian workforce, our military workforce, to embrace all of those new authorities, and move out sharply embrace some risk, use the special operations fail fast, you know, fail small, fail fast, and keep going so that we can actually apply the cutting edge technology to warfighting systems to make a difference. And we’ve got to get out of the mindset that everything is an aircraft carrier, or a fifth or sixth Gen. Jet. It’s those are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. And Ukraine has been An incredible, you know, ability to look at how commercial technology, whether it be, you know, satellite imagery from space, or whether it be a tradable drones where quantity has a quality all of its own, you know, simple, fast, feel that keep going and keep adjusting, we have an opportunity, and I think we need to embrace that. But it’s not just the warfighters the people downrange we need in this situation, to have people in DOD that have business acumen that have communication skills to help all of the engineers and the scientists translate what they have to what the demand signal is from the warfighter. And there are a lot of people in that chain. And we don’t make it easy for that to happen quickly. And we tend to incentivize program managers, program executive officers, contracting officers to not make a mistake. And that’s what gets attention. So I like to talk about critical compliance, you need those individuals to use just as many tools as they need to be legal and ethical and what they’re doing. But they’re not pilots. Pilots have checklists for very, very good reasons. And they need to go through the pre flight checklist. They need to go through the, you know, checklists, while they’re in flight where they’re landing the whole bit. There’s lots of reasons for that. That does not serve you well, if you’re trying to be agile and move quickly and adapt. You need to do the critical thinking to have that creative compliance, to be ethical and legal about everything you do. But realize that activity means nothing. It’s progress, it’s getting something fielded. And, you know, in that vein, I think we are focusing a lot on research and development within DOD, which is fine. But I think we’re forgetting that actually handing out contracts to manufacture something is what builds again, the capacity and the capability for our nation. And we need to move more quickly taking the results of demonstrations and exercises, when we see a small company that did something that really filled a gap we have that we can’t fill, we need to turn around and give them a contract the next day to get going because you know what? They’ve got payroll to me, they can’t wait 18 months for a contract. That’s why people deselect from working with DOD. So I think that there’s a lot of opportunity there. We need to embrace that.

Hondo Geurts 22:55
Yeah, it’s it’s a low that importer versus exporter mindset. You know, I’ve I’ve often said the you know, the fact we have the biggest r&d budget in the history of DOD, could be viewed as a fail.

Ellen Lord 23:06
Yeah, I’m not sure we should be proud of that, right.

Hondo Geurts 23:08
There’s plenty of our playing development out there. We need to buy stuff, get it down range

Ellen Lord 23:12
well, and figure out how to integrate it and harden it to warfighting. I mean, you know, not to get overly technical on all this. But that’s what the middle tier of acquisition authority is all about. If we have something currently fielded from a military point of view, or if there is a commercial system through a small modification, and an incremental investment, if that can give us a step function change in capability, you do not need to go through the two year, Joint Staff process to come up with requirements, you can have the leader of a military service or an agency, declare a requirement and move out yet most of our workforce doesn’t realize that authority exists. They’re scared to use it because they’re not well trained. Their leadership is not holding them accountable to use it. And industry doesn’t know that that exists.

Hondo Geurts 24:05
I do want to switch gears a little bit, Ellen. So you and I spent a lot of time together in a building concerned about supply chain and also I would say undue foreign influence, particularly in the financial markets. And and a little bit back to one of the things we’ve discussed is educating the workforce and as, as we switch the industrial base to be a little bit more commercial driven, then federally government driven capital plays a much bigger role in how companies are financed in their their cap sheet and everything. What’s your take on the effectiveness we’ve had with some of the modified Cepheus things, a lot of what you championed, and then where do we shall have opportunity in shoring up trust in the capital marketplace to ensure that there’s not influence in the capital market that If that could pose a problem downstream,

Ellen Lord 25:02
yeah. Okay, so let’s unpack that a little bit. Cepheus is countering foreign influence in the US. And the idea being that you do not want to have a critical company that supplies our, our warfighters with critical components be bought by one of our strategic competitors. And often, shell organizations can be set up so that you really don’t understand that it’s not Ellen’s garage shop, but it’s the PLA that really owns whatever company you’re working with. Cepheus has done a good job of unraveling that through the interagency process, working with Treasury, State Department, commerce, USTR and many others. So we actually very effectively blocked a few transactions, that would have been problematical for us from a national security point of view, those authorities those laws were broadened four years ago, or so by something called PhRMA, which is an adjunct that actually allows you to block joint ventures sometimes, and also to block real estate transactions around critical government facilities. Because there’s a lot of listening and looking that can go on if you’re adjacent to our critical facility. So again, those are necessary, but they’re not sufficient. We now have the tools to really understand where money is coming from. And from a capital market point of view, that huge, we now have entity LIS worked through with Congress, we’re certain groups we cannot work with. And it makes a difference when companies can’t be traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And so that’s been very, very, very effective support. So I think the defensive efforts are very, very important. Again, they’re necessary but they’re not sufficient. Where I think we have overcorrected. And we have enormous opportunity is working with our allies and partners. And we’ve gone a bit overboard, in my opinion on by America with some unintended consequences. We cannot produce everything we need for our national defense here in the US. So we have some rather hollow authorities out there that allow us to work with, for instance, Australia, Canada, the UK, under in TIB are the national technological innovation base. People like Bill Greenwald, have done a lot of very, very good work on that. I think we need to utilize those to get around some of our ITAR, some of our export regulations that can be relatively onerous. We now also have orcas, which everybody thinks of nuclear powered subs, which is absolutely correct. However, what people don’t realize is there are a lot of provisions in aqueous so that Australia, UK and the US, for Munitions for quantum for other things, I believe we need, especially with the amount of support we have given to the Ukraine, to restock and build more. And we we don’t have the time, even if the capital markets were there to totally invest in the US to build the plants develop the equipment, I think we need to look to nations such as Australia, where there is capital that wants to be deployed, Australia recognizes that China is a huge threat that is very, very close to Australia, the US realizes Australia is very geopolitically important to us for forward basing for stocking all kinds of logistical items, but also to help us develop. So I think there’s opportunity to work with Australia to develop manufacturing capability at a pretty good rate. But we need in order to share those technical data packages and so forth to really leverage aqueous and interim to make that happen. And I would like to see a little bit more focus on that because I think it’s important to us as a nation.

Lauren Bedula 29:32
Those are great ideas, because something we talk about a lot on our show is just the shifting nature of globalization right now as we’re shoring up critical capabilities, how do we still work with our close partners and allies to achieve maximum capability as you talked about? So those are great ideas. I want to shift gears a little bit we talked about how you are now even though you’ve left government playing a critical role on the ppbe commission. Can you talk a little bit about what the commission is undertaking and what you hope to accomplish,

Ellen Lord 30:01
certainly certainly. So planning, programming, budgeting and execution, it’s the process by which the department decides what they need to buy, and then how they’re going to buy it. And there’s a lot of interaction with OMB, the Office of Management and Budget on the executive side, and a lot of interaction with the hill because they, frankly, are the ones that fund the department. So just backing up a little bit, there were five commissions in the 22 NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the largest number there have ever been in one year. And basically, Congress is concerned that they are not getting comprehensive reports that are unbiased on a variety of items that they think are important. And they just like all of us think that the department is not always moving at the speed of relevance in terms of feeling new capability. So instead of asking the department or one FFRDC friend federally funded research center to write a report, what they typically do now is have a number of congressional members, both from the Senate and the House, as well as the SecDef appoint commissioners. So there are 14 independent commissioners, and we have a pretty broad set of objectives to basically make the system better. So where are we we are functioning with a staff a great staff, we are very fortunate to get in modest offices over in Crystal City, we have to FFRDC is doing research for us along with our own staff. And we’ve been on a huge listening tour, both with the DEQ, the DEP SEC death, DEP SEC death, Cap Hicks, with Heidi Chu Billa. Plant, so r&d and ans with planners and programmers. So a number of people from DOD, as well as many professional staffers from the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee, Sasken HASK, as well as SACD, and hack D, the Senate Appropriations Committee defense and the House Appropriations Committee, defense to hear what they think the problems are, what we need to address, because our success will be honing in on what those issues are. We also have had many listening sessions with industry and former staffers as well. And what we are trying to do is go very deep, and a few areas where we can make some major changes instead of just nibbling around the edges and making lots and lots and lots of recommendations. So we do not have any recommendations yet. It’s far too premature for that. But we do have lots of input. And we are committed quarterly to going back to hascon SASC and hakobyan SACD. And sharing what those inputs are. We also are out there talking in the media at different panels with different organizations about what we’re finding, because in my opinion, one of the key things we’re doing is really catalyzing conversations. And it’s interesting the way DC works. When individuals think a topic is important. All of a sudden a lot of other commissions pop up around it, which I think is excellent, because the dialogue just deepens and we keep going. So what are the things that we’ve heard are problems, again, no recommendations, but what we’re hearing is that there is a fundamental speed issue, that the system is designed for 5060 years ago, when the department innovated most of the technology and applications. And now as I said earlier, we have a flip situation. We also are hearing that the pace of technology innovation as far outstripping our processes, and that the smalls don’t have a way to get in and work with the department and feel their capability. So that’s one sort of bucket. Another bucket is a huge concern around the communication, both the frequency and the depth of communication between DOD and Congress and Congress and DOD. So it comes down to data rich discussions. Perhaps we could do a lot better at that. The fact that The data in DOD is distributed through a lot of disconnected databases. So there is no single authoritative database. And this is a problem for the department itself as well. That there is not the cadence of communications that updates programmatics in a way that Congress feels they understand what the trajectory of some of these programs are, and what can be done to keep them moving forward in the most constructive way possible. So there’s also a concern when example of data fidelity is around justification books or J books, which tend to vary dramatically by the type of money that you’re talking about, whether it be RDT and E procurement, oh, NM, or by service or agency. So how do we make those more relevant documents? And how do you keep them updated? So that they’re useful? And also, how do you make them comprehensive enough that the staffers don’t have to go and pull, you know, five or six different reference documents to really understand what’s being talked about. There’s also in a third bucket, still on this flexibility sort of focus here, a concern that for over 10 years, and we know what inflation is doing and how things have changed, that reprogramming thresholds have not been changed. There’s a concern about the constraints of one year money, particularly with like MILCON and with, you know, movements of people having to relocate. So the whole flexibility of how do you move money around, which leads to probably one of the biggest topics of conversation, which is the program elements are the fidelity with which the budget is constructed, whether or not those PE lines could be aggregated. So you can have capability elements so that a program executive officer or a PEO could have more flexibility to move money around the thought being that the battlefields dynamic dynamic, the threats are dynamic, between the time you start a program and you finish it, really what is needed, downrange might have changed and how you move things around. So that’s one side of it. The other side of it again, very, justifiably so it’s Congress says, we’re responsible to oversee all these taxpayer dollars, and we can’t just give you a free ticket. So the challenge becomes how do you meet in the middle somehow, where Congress feels they can really, you know, conduct the oversight the way they need to yet give the department some flexibility. So there’s a huge trust issue there. I’ve said huge twice I might be over emphasizing that. But it came up everywhere from the DEP SEC def talking to us about it to Hill staffers talking to us about it. But I think the trust issue is really again, around the frequency of communications, and the richness or the lack thereof, of the data being shared.

Hondo Geurts 38:39
Yeah, I think, you know, if we think about a future industrial base, you know, allowing companies to have a clear sight picture on what the department is interested in at least capability wise, but then an ability for the department to move flexibly to take advantage of product is, is I think what we’re all shooting for how to get there is going to be a lot hard work, but it’s, it’s great to great that you guys are getting after it with such a sensor group. Just one

Ellen Lord 39:07
other just little piece of that too. I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up one of the challenges on the industry side and protect, particularly when we want to grow the defense industrial base and have non traditional is, if you will, a lot of cutting edge companies is how does DoD communicate to them what the demand signal is going forward. And it’s very difficult to be a good new entrant if you’re really not clear what is needed. So that’s that’s a whole nother.

Hondo Geurts 39:41
Yeah, I’m gonna, again, shift what we’ve been through a lot of pretty meaty, tactical things I want to touch on the human side. You and I both served in a pretty tumultuous time. You’ve been a CEO, which is a public company that’s got tremendous stress. How do you How do you stay fresh? How do you stay resilient in the face of all of these any tips or tricks or things that have helped you along the way, and then, and then and to some degree, they’re related to that, or in addition, how have you used mentors to help you, you know, kind of think through some of these, you know, challenges, you’ve had to weigh all the way through your career and what you want to focus on in your development.

Ellen Lord 40:24
So the issue of staying fresh, and I think, you know, not getting beaten down and so forth. I personally, much to the distress of many people that have worked with me, I’m totally all in during the week, I always work very long days, and really focused on getting things done. So I tend to be all into what I’m doing. So during the week, long days, totally, totally into it, on the weekends only by exception. So obviously, you’re watching your phone a couple of times a day, but I think people need to pull away. And they are much better at their jobs if they have a different perspective than just being with the people they work with all the time. So I typically have had a pretty wide diverse range of friends. I typically during my time in industry, and in government did not spend weekends with the people I worked with, I had lots of different friends or other things I like, you know, to cook, I like to garden, I like different kinds of sports. And I like to be with different people that think about things in different ways. So I think that that’s very important. And I always told my teams, because I think it’s critical as a leader to be somewhat predictable. Because when you do something that’s out of the norm, everybody takes notice. So I don’t tend to swear a lot. If I’m in a meeting and I let something fly, everybody knows that, ooh, something’s wrong here. So you know, you need to be predictable. And that’s the same way with weekends, I want people to be able to focus now obviously, I personally just always try on Saturdays to look a little bit at email, see, if there’s anything critical, then I start to kind of re enter late Sunday afternoon to kind of get geared up for the week. And the question of mentors, you know, I’m old enough when I was coming up through the system, there wasn’t this focus on mentors, like there is today. So often now you’ll hear people say to me all the time, will you be my mentor, I don’t even know really what that means. I’ll spend some time with you. And what I did is I learned from different people I worked with, but it was episodic. And so it’s sometimes a little bit of a burden on people, when you say will you be my mentor? Do you think and I don’t know what you even have in mind. But what I did was I looked very carefully at leaders. And I learned as much if not more from the really bad leaders I had as the good leaders. And so it would be burned in my brain. I will never ever do that. I mean, I once went out to lunch with this guy. And I was very junior. And it was like a huge big deal for me to say you want to go to lunch? And I was yeah, we I had somebody matrix to me and wasn’t the most high performance person and obviously lunch with this guy. No, he’s since passed away. I won’t say his last name. And so we’re chit chatting. And he’s like, Ellen, why are we here? And I said, Well, you know, we’ve got this person issue, I’m concerned, they’re not really the right person for the job. And we were working on a new technology, a little business, it looks me right in the eye. And he goes, Ellen, that business is a failure. And so are you. And like two words popped into my brain, which I did not say. And, you know, I thought, Wow, that’s a really great way to treat somebody. So that burned it into my brain, you’d never do anything like that. Then on the other side, you see people that do things very well. And one of the things I learned from several leaders I worked with that I think is critical, if you want to move up in responsibility is you have to be able to take an incredibly complex topic and distill it down into something your next door neighbor can understand. And then you have to be able to talk about it in a little bit more depth a little bit more technically, to those at the executive level, if you will. But then you also need to be able to dig really deeply and that’s why I think having a technical background, whether it be a math or science or engineering is really important, because you don’t have to know everything about everything you can’t. But if you have a framework to ask questions, and I It was taught, you know, early on getting root canals by some of my leaders, you know how to keep asking love questions, five levels down, you know why how what does that mean? Well, can you bring me the spreadsheet behind that number kind of thing. That’s what I learned. So I was fortunate to work in very, very different fields, I moved jobs a lot. And that was the thing about being in a corporation, you were thrown into situations where you did not know the technology, you did not know the people. And there were very different cultures. So what might work in one city with one kind of group of people would be disaster with another group. And you’ve got to take your job really seriously, but not yourself and be very adaptable?

Lauren Bedula 45:48
Well, on the topic of mentorship, even if you’re not a formal mentor, I like your idea of leaders are always setting an example. And you’ve set such a good example for not only women who are rising the ranks in a very male dominated field, but for cross pollination between industry and public service. So I think we’re so honored to have you on Thank you, Alan, for joining us today. One of the ideas I really liked that you brought up is this idea of critical compliance. And I think something that we’ll look into more and then serving for a purpose, you said you’d like to be part of something significant, and that drives talent. And that’s something we care a lot about. So thank you so much for joining us today.

Ellen Lord 46:25
All right. Thank you, Lauren. Thank you, Honda. Thanks.

Outro 46:28
You’ve been listening to building the bass, a podcast from the business executives for national security. Join hundreds of senior leaders and executives dedicated to the mission of keeping our nation safe. Check out our projects. We’re currently working with important upcoming events and the many ways you can get involved@www.bens.org

More Podcasts:

Instagram Podcast 1.25.2023

Building the Base Episode 20: Elissa Slotkin, Representative Michigan’s 7th Congressional District

In this week’s episode of Building the Base, Hondo and Lauren join Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan’s 7th District to discuss the future of the defense industrial network.  Elissa’s experience…

Image

Building the Base Episode 19: Shyam Sankar COO, Palantir Technologies, Inc.

In this week’s episode of Building the Base, Hondo and Lauren join Shyam Shankar, Chief Operating Officer of Palantir, to discuss the future of the defense industrial network. Shyam’s experience…

episode 18

Building the Base Episode 18: Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Cobham Advanced Electronic Solution

In this week’s episode of Building the Base, Hondo and Lauren join Steffanie Easter, Senior Vice President  and Chief Sustainability Officer at Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions, to discuss the future…