Innovation to the fore: Interview with Mandy Savage, Lockheed Martin
Synonymous with innovation, Lockheed Martin has been steadily growing its presence and capability in the UK. Justin Cunningham talks to its engineering director, Mandy Savage.
Lockheed Martin is perhaps most famous for producing aircraft that seem decades ahead of their time from its California-based research and development facility known as the Skunk Works. Perhaps less well known, however, is the company's UK presence. With more than a dozen sites dotted around the UK, its operations run far deeper than simply being a shopfront for the US.
"It is a diverse business here in the UK and I can honestly say no two days are the same," says Mandy Savage, engineering director at Lockheed Martin UK. "It's my job to ensure we get the design right for the work we do and make sure everything is ready for delivery."
Savage has a proven track record as a manager for large aerospace and defence organisations. This success saw her approached by Lockheed Martin in 2008 when the company was bidding on a massive vehicle project for the Ministry of Defence; The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP). It was directly competing with BAE Systems and it was make or break when she decided to take on the role.
"At the time," she says, "trying to imagine Lockheed Martin UK would dislodge BAE Systems as the Warrior design authority and be responsible for delivering it was crazy. But the business – and our investors – really held their nerve and continued to be innovative to show that we can actually do the things we set out to do."
The Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) was indeed a coup when in 2011 it was selected to lead the £642 million contract to extend the life of the vehicle fleet to 2040, with 90% of the work expected to be carried out in the UK. Ultimately, Savage's good judgement and hard work paid off, and she has now overseen two successful and significant vehicle bids.
The other success saw Lockheed Martin UK awarded the contract to provide the fightability – i.e. the turret and integrated gun – of the Scout SV (Specialist Vehicle), a medium-sized armoured fighting vehicle with 75% of the work expected to be carried out in the UK.
"We have got both of those projects just getting through their preliminary design review," she says. "These are really exciting products and things we have not done before and we have had to grow an engineering team and capability to deliver against those programmes in a very short period of time."
The global corporate organisation has given significant backing and support to the UK that has allowed it to grow, win business and development, with investment and projects taking place in both industry and academia.
"We would not have won Warrior had we not had that investment and expertise from the US team," says Savage. "They helped us get it set up and ultimately win it, and then they went home again – so you couldn't ask for more than that. And if there is specific expertise somewhere that I need, I can ring my bosses in the US and access it."
Lockheed Martin UK has been a success story recently, bucking the economic trend and delivering steady growth, increased capability and attracting more homegrown talent. But it still has work to do.
"We have been recruiting for a long time and are still on the lookout for talent," says Savage. "We are trying to bring in the best systems, mechanical and electrical engineers and we still have a lot of exciting jobs and opportunities to fill."
Building upon the success in the UK, Savage seems keen to show off the talent and success of recent years. Lockheed Martin, as a whole, has a significant history in ballistic missile defence, yet in the last 18 months has decided to locate and build a payload design centre in the UK.
"We have come to a really lucrative agreement that says we are the specialists in payload design and re-entry vehicle technology," she says. "With that comes more from the US and we are doing a lot of exciting work alongside them. That business has grown and doubled in staff in the last year and a half."
The US, particularly facilities like the Skunk Works, spends a phenomenal amount of time and money on innovation, which most UK firms can only dream of. Yet Lockheed seems keen to grow its UK talent pool, which offers the potential for some of the technological marvels for which the brand has become renowned to have their roots in the UK.
"In the UK, most companies don't have anywhere near that ability to invest," she says. "I've worked twice now for a US company and you get those benefits of being part of a giant company in terms of funding and investment."
So, what can the rest of us learn from Lockheed Martin's ability to harness its culture of innovation? "Ultimately, it respects and values what the business is all about and makes sure that technology and engineering are at the forefront," concludes Savage. "In some organisations you might have someone in finance as Vice President, with engineering way down the line. In Lockheed, engineering is always up there on the top table as that is what we are all about."
After graduating from Newcastle Polytechnic, Mandy Savage secured a job within the radar division of Marconi as a graduate engineer. After a spell as project manager, Savage developed a taste for management. "I wasn't removing myself from the engineering," she says, "but was mobilising people to get it done."
It wasn't long before Savage's ability to deliver projects was noticed and an opportunity with Raytheon offered her a new challenge. Within six years, she had been appointed engineering and quality director for the business. Still not content and looking for the next big challenge, she joined Lockheed Martin UK and became engineering director in 2008. She has also been appointed as a visiting Professor for Cranfield University in association with the Royal Military College in Shrivenham.
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