Looking Back: A Decade in a Year

Brian Gathright, VP/GM Ordnance Systems Inc.
Only a year ago, we were looking back at the achievements over a decade. After a long and challenging 2020, doesn’t it feel like we are already looking back on another one? This past year required dramatic shifts that often are a more natural culmination of 10 years.
BAE Systems Ordnance Systems Inc. employee
 
I want to share with you my experience last year as the vice president and general manager of BAE Systems Ordnance Systems Inc. (OSI) and how we overcame the many obstacles posed by the pandemic. But for some context I’d like to first share some information about what BAE Systems OSI does. BAE Systems is massive defense company with a global footprint, in which OSI lies as the operator of the U.S. Army’s Radford Army Ammunition Plant and Holston Army Ammunition Plant under what is known as a government-owned contractor-operated (GOCO) arrangement. We partner with the Army to produce critical capabilities for the Warfighter, consisting mainly of explosives and propellants used in ammunition and munitions.
 
Given the events of 2020 we had no choice to but adapt. Because we are a defense contractor critical to national security, most of our people had to come to work on site every day during the pandemic. We had to keep going, and we had to do so as safely as possible. So when I reflect on the year there are a few things that come to mind that helped us navigate the pandemic while staying competitive and meeting our obligations to our customer:
  • We invest in innovation. Innovation is a muscle that strengthens with conditioning and practice. When our world class Research and Development (R&D) Teams in Holston, Tennessee, made hand sanitizer after the global supply chain came to a halt, they had the experience and background to make it happen. In a week, they developed a product and collaborated with teams across the company to scale up and provide resources to our other sites. The team was able to produce over 13,000 bottles of hand sanitizer and ship 12,860 bottles to 41 other BAE Systems locations in the United States from April until the supply chain finally stabilized in June.

    Because we are experts in energetics rather than hand sanitizer how did we have the expertise to respond so quickly to achieve this critical need? Our R&D teams have plenty of practice developing products that do not currently exist. And they have to do so while adhering to critical safety and environmental guidelines. I’ll share an example of the work the Holston R&D team does in case you’re not familiar with it. This is an example I can publicly disclose -   the development with the Army of IMX-101, which was one of Time Magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2010.” IMX-101 stands for insensitive munitions explosive and it is used in artillery shells and replaced TNT. IMX-101 has the same blast as TNT but because it’s “insensitive” it is not prone to detonate from gunfire, bombs, fire, shrapnel and other destabilizing “shocks.” This makes life for our soldiers and sailors much safer. But my point here is that the hand sanitizer arose from their daily commitment of thinking about a new future. It helped them tackle something in a week that might take months for another group of scientists.
  • The right team. There is another takeaway here. To respond with this kind of immediacy and competency, you must intentionally build a staff that is prepared for dynamic change. While not every team can have a dedicated resource like our unique R&D team, a cultural emphasis on curiosity, learning from mistakes, and courage to speak up with new ideas can add tremendous value. Especially in a crisis.
  • Do our part. We all felt the impact of the pandemic, but our mission to protect those who protect us kept our teams going. That kind of value system was a guiding light on the darkest days where there were long hours, worries at home and even the potential loss of loved ones. I am often so humbled to hear the response of our teammates when they’ve gone above and beyond, saying, “I was just doing my part.” I think there’s a real underlying truth here. Our core belief in protecting our Warfighters and delivering for our customers helps us step up as a team to meet new or unexpected challenges.
  • Use the synergy of a major global corporation. Our people are talented. Their judgement is informed by significant private sector experience and deep knowledge of both the Holston Army Ammunition Plan and Radford Army Ammunition Plant. However, we had the ability to scale up our resources by bringing in other experts in BAE Systems to capitalize on the synergy of a major global corporation. This was helpful in many areas, but had the biggest impact in:
    • Safety: We were able to leverage top experts with advice on rapid testing, temperature testing, wearing face coverings and many other measures. OSI is a specialized arm of the larger BAE Systems family. Our larger corporate model with boots on the ground globally helped us leverage capabilities and data driven decision-making from our entire company to more quickly navigate the challenges of the pandemic.
    • Global Supply Chain: This crisis showed the strength of how our procurement experts across the country and around the world collaborated to greatly benefit our global supply chain and to keep us on track. 
All these takeaways from a year that felt like a decade were underpinned by the importance of working as one team. As we look to start a new year, our focus on one team will help us accelerate our response to new challenges. Let’s hope this year does not feel like the weight of another decade, but if it does, I know our team will be ready to respond.