Making the right calls
A virtual mentoring session with Dan Sallet
What’s it like to be mentored by our leaders? It’s impossible for every one of us to sit down with members of our leadership team, so we’re conducting virtual mentoring sessions with them to pass along wisdom and lessons from the people who have ascended to Electronic Systems’ highest level positions.
In this virtual mentoring session, we talk with Dan Sallet, vice president of finance about who has influenced him most, discovering unexpected opportunities, and the valuable similarities between managing in the workplace and on the field.
Can you tell us a little about your professional journey? What made you want to pursue finance?
What people may not know is that I started college as a Civil Engineering major. Halfway through, I changed my major to business. Finance was at the intersection of business and math – two areas I enjoyed – so I decided that was the route I wanted to take. Right after college I came to BAE Systems (back when it was Lockheed Sanders). Now, more than 30 years later, I have no regrets.
Can you describe a pivotal point in your career and how it shaped you?
Five or six years into my career here, I went into my manager’s office and gave my notice. In pursuit of growth, I had accepted an opportunity in a completely different industry. A trusted mentor then sat down with me and asked why I was doing it and what I hoped to achieve. After listening intently, he offered his own views on it. He suggested that I look up and around at all the opportunities within my reach here. He said to me, “You’re taking a big step to leave; have you tried to take a big step within the organization?” I hadn’t considered that before. I paused, looked around, and ended up turning down the offer. Within six months I was in a different role, and a new role two years after that. The experience opened my eyes to the breadth of opportunities that were well within my reach at BAE Systems – I just needed to look around to find them. I have carried that mindset with me throughout my career.
Can you describe your leadership philosophy?
That’s a good question, and I’d like to answer it with an analogy I once heard that I share with folks I mentor. At the first level of management you’re like the quarterback on a football team: You’re on the field and direct the play, very much hands-on in the game. At the next level, you’re more like the coach on the sidelines. Your role shifts a little, and the goal becomes having the right players on the field to achieve shared success. Your leadership style must adapt to be more hands-off. Trust is essential, because the players need room to perform without interference. Going a step further, the next higher level of leadership, you’re in the stands as part of the management team. Your focus is on having the right coaches. Again, you alter your style so the coaches have the freedom and opportunity to make their own decisions, but they know the boundaries they can play in and the rules of the game.
Who has influenced you the most?
I would say that my mom has influenced me the most. My parents emigrated here from Germany before I was born, with few belongings and a limited understanding of American culture. My mother’s courage and dedication in coming to an entirely new place, and raising seven kids, was remarkable to me. Both she and my father took a great leap of faith in coming to America, and showed tremendous determination to ensure we had the opportunities we had growing up. I am very grateful for that, and I believe the example they set is why having a strong work ethic has always been important to me.
Inclusion is a critical part of our strategy. How has hearing and embracing others’ perspectives helped you as a leader?
It’s amazing to me the power of diverse teams, and how much better the solutions become when you solicit input from others. Recently, we were in a team meeting to discuss how to fill a certain, key role. We went over the more traditional solutions – how we have always done it – and then we had a few newer members of the team offer an entirely different view on the matter. They threw out some other, more novel ideas and I thought, “Now that you say that, it makes perfect sense.” And in the end, everyone agreed they liked these new approaches better. If we had left the meeting with the original solution, everyone would have walked away thinking it was perfectly fine. But because we had that conversation, we ended up with an answer that was, in my opinion, brilliant. The same mindset carries on to other situations, which extends the impact. For everyone in that meeting, our lens will be widened during the next discussion. We may look at a question differently and ask, “What if we did it this way instead?” To me that’s a pretty good multiplying effect, and it reinforced the power of diversity of thought.
What are your interests outside work?
I sit on the board of directors for a nonprofit in Nashua, New Hampshire called Harbor Homes. It provides a wide range of services for our neighbors in need. I’ve been involved with the agency for about nine years and am humbled and honored to support this important cause, and the many people who dedicate their time to it.
By Kelly Hussey, Communications, Hudson, New Hampshire