Executive Interview with Jeremy C. Wensinger
Microwave Journal talks to the President of Cobham Defense Electronic Systems Division (CDES) about acquisition strategies, the defense market and the importance of good engineers.
Jeremy C. Wensinger is President of Cobham Defense Electronic Systems Division (CDES), reporting directly to the Chief Operating Officer. In this role, he is tasked with bringing the existing CDES organization together with the Antennas and SPARTA Strategic Business Units to create the Cobham Defense Systems Division with combined revenues of $1.4bn and more than 5,000 employees. Prior to joining Cobham, Mr. Wensinger served as group president of Harris’ Government Communication Systems, leading the company’s civil agency programs, intelligence agency programs, and technical services programs; managing shared engineering, operations, and business development and the strategic marketing resources pool for government businesses. He also served as group president of Integrated Systems and Services; vice president and general manager of Harris Broadcast Communications Division; and Harris Technical Services Corporation. Before joining Harris Corporation, Mr. Wensinger was a commercial analyst at Society National Bank in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Wensinger holds a B.S. degree in business administration from Bowling Green State University, and an M.B.A. from the University of South Florida. He is also a graduate of the Harvard University General Manager Program. Mr. Wensinger is listed in the Who’s Who in Aeronautical and Spatial Personalities.
MWJ - This past year Cobham purchased the Surveillance and Attack business unit of BAE Systems in Lansdale and M/A-COM, both of which are now part of the recently formed Cobham Sensor Systems. Why did the company acquire M/A-COM and ‘Lansdale’?
JCW - What we saw in these two companies was an opportunity to enhance the value we provide to our customers, augment our core capabilities and expand our integrated business. They enable Cobham to become the recognized leader in the design and manufacture of advanced RF and microwave systems, subsystems and components, by offering a comprehensive range of products and capabilities to our customers. As two of the most pre-eminent companies in the microwave industry, M/A-COM and Sensor Systems Landsdale will strengthen the overall value we offer our customers by increasing our technical as well as our integration capabilities.
I would like to clarify the situation regarding our acquisition of M/A-COM from Tyco Electronics. Cobham acquired the aerospace and defense (A&D) aspects of M/A-COM and the commercial aspects of the business, because the A&D business was not available on its own. The commercial part of acquisition, which is now called M/A-COM Technical Solutions, is being sold because it doesn’t fit Cobham’s acquisition strategy, but it is still a great company.
Tyco Electronics retained the M/A-COM subsidiary that has been developing the statewide wireless emergency network for New York.
MWJ - Thanks for the clarification, Jeremy. With regard to these acquisitions, how do they fit the overall Cobham strategy?
JCW - These acquisitions are a continuation of an ongoing strategy set out by Cobham to bring the best talent and technology to bear on problems faced by our customers. In 2008, Cobham acquired six companies worth $1.2bn, with M/A-COM and Sensor Systems Lansdale being two of the biggest. They meet all of our acquisition criteria and their integration into an already very capable strategic business unit has increased our capability and the value we can offer to our customers. They enable Cobham to offer a more integrated solution to technical issues arising in the sensor or front end of a microwave system.
MWJ - M/A-COM is a components and sub-assembly design and manufacturing company. Will Cobham be in the component and sub-assembly business or are these products for strictly for incorporation into Cobham systems?
JCW - The short answer is both. As a matter of fact both M/A-COM and Cobham have a long history of vertical integration, so it is fair to say that with the addition of M/A-COM we can continue to develop and enhance our systems and subsystems capability. Furthermore, M/A-COM will help us to continue to develop and provide our customers with the most advanced technical solutions in the industry.
MWJ - So there was a history of working with M/A-COM engineers and program managers prior to the acquisition?
JCW - M/A-COM was both a competitor and merchant supplier to Cobham.
MWJ - How does the M/A-COM acquisition compare to the REMEC, Defense and Space purchase from 2005? How do these two acquisitions complement each other?
JCW - REMEC, which is also part of Cobham Sensor Systems, in many ways, fulfilled a much needed capability of technology and market position that did not exist in Cobham in 2005. It was a long sought after capability that we felt was required to expand our technical reach in the defense electronics market area. The M/A-COM acquisition augments and expands our capability in terms of global reach, platform position as well as high volume manufacturing capability.
As part of Cobham Sensor Systems, the two companies will provide outstanding synergies in terms of collaboration of technical resources as well as share best in class technical and manufacturing expertise. Interestingly there was very little overlap in terms of where REMEC and M/A-COM competed. They both participate on many common programs but we found only a few instances were they actually provided the same custom product for any unique customer part number.
MWJ - Given the acquisitions have been completed, what are the best opportunities for growth?
JCW - When you assess our acquisitions you would find that they all fill a specific role in the making of an Antenna/Sensor subsystem. We believe that our customers are moving more toward that of a Lead System Integrator role which we feel has created a very unique opportunity for Cobham to fill the void that has been created.
Our customers are looking for suppliers with sub-system integration capability to solve their challenging technical problems with state of the art solutions. Customers are also looking for suppliers with mature program and life cycle management capability that will support the management of the product from development through production to maintenance and support. In the future Cobham will continue to expand its Antenna/Sensor Subsystem capability, into markets such as Electro Optical and IR.
MWJ - What are Cobham’s greatest technical challenges?
JCW - When we look at an acquisition, our motives are not to acquire “Brick and Mortar”. Cobham is interested in the hard working people and the intellectual talent these people bring to our organization. Finding and retaining good technical talent to augment our current technical base and to expand our capabilities are always challenges in our industry. One of the reasons why Cobham is aligning all of its business with a single, unified corporate identity is to help provide careers paths for its employees. We’re working hard to give people rewarding and exciting careers, not just jobs.
MWJ - So what is Cobham’s Talent Management Plan?
JCW - Our management team has always put an emphasis on people and that is of course our most important priority. Cobham’s objective is to be recognized in the Aerospace Industry as “best in class” and the “employer of choice”. When Cobham simplified its structure last year, many of the people who had been developed through a Company wide management scheme were given new roles. Roles that helped employees to realize their potential, clearly demonstrating that the Company was serious about talent management.
MWJ - How is the US defense market looking these days? Any indication of what might happen in the new Administration?
JCW - The new Administration has inherited very difficult situations domestically and internationally. The U.S. and its allies will be fighting the war on terror for some time and it is difficult to predict what priorities President Obama will make with regard to defense spending. Nevertheless, Cobham has built a very capable team that has the capability to supply products and technology that can and will be used to protect the U.S. and our Allies. The Adminstration may have changed, but the threats have not.
MWJ - Which up and coming US defense programs seem most promising for your growing capabilities in microwave electronics?
JCW - With respect to our microwave business, we see the most promising programs to be the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, including several of the new sensor systems such as the radar, electronic protection and communication and data link systems. We are very proud of the capability we bring to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has some $1m of Cobham equipment on each aircraft.
The need to move data, voice and video around the battlefield as well as back to the command and control center is becoming the most important variable in fighting the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Every pilot and soldier is becoming a node on a digital network and we are extremely well positioned to support this growth with fast, secure and accurate communication.
We anticipate that the C4I and space markets will expand and believe that the distinctive technologies we have in these areas will enable our business to expand with it over the coming years, both organically and through further acquisitions.
MWJ - Which international defense markets seemed poised for growth?
JCW - We think India is one of the major emerging defense and homeland security markets poised for growth. Its defense budget reached $20bn in 2008, an increase of 10% over 2007, and the growth rate over the next few years is expected to remain at that figure.
India obviously sits in a very volatile part of the world and with the United States building a stronger alliance with India our ability to market in India is poised for growth. With the acquisition of M/A-COM comes a sub-system capability located in the UK that has experienced varying degrees of success marketing in India. This business, which is also part of Cobham Sensor Systems, is equal in capability to the microwave electronics business units that are located in the United States. We believe that this will give us a unique advantage in promoting our capability into India.