Executive Interview: Jill Kale, Sector President of Cobham Advanced Electronic Solutions
Cobham is a British, multi-national company with a long history. Tell us about the history, size and Cobham’s presence in the U.S.
Founded in 1934 by famed British aviation pioneer and inventor of in-flight refueling, Sir Alan Cobham, the company has a long history of developing technology solutions and acquiring companies in the United States, beginning with its acquisition of Saunders Valve in 1968.
Cobham first entered the RF and microwave industry with its acquisition of Chelton Ltd. in 1989, which now resides in Cobham’s Communications and Connectivity sector. The business comprising the Cobham Advanced Electronics Solutions (CAES) sector was assembled by acquiring a number of leading enterprises in the microwave industry.
Cobham plc employs approximately 10,000 employees worldwide and realizes approximately $1.3 billion in revenue in the United States from various businesses. Of that, CAES employs over 3,000 employees in several locations throughout North America and generates approximately $800 million in annual revenues.
You are the sector president of CAES. What are the mission of your organization and the strategy for achieving it?
Cobham Advanced Electronics Solutions’ mission is to be the partner of choice for our customers, the employer of choice for our people and the investment of choice for our shareholders. In order to achieve this, CAES seeks to continually align its independent research and development (IR&D) and program investments with the technology and growth roadmaps of our customers, foster an environment where our employees can succeed and grow, while generating returns to our shareholders’ satisfaction.
Recently, to better align with our customers’ needs, CAES reorganized to operate as a single business under a new chief operating officer. Moreover, we are investing in common tools and processes to better enable the success of our workforce to the benefit of our customers and shareholders. We will drive these changes to provide efficiencies and cross-business synergies to the benefit of all three of our major stakeholders.
Describe the range of technologies, products and systems that fall in your portfolio.
CAES provides a number of mission-critical and specialized solutions for harsh environments. These solutions include RF, microwave and millimeter wave microelectronic technologies comprising many aspects of an RF front-end, including antennas and apertures, T/R modules, digital receivers and exciters, frequency converters, synthesizers, pre-selectors, switch matrices, integrated microwave assemblies, waveguides, cables and rotary joints. On the digital side, we offer radiation hardened microelectronics for a variety of high reliability applications on earth and in space.
Our customers are primarily U.S. prime defense contractors supporting the U.S. Department of Defense, with a significant share of commercial and international customers. We serve primarily guided munitions, radar, electronic warfare (EW), communication, navigation and identification (CNI) and space markets, as well as some commercial programs.
List a few of the fielded military and space systems that rely on CAES products.
CAES provides key, differentiated, enabling technology on a number of high priority programs and platforms, including EW, radar and CNI solutions for UAVs and key fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft, including the F-35, F-18 and F-16. Other programs include the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP), the Advanced Offboard Electronic Warfare (AOEW) program, Aegis, the Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), the TPY-2 radar, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the Standard Missile family and the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).
In addition, CAES technology is featured in notable NASA missions such as the Mars 2020 rover and the Parker Solar Probe, as well as a number of commercial satellite constellations, including smallsat constellations.
The 2019 Defense Appropriations Bill approved by Congress and signed by the President increased defense spending in a number of areas. How do these increases align with your programs?
The CAES portfolio aligns quite well with the priorities of the Department of Defense and our customers. As a tier 3 to tier 4 solutions provider, our portfolio of RF, microwave and millimeter wave technologies are key enablers for programs geared to address and counter new threats found in today’s near-peer geopolitical environment.
More broadly, what multi-year trends and opportunities do you see in the defense market?
In the defense market, we see a push not only for greater affordability but for technologies that differentiate our customers’ own solutions. It still is all about size, weight and power (SWaP), especially for space and airborne applications. Our customers are demanding the same or even higher performance in smaller form factors.
The missile market remains strong, driven by near-peer threats and the emergence of hypersonics, while EW and radar systems are challenged to be more capable, affordable and reliable over their lifecycles, while responding to rapidly-evolving threats.
Our challenge in CAES is to partner with our customers to align our investments to target the right technologies and produce them at the right price and timeframe for all of our stakeholders.
Describe your management philosophy.
My management philosophy is centered on providing leadership and developing others.
To share a recent example, CAES recently undertook a significant reorganization by implementing a non-traditional approach that included various levels of the organization and every functional area to determine how our structure should look, in order to best position us as the partner of choice, employer of choice and investment of choice in the industry. We supported candid discussions and listened to our stakeholders. This approach broke down the traditional barriers to change and resulted in removing some critical roadblocks typically experienced with organizational design implementations. The entire process was accomplished in record time, and we are well-positioned to enter 2019 with our new organizational design ready to go!
My true passion comes from developing leaders and providing opportunities for them to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones while realizing their full potential.
We, at CAES, are driven by a culture that embraces our SPIRIT values (security and safety, performance, integrity, relationship, innovation and trust). We are a diverse and collaborative company that truly takes on the hardest problems and solves them with clever and creative solutions. CAES employees really understand our mission and are committed to the development of unique technologies to serve our nation and enhance our security.
Tell us about your background and the path that led to your role as sector president.
I have always enjoyed math and science and pursued an industrial engineering degree from Rutgers University.
When I first entered the workforce as a project engineer in the satellite industry, I realized that program management was my passion. I took on some tremendous opportunities, otherwise known as “stretch assignments,” to lead some great teams on a variety of very interesting programs. I loved the fact that program management utilized my problem-solving skillset that I developed through my engineering education and that no two days were ever the same. It was always interesting and fast-paced and combined technology, business acumen and scheduling challenges into one job.
I continued my program management career alongside some amazing mentors, while working assignments that eventually led to director-level positions and eventually vice-president of programs positions at both BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman.
I pursued the CAES sector president position at Cobham because I wanted the challenge of leading an entire organization beyond just programs. I have enjoyed every aspect of my seven years here. CAES is an incredible organization, boasting innovative technology created by the talented and resourceful people that come to work every day to solve the most challenging technical problems for our customers and, ultimately, our country.
Reflecting on the challenges you have faced because you are a woman in a largely male defense industry, what guidance would you give to young women starting their careers?
I would share similar advice to anyone, regardless of gender, age or background.
Simply put, do what you love in life, your passion will come through and your positive drive will bring out the best in others.
Be a sponge and soak up any and all opportunities that are offered to you. The more experience and knowledge you have, the better equipped you are for success. Look for mentors that will freely give you guidance, take from that advice what fits your management style and leave the rest behind.
Take the time to understand everyone’s perspective, while remaining true to yourself. Bringing out the best in others will bring your team tremendous success and more opportunities for individual growth.
It is important to understand that not every program or project will go smoothly. You will learn so much more from your failures, which makes one stronger in the long run. Be sure to take on those stretch assignments and don’t let that inner voice convince you otherwise!
You are your strongest advocate in the workplace, so don’t leave your career aspirations in the hands of others.
Finally, work for a company that shares your values and you will enjoy coming to work and being a part of their success.