There aren't many people inside or outside Lockheed Martin Corp. (IW 500/30) who understand it better than Marillyn Hewson.
She's been with the company for so long that when she first joined the legacy Lockheed Corp. in 1983, its merger with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin was a decade on the horizon.
That's an important feature of what she will bring to the table as chief executive officer on Jan. 1, because until current CEO and Chairman Bob Stevens took the helm eight years ago, the enterprise was little more than the sum of its previously independent parts.
Stevens achieved major functional and financial synergies by integrating those legacy cultures, but you can't really grasp what's special about Lockheed Martin today unless you understand its heritage.
Hewson's biography is similar to that of Stevens. She was born in modest circumstances, working her way up by never saying "no" to an assignment and seldom failing.
After holding jobs in three of Lockheed Martin's four business areas and moving her family eight times, she eventually came to run its biggest operation -- the sprawling Electronic Systems unit that generates more revenues and returns than any other part of the company (it surpassed Lockheed's legendary aeronautics business to become the company's most profitable operation during her time in charge).
Electronic Systems is really big; in fact, if it were an independent company, it would be on the Fortune 200 list. More importantly, in terms of Hewson's qualifications to lead the parent company, it is also really complex, including everything from warships to radars to avionics to missiles to munitions.
Stevens told me once that when there wasn't an obvious place to put new acquisitions, they usually ended up in Hewson's part of the business. That eventually resulted in a plan to split the business into two separate units, but it underscores the fact she is accustomed to managing diverse operations.
The fact that she has gotten superior results from such varied activities bodes well for how she will run the whole enterprise. Hewson also has overseen some of the company's most successful business-development initiatives, including forays into defense logistics, warship construction and armored-vehicle development.
Meanwhile, she has broadened her experience beyond Lockheed Martin by chairing the board of directors at the Sandia National Laboratory and sitting on the board at DuPont (IW 500/36), one of the world's biggest chemical companies.
However, there are some things about people that resumes can't capture, personal qualities that go a long way toward explaining their success.
In Hewson's case, the quality that stands out for me is the respect that she shows for her customers and fellow employees.
The defense industry is full of hard-charging executives who think they are God's gift to western civilization, and act that way. That sort of ego-driven personality is outmoded in the modern business world.
In fact, Stevens's rise to the top of Lockheed Martin was facilitated by the fact that he wasn't just smart and organized, but he also was humble at a time when the egomaniacs were flaming out all around him.
Hewson shares the same quality -- not just smart and organized but friendly, thoughtful and ready to listen. She can be tough as nails when conditions demand it, but she never is tougher than she needs to be. She is an exceptionally capable and likeable leader.
Loren B. Thompson, Ph.D., is chief operating officer of the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit Lexington Institute and chief executive officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was deputy director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He also has taught at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.