Managing Globalism

Dec. 21, 2004
Focus on fundamentals, says Weston.

John Weston started his career with British Aerospace PLC (BAe) at one of its predecessor companies, British Aircraft Corp., nearly 30 years ago as an undergraduate apprentice engineer. Now he runs the place. He's the chief executive of the world's second-largest defense company (behind only Lockheed Martin Corp.) and third-largest aerospace firm (behind Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin). But don't ask him for insights on managing a highly visible global business. "I don't claim to be an expert," he protests. "I have a lot to learn." Acknowledging that he has been in his post only 21 months, he describes BAe -- and himself -- as "successfully establishing ourselves as a learning organization." That's not to say, though, that he doesn't have a management philosophy. In leading BAe, he says his challenge is to focus on "the fundamentals of good management in any organization." As he sees them, these fundamentals are:

  • "Getting to the point where everyone in the organization personally recognizes what we're trying to achieve in our business plan."
  • "Making sure all employees recognize what their individual contribution must be in delivering the plan."
  • "Making sure employees are empowered with suitable data and information systems and control of sufficient resources to carry out the plan."
Another major challenge, Weston says, is creating a common corporate culture. Given BAe's proliferation of acquisitions and its spread to all corners of the globe, that's not easy. His current priority: merging the cultures of BAe and its pending acquiree, Marconi Electronic Systems. "Marconi is better than we are at running a small business," he reflects. "We are better at running a big business and big programs. The trick will be to combine these strengths. Fortunately, there are a lot of common threads between the two companies. We'll have little difficulty working out how we modify our programs." It's not as if BAe hasn't had experience combining cultures. The company was founded, in fact, as a hasty amalgamation of three companies when a new Labor party government in 1977 launched a short-lived nationalization of much of British industry.

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