In this monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers, to defense entrepreneurs.
Lisa Finneran is the vice president of engineering with General Dynamics Mission Systems, responsible for engineering execution across 60 major sites and 7,000 employees. She has had an 18-year career with General Dynamics and previously served as director of engineering to a team of over 1,000 personnel supporting maritime programs and vice president of Strategic Systems.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
My journey began before I understood the defense industry, with my love for math and science that was embraced, encouraged and nurtured by my teachers. During high school and college, I worked for a defense contractor correlating nuclear test data, sparking my interest in nuclear engineering. I applied to two of the best engineering universities and selected Virginia Tech, where I fell in love with computer science. After 9/11, General Dynamics approached me, and I haven’t looked back. They gave me the opportunity to bring my skills to do whatever I could to help secure the safety and security of not only our Nation, but also our allies.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
This is not new nor unique to me and I’m sure most of your readers can relate – the most significant challenge is the act of balancing work life and personal life. Two lives that run in parallel, but often with conflicting priorities. I’ve worked very hard to build strong support systems and I’ve been successful in large part because of these. My husband and I figured out together how to raise our family at the same time we were building successful careers. Professionally, I have been lucky to have bosses that gave and give me the space and opportunity to flourish. The teams I have built have also been supportive, stepping up when I needed them to, pushing me when I lacked the confidence, and believing in me as I lean forward.
And I would not change a thing. The confidence that I built over time is something that I now foster with people from both my lives.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
Absolutely. In my early career, my mentors, peers, and managers saw in me what I did not yet see in myself. They continuously encouraged me to take on new career and professional growth opportunities, critical to my developing myself to the best of my potential. This is why I am so committed to making sure our employees have the tools, techniques, and resources to become the best versions of themselves. I want them to feel the same excitement I do every morning.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
I remember what it was like to be a young engineer. I was fortunate enough to be supported by formal and informal mentors that helped me immensely, including senior leaders. I connect with my team a number of different ways so that I can reach them on whatever platform they are most comfortable with – my internal blog, timely all hands meetings, one-on-ones, lunch and learns, email, phone, and one-on-one mentoring sessions. The benefit goes both ways. They learn from my experiences and I learn immensely from them – fostering their ideas on what is in the realm of the possible. We deliver on our promises to provide the products that enable our customers to execute their missions by building and sustaining relationships.
We have fostered a culture of mentorship that goes beyond me to ensure all of our smart people have the opportunity to impart their wisdom and sage advice through our formal mentor/coaching and buddy programs, as well as organic interactions through communities of interest, centers of excellence, tiger teams and special projects.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
I’m successful when our people are fulfilled in their careers. This pride extends into their work, resulting in this rich culture of engineering innovation that consistently delivers what our customers need to execute their complex missions successfully.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
The increase of women working in the technology field has increased alongside with more women leaders. I’d like to see this move faster because more women in the workplace means more viewpoints. Women are different. We think differently, approach problems differently, communicate differently. Different is necessary when engineering solutions to the most complex problems – literally from the bottom of the ocean floor all the way to deep space and everything in between.
The more voices and perspectives we can bring, the better able we are to solve a problem. I love that the defense industry understands the significant value of this approach. We challenge each other to look at a problem from every different angle so we can develop the best ideas and produce the best possible solution. My job is to make this thinking the norm. To recognize differences.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
Ask questions and seek out others. Understand your customer’s mission so you have the context of the problem you need to help solve, and importance that the mission plays in the protection of our country. Build your network and connect with those who have different ideas. Take advantage of every training opportunity. Have the confidence to speak up because you may be seeing something different. Build support systems that will accompany you through your different lives and during different phases. Be confident in who you are, your ability, your characteristics, and your contributions.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
The safety and security of our Nation continues to be a priority for all of us. As threats and adversaries shift, so must we.
To be good at what we do, we need to solve today’s problems and prepare for the unknown of tomorrow. Today we are in lockstep with our customers, bringing innovation and through leadership at each and every turn. We will continue to build upon this foundation and keep the trust we have earned by turning
We will invest in the right technologies at the right time, integrating big ideas across programs and products. We are exploring what quantum communications can do for us in our state-of-the-art lab where smart people are asked to think without constraints. We are integrating our long-standing mission understanding with our machine learning expertise to better utilize the massive amounts of data to accelerate decision making that needs to be right the first time. We will apply smart user experience so we can deliver a design suited for the mission.
The technology landscape is simply exquisite, giving our pioneers new avenues to study and test. We will persevere alongside with our community of customers, partners, and teammates to leave no stone unturned to protect our Nation.
I’m proud to lead the General Dynamics Mission Systems engineering team and honored to work with the best industry has to offer, and thankful for my journey that began with my love of math and science.
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