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June 2004
Armed for Success
By Susanne Deitzel

Ready, Aim, Fire!

 

      One night in June 2003, a battery of field commanders descended on Charlotte honing a strategy for its next mission: locating a new base of operation for its company headquarters.

      After an inquiry submitted to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, leaders of General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) met with Mayor Pat McCrory at the Westin Hotel. From there they launched a salvo of questions that would culminate in bringing the most formidable force in the defense industry from Burlington, Vermont, to Charlotte.

     The meeting, according to McCrory, was colorful. “Upon  direction from the Chamber, we could not know the name of the company or its officers. It was an exhaustive and entertaining meeting that covered every question I have ever been asked about Charlotte.” He adds, “I returned home after hours of discussion, unable to tell my wife with whom I had been meeting for so long. It is now a standing joke between us.”

      General Dynamics Aramament and Technical Products is

governed by defense giant, General Dynamics Combat Systems. Responsible for developing detection, protection and lethality components for major clients including the U.S. Department of Defense, the impact of its addition to the Charlotte area in today’s military climate is undeniable.

      Charlotte emerged victorious from ten competing cities for GDATP’s relocation. According to Linda Hudson, president of GDATP, “Charlotte proved to have a number of qualities which contributed to our final decision. However, our move primarily came down to three things: ‘location, location, location.’ The proximity of the Charlotte Douglas International Airport to our eight other locations was a crucial operational consideration. It increased our access to our other ATP sites, business partners  and customers.
     
Hudson is quick to highlight other factors that made Charlotte the ‘drop zone’ for General Dynamics’ facilities. “There is an enormous pool of scientific and technical talent in the region that Charlotte continues to nurture. The facilities at UNC Charlotte’s Research Institute and its graduates are a very visible commitment to fueling the area with the qualified talent our industry needs. Additionally, there is an unusual number of graduates that choose to stay in the region after graduation. Rather than moving to another city, a high percentage choose to stay in the community. This feeds back into the area’s economic growth and keeps it at the forefront of technological discovery.”

       The addition of GDATP promises a significant contribution to the area economy. Estimates anticipate the addition of 400 jobs, a 120,000-square-foot bio-chemical detection manufacturing facility, and an estimated $76 million in direct economic impact as well as $1.1 million in county tax revenue.

      Mayor Pat McCrory suggests that General Dynamics’ contribution to the local economy reaches even further.

“The profile of a company like General Dynamics is incredibly important to Charlotte. Not only is it providing an outlet for much needed manufacturing jobs, but it also opens a great opportunity for smaller companies to consider bringing their business to Charlotte.”

       “Plus,” he adds, “It positions us very well in an environment of new technology offshoots, which will have a very positive impact in the region.”

       General Dynamics began its operations at the new headquarters in September 2003, and Charlotte celebrated its own tactical coup.

 

A Powerful Sortie

     In the world of GDATP, Linda Hudson is commander. There isn’t a person in the company who will pass on the opportunity to credit the company’s success to Hudson, nor is it easy to find a person who won’t attribute their own personal success to her leadership.

     Says Lorraine Donley, human resources vice president, “Linda Hudson  is the driving force in the mission, execution and soul of this company. She invests herself into every decision, and every person on this staff. She believes in working hard and rewarding people for that work, and there isn’t a person at General Dynamics that doesn’t know that.”

     As a scientist and a corporate leader in the male-dominated field of military defense, Hudson’s position is rare. One of a handful of women pursuing an engineering degree at the University of Florida, she had to surmount numerous obstacles in an atmosphere wherein many did not want her to succeed. “When I began my career, there were no laws protecting women from discrimination or harassment. Despite my position, I was turned down for my first mortgage because lenders thought I might get pregnant and not be able to work.” Since then, Hudson has risen to become the first female corporate officer, and first female president, at General Dynamics.

     Despite the considerable challenges she had to face, Hudson maintains a warm and personal demeanor, fueled by focus and sheer determination. “There is no room for bitterness when you are trying to make something happen. I have always enjoyed finding solutions to difficult problems.”

     Those solutions are not limited to complex equations on a piece of paper, nor the successive reports she must evaluate to keep the company flexible and strong. They also include using her refined talent for human interaction, relationship building, and culture-

merging that many say defines the company’s character and success.

     Says spokesperson John Suttle, After Linda took charge of ATP five years ago, she lead the company in a series of acquisitions. The challenge and complexity of molding multiple corporate identities into a single homogeneous corporate culture while optimizing operations and inspiring employees cannot be overstated.”

     Hudson admits the fusion of cultures can be tricky, but it is a fundamental component in a highly competitive industry. “Transactions such as General Dynamics Armament Systems’ acquisition of Advanced Technical Products that created GDATP are a significant part of corporate strategy in this industry. However, it is essential that each opportunity be examined thoroughly before you can entertaining the thought of moving forward.”

    She explains,“When making an acquisition, the old adage ‘one plus one equals two,’ simply does not apply. If I am just adding Company One revenues to Company Two revenues, what is the point of bringing them together? Our hope is to add one plus one and hopefully get two-and-a-half or three, through careful analysis and integration.”

      GDATP is the perfect demonstration of this pursuit. Since Hudson’s appointment five years ago, the company’s sales have nearly quadrupled.

 

Strategic Advantage

      When General Dynamics ATP was formed, the bulk of operations was manufacturing. Hudson says, “Our charge was to take one of the poorer performing companies in the organization and put together a team whose sole purpose was  to reengineer it into a powerful entity. We determined we had been overly focused on manufacturing in a market climate where it no longer made sense”

      She explains that the decisions she made were tough ones, including consolidating many manufacturing facilities and eliminating 30 percent of the company’s work force. “To compete in the current market, we transferred our manufacturing emphasis to developing strategic partnerships to outsource our products. Our hallmark accomplishment is developing what we call Value Net Integration, wherein we adopt a network of top-tier suppliers as teammates, and bring manufactured and procured materials under our umbrella for assembly and sale.”

      Hudson says the model is particularly effective for a defense company. “By creating a network, you can increase your output, and decrease the cost of manufacturing facilities. Additionally, you are strengthening the local economy and community by effectively sharing your business with other people in the industry. We also expanded our political base by increasing the number of states involved in our production, thereby recruiting more interest from communities and lawmakers which helps support the defense budget.”

      Hudson makes it a point to define the suppliers nominated for inclusion in the company’s network, “It is important to us that people realize we outsource primarily to local and national suppliers. Due to the nature of what we do, it is usually not appropriate to outsource jobs overseas. We operate with highly sensitive and technologically superior products, and it simply isn’t feasible or desirable to set up a partnership that would be incompatible with national issues.”

 

Diplomatic Relationships

      In today’s international body politic, the introduction of a defense company into a community can be polarizing. With soldiers deployed all over the globe and the complex issues involved in each conflict, the philosophy of General Dynamics resonates with practicality, but also passion.

      Says Hudson, “Since I have been in this business, I have reconciled myself

to the hard fact that the world can be a pretty ugly place. My personal preference would be that the weapons we sold would act solely as deterrents, and never be used. However, this just isn’t practical. I determined quite a while ago that when it comes to the safety of my family, our  soldiers and our country, it is absolutely paramount that we have the best technology at our disposal.”

      And, while General Dynamics is the world’s leader in high rate-of-fire (ROF) aircraft guns, and is the only U.S. provider of products such as the 2.75” Advanced Precision Kill Rocket Weapons Systems, it also provides chemical and biological detection equipment, highly engineered armor for vehicles, and high performance radome units which facilitate optimal protection and operation of aircraft radar.

       Comments Hudson, “One of our strengths is the diverse product base we have developed. Our specialty is highly engineered products, with difficult technological requirements. This broad portfolio allows us not to lean too heavily on one arm of the company. We can remain flexible, agile and focused on bringing the cutting-edge developments that keep the country at the helm of military defense.”

 

Closing Ranks

      Despite Hudson’s extraordinary scientific acumen, she chose to pursue a management career. Many peers say that her talent for leading people coupled with her technological expertise has single-handedly transformed the company.

     Eschewing what some call “bumper-sticker leadership,” Hudson has developed an impressive and much-heralded atmosphere of appreciation and reciprocity. Says Hudson, “In this business, top-notch engineering and business talent is the price of entry. But above and beyond that, our organization is comprised of the most passionate and communicative people in the industry. They work hard to meet, and often exceed, company objectives and we believe in rewarding them in sincere and tangible ways.”

     When the relocation of the GDATP’s office center from Burlington to Charlotte was announced, Hudson was told to expect a 40 percent employee acceptance to the move. While that figure is high by most companies’ standards, Hudson had a pleasant surprise; 90 percent of her Burlington staff answered affirmatively when asked if they would follow the company to Charlotte.

     Such loyalty does not go unrewarded. Hudson sponsors high-profile leadership conferences with hand-picked nominees to be groomed for leadership positions, a vote of confidence in their abilities and their future. She empowers her Human Resources department with the resources to provide powerful incentives, stringent screening, rewards and employee appreciation.

    Hudson also created and oversees the annual Presidential Award Ceremony, the crown jewel of General Dynamics’ appreciation and recognition program. Each year, employees are nominated from all departments of the company in eight different locations for outstanding performance, community service and leadership. Those selected are presented with a company award in front of their peers, supervisors and spouses.

     The event is a gala of huge proportion. In April of this year, GDATP hosted 300 people at a Charlotte Convention Center Ballroom, who were also treated to accommodations at the Westin Hotel. After an elaborate dinner, the 32 awardees were individually presented with a Waterford crystal globe as their accomplishments were read to attendees. The mood was a mixture of solemnity and dignity, which later gave way to unbridled enthusiasm and some good-natured rug-cutting to a live performance of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.

      Despite the weighty responsibility felt by Hudson, her employees and

the company in general, the zeal, mutual respect and sense of family help keep the mood light and lines of communication open. Hudson says that Charlotte has offered a similar relationship and appears to be the perfect home for the company: “We have been embraced with open arms, and in every measure Charlotte has exceeded our expectations.”

     Hudson says in the meantime,“We are working to become totally vested in community charities, preparing for NASCAR, the Panther and Bobcat seasons, and enjoying the weather. We are looking forward to becoming an integral part of the community that has been so enthusiastic about welcoming us to Charlotte.”

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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