In 2002, the relocation of the headquarters of General Dynamics’ Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) operation was widely heralded in Charlotte; by 2004 it was firmly established. Since then, the company has continued to grow its business of procuring and manufacturing weapons systems, biological and chemical detection systems and mobile shelter systems. Vis á vis relationships with the defense department and its incumbent forces, GDATP has consistently proposed innovative solutions and won large contracts to keep national defense strategies well fortified.
This past November GDATP appointed a new president, Michael J. Mulligan, who is viewing the company with a new set of eyes and a fresh perspective.
Learning the Line
Prior to joining GDATP, Mulligan spent 20 years at Electric Boat Corporation, the submarine arm of parent company, General Dynamics Corporation. During his tenure at Electric Boat, Mulligan oversaw vital program management and engineering assignments, including serving as the design program manager for the Virginia Class submarine program and as engineering supervisor for reactor plant fluid systems. Mulligan also became responsible for development, execution and testing of all aspects of the conversion of two Trident class system submarines into new guided missile configurations.
For the layman, this translates as a lot of responsibility in terms of security, human life, deadlines, high-level communications and money. Spokesperson John Suttle explains it best, “When you are responsible for making sure every detail is perfect before a hugely expensive government vessel filled with American sailors goes under water, you have to have a lot on the ball.”
Mulligan recalls, “When I began at Electric Boat, it was the perfect job for me. It was the most demanding, rigorous engineering work I could imagine. Then, as I began to work more closely with the commanders, I found myself being surprised at what was important to them. My perspective began to change from a product-focused to a
Mulligan took a year sabbatical to participate in a Sloan Fellow program in innovation and global leadership. Mulligan credits the program’s immersion experience with professors, business leaders and professionals to cultivate knowledge, collaboration, networks, global understanding and leadership for cementing his focus: “My vision morphed from the engineering mindset where there is a definite right or wrong answer, to seeing that in many situations there are several right answers, and that the trick is selecting the most appropriate one.”
Mulligan joined GDATP in 2006 as vice president of operations, shedding his engineering sea legs for the terra firma of the company’s ATP division. “We are an incredibly diverse company in terms of products, customers and people. While a lot of people think that all we do is deliver weaponry—what we really pride ourselves on is offering solutions. We cultivate an understanding for what is needed, and coordinate people, places and things in our sphere of influence to provide an answer.”
Mulligan says, the nature of the beast has changed, “This business used to be about long procurement cycles, identifying a need and putting ideas into development. We don’t have the luxury of time anymore; we get requests from the battlefield for things needed immediately. Our charge is to be well-connected and nimble so that we can provide a solution as quickly as possible.”
What Mulligan is talking about here is a paradigm shift. Defense procurement is no longer about placing an order for a weapon and waiting a few years for it to be researched, developed and built. The system is now grounded in cultivating and managing a network of relationships, on both the customer and development ends of the spectrum, to forge instant connectivity at the slightest spark of need.
For example, the biggest challenge recently for GDATP was answering the threat of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). Explains Mulligan, “This business did not exist 18 months ago. A customer informed us of the problem, we did research and found a Canadian company that had well-developed technology compatible with that need, and then developed a scenario and the integration to make the solution accessible as quickly as possible.”
The power and efficiency of the GDATP model makes it uniquely suited for this kind of facilitation. Its relationships with the Department of Defense, intimate knowledge of procurement protocol, project management prowess, supply chain management capability and vast supplier network allows the company to advocate for a best-case scenario quickly. It also opens other avenues for revenue: brokering and integration.
GDATP has business development personnel scouting for new academic and commercial technology providers that can satisfy future needs. The company also stays close to government agencies to gain insight into what might be envisioned for the future. This way, Mulligan’s people can seek out, partner or acquire companies that fit the bill, or determine to develop the product in-house.
“We have the ability to critically assess, provide enhancements where necessary, and get the product fielded. In today’s world, speed to market and flexibility are critical,” comments Mulligan.
Integration is another fascinating improvisation gaining more and more play in the current world theatres like Afghanistan and Iraq. To outfit a soldier with a solution, there is a lot more needed than just shipping a product in a box. “In the case of the IED jammer device, procuring the product was just the starting point,” explains Mulligan. “We had to make sure that the product would fit into military vehicles properly, that the electrical wiring would work out, and find a location where it was most convenient and appropriate. Then, once the soldiers receive the device, they need to know how to install and maintain the equipment, training and support to employ it in theatre, and spare parts immediately accessible.”
He adds, “We also had to devise a way for the provider to deliver the product on a large scale and create an acquisition program including a funding, execution and delivery strategy. Most technologies operate as individual subsystems. Our degree of integration is unusual and because of the caliber of our people; that is where
Armed and Ready
With the world stage being the way it is, it is easy to come up with questions for Mike Mulligan. Will defense spending rise or fall if the Iraq conflict de-escalates? How do you anticipate the types of products that will be required? How long do you think it will take the shift from wartime to time-out practices to resume?
Unfortunately, Mulligan knows no more than the rest of us when it comes to these questions. While some estimates report that “the top line budget for the U.S. Department of Defense…in real buying power is the highest now since the Korean War,” and that “planned defense spending for FY2007 is 439.3 billion, 6.5 percent higher than 2006 before any supplemental defense spending,” there are little specifics about how or where that money will be spent. The same report also suggests that real buying power for procurement and development of new technology will actually decrease.*
One of the centerpieces of GDATP’s move to Charlotte was its chemical and biological weapons detection systems laboratory. While the company has been in contact with Homeland Security about further developing a defense strategy to integrate this program, progress has been slower than anticipated.
Says Mulligan, “Initially we thought that every unit would have to outfitted against the threat of biological or chemical weapons. But body armor has usurped that need. It is a matter of establishing priorities, and it is a tough balancing act when you are talking money and threats.”
Mulligan shares that the company is focusing activity on detecting radiological equipment in shipping containers at U.S. ports, and that it has developed a system for protecting domestic airports against anti-aircraft missiles.
Of course, a large chunk of GDATP is still manufacturing, boxing up and shipping out guns and combat systems, but it is constantly honing and refining what spokesperson John Suttle calls its ‘sixth sense’ for the customer. Says Suttle, “Our business used to be a product of the government procurement cycle. But the world is a different place now, and we aren’t interested in focusing solely on proprietary solutions. We want something that is viable now, and this involves strategic relationships.”
Comments Mulligan, “We have to leverage our skills and solutions like any other business. But when you start talking about technology transfer, security and other issues, you must be supersensitive and attentive to cultural differences. Accountability isn’t viewed the same way in other cultures as it is in the U.S. So there is a huge demand to choose relationships wisely and use exacting measures.”
To this aim, General Dynamics has released the 5th edition of its “Blue Book,” its official handbook of conduct and ethics. These guidelines set standards of fairness, asset management in accordance with company values, delivering on promises, accountability and fair return. It also outlines the global importance of its work, how to get answers, make tough decisions, handle international business practically and legally, work with the government, confidentiality, transparency and sundry other concerns.
In fact, General Dynamic’s ATP division was awarded the 2006 American Business Ethics Award from The Society of Financial Service Professionals, an accomplishment that continues to leverage General Dynamics’ reputation for integrity and ethical standards.
Comments Mulligan, “When I got here, it became clear that ATP has a strong ethics focus even within the stringent considerations of General Dynamics. When you have a strong ethical framework, decision-making becomes more efficient. It is a very integral part of our business.”
While the horizon might be decidedly hazy in terms of defense spending or world events, GDATP plans on continuing to entrench itself as part of Charlotte’s business and organizational landscape. Mulligan lives in Ballantyne with family and looks forward to becoming part of the corporate community once he is fully acclimated to his new surroundings.
He also looks forward to contributing to what he calls an impressively constructive business climate, and continuing to position the company as a rich storehouse of human resources. He explains, “A lot of people think we are just a big house of engineers when actually we have brilliant financial people, legal and contracts people, and HR experts. We have a huge variety of skills under our roof.”
Mulligan concludes, “We view our business as part of an ecosystem with customers, technology developers and suppliers, to create a hub of expertise that will help to attract the talent that will continue to make Charlotte vibrant and sustainable.”* Source: Keller, John. Military and Aerospace Electronics, November 2006. “Defense Industry Upbeat…”