A Conversation with Roger Krone; Chief Executive Officer, Leidos

A Conversation with Roger Krone
Chief Executive Officer, Leidos

The following interview is an excerpt from the Spring 2018 Edition of AIA’s Executive Report. To view more articles and commentary, click here.

How do you see the market for aerospace companies providing services to the government – here in the U.S. and abroad – developing in the next decade and beyond?
We’re in a budget environment where there is cost pressure for industry to do more with less; I don’t see that changing in the next decade. There is significant pressure to take on more critical missions with less funding. Conversely, the country faces challenges to reset, modernize, and maintain its military and technology base to support future missions and meet new threats. While customers face shrinking budgets, they also face the need to upgrade critical infrastructure and develop innovative technology.

Industry should focus on giving our government decision-makers options and paths forward in the face of budget pressure and priority changes. The Leidos mission is to make the world safer, healthier, and more efficient through information technology, engineering, and science. The efficiency edict rings particularly true here. We need to create operating efficiencies around major service and delivery models that meet customer needs for modernization and innovation, in a more austere environment. At Leidos, we have used this opportunity to transform the way customers support their missions. A major step forward in this model is to move customers to modernized IT platforms, move them to a digital domain, and install new solutions that will enable them to operate more efficiently.

We also need to encourage industry to increase spending on research and development projects, pushing the barriers of capabilities in important areas we know are on the horizon. We expect a whole new set of technologies to emerge in the next decade that will transform the way customers approach their missions. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing, and blockchain have the potential to create a step function, reducing customer transaction costs and transforming the way they operate and maintain capability. In this way, we must do our best to address the changing technological landscape, while retaining that deep level of trust and respect that comes from demonstrated experience and technical integrity.

As cyber threats grow broader and more nefarious, what should the A&D industry do to prepare for more sophisticated cyber assaults?
The overall global threat to American interests is high. Adversarial nation states and aggressive terrorist organizations have demonstrated their eagerness to harm our aging infrastructure and military readiness. These threats require advanced solutions to counter terrorism, and a full range of tools for addressing high-end cyber challenges. An aging IT infrastructure, open to security risks, also brings a need to modernize legacy IT systems. Often, the threat can occur within an IT environment, making the need to address, mitigate, and prevent the insider threat more important than ever.

Defending our nation from evolving cyber threats requires a true industry/ customer partnership. Only through close collaboration between the customer and industry – and also between partners within industry – can solutions be innovative, interoperable, and integrated to effectively address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. Close cooperation with industry needs to begin with R&D, the conceptualization of new capabilities, and continue all the way to bringing those capabilities online.

“Defending our nation from evolving cyber threats requires a true industry/customer partnership. Only through close collaboration between the customer and industry – and also between partners within industry – can solutions be innovative, interoperable and integrated to effectively address today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.”

At a time of increasingly complex security challenges and growing risks with rising costs, it is vital for industry to have a seat at the table from the very beginning stages of capability development all the way through delivery. This can’t be just a transactional approach. As an industry, we tend to incrementally evaluate technologies. We need to move to a model where we’re willing to take risks, and understand the ways to mitigate security concerns to try new technologies in a safe way. When you’re bringing in modernization, and it’s something unproven, it’s important to introduce the technology in a way that builds confidence and comfort. The rate at which threats learn and react is ever increasing, and protection measures need to develop at the same speed – or faster. Cooperation on advance persistent threat signature libraries, as well as sharing of information across the defense industrial base, is and will continue to be essential in staying ahead of adversaries.

Recent world events have proven that a single decision can ignite the need for wholesale strategic changes, and that we must all adapt and overcome. Every day we all are relying more on digital solutions; being able to trust those systems and the information they provide is essential to continuing to create steps forward in operating efficiencies. The ground truth of the matter is that competitive advantage will go to those companies who can navigate this complex landscape and provide a broad array of security capabilities to their customers.

You are a licensed commercial pilot. How do you view developments in unmanned aircraft systems, including the possibility of autonomously controlled cargo, and eventually passenger, aircraft?
My first passion is flying. I have been flying for more than 42 years and have flown everything from a J-3 Cub to a 737.

In the aviation industry, technology is our friend, but the high cognitive work should be entrusted to the best computer ever made – the human brain. We can and should assess the capabilities of technology and automation for what I like to describe as the dull, the dirty, and the dangerous, and reserve our human value for more critical tasks. There are aspects of the aviation industry where technology will be a logical and necessary fit, but where human safety is involved, we, as humans, must remain intimately intertwined. Technology should be used to free up the controller from the mundane to better manage their airspace.

“In the aviation industry, technology is our friend, but the high cognitive work should be entrusted to the best computer ever made – the human brain. We can and should assess the capabilities of technology and automation for what I like to describe as the dull, the dirty, and the dangerous, and reserve our human value for more critical tasks.”

Unmanned systems are here to stay and we need to establish rules of the road so everyone has access to the airspace and can operate safely and efficiently. This means de-conflicting operations, allowing responsible operators to utilize this technology. It might also mean no-fly zones and radar transponders for larger drones. The development of autonomous technology is a driving force that we need to embrace, but must do so carefully and thoughtfully.

AIA will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year. What do you see as the most important challenges and opportunities facing our industry, and specifically, the professional services sector, in the next quarter century?
The challenges and opportunities facing our industry will be defined by the same overarching need for IT modernization I referenced earlier. This will be a critical piece that enables customers to perform more efficiently, provide better solutions, and better accomplish their missions in a constantly evolving landscape. IT growth and progress are unattainable unless the industry as a whole is committed to working together to address the drivers, trends, pitfalls and opportunities around us.

The other part is that we don’t just look at technology and IT modernization as a bright, shiny object. We must consider how it fits and whether or not it brings value to the customer. A lot of companies bring technology just to bring the newest thing. The services sector must be mission oriented and consider whether or not the new technology will actually bring value. Our military relies on the expertise brought by the private sector. Every time a service member deploys, there are 3-4 contractors that deploy with them. Our customer’s mission is highly dependent on contractors, both on the battlefield and in the area of operational responsibility. It’s all about understanding the customer well enough to bring in the right new technology instead of just bringing in new technology for the sake of new technology. Technology and modernization enable transformation that will give us a leap forward in capability and situation awareness, we just have to use it to optimize the entire ecosystem for the benefit of all.

Leidos is known for having a highly skilled workforce. What skill sets are you looking for as you plan for the company’s future leadership?
This is an area where I am particularly proud. First and foremost, Leidos is a people company. Our employees are some of the best and brightest in their fields. We empower them to be thoughtful and innovative, and most importantly, to support our customers in their missions. Customers come to us when they have a challenge that requires innovation, technical expertise, and a well-honed, intuitive understanding of their needs. Leidos was founded nearly 50 years ago as a science applications company focused on innovative solutions for our customers.

At Leidos, we are very proud of that fact that close to 60 percent of our workforce hold STEM degrees and have established trust with our customers as true subject matter experts in their field. We’re equally proud that nearly 20 percent of our workforce is comprised of military veterans, working alongside our customers where they need them most.

To create solutions that improve our world, we are focused on five markets – defense, intelligence, homeland security, civil, and health. We promote a culture of innovation so that every solution we deliver for our customers in these markets is influenced by this culture. Innovation is critical to ensuring our customers’ success. This approach fosters a necessary level of practicality to our efforts. We look five, 10, 15 years out, but our employees are also skilled enough to know how to get there. This crawl, walk, run philosophy ensures that progress continues and innovation is achieved.

With AI and cyber technologies developing at an increasing pace, many companies are embracing technology to grow their business and support customers. Despite this, the hardest positions to fill continue to be those that cannot be performed by machines. Computer science, electrical engineering, system engineering and operational research are at the top of our list. Further, we need people with clearances or who are readily clearable. The ability to attract and retain key talent should be top of mind for every CEO, as it directly affects the ability of a company to grow. This one is certainly a critical element to our success at Leidos. This requires a renewed focus on creating an environment that inspires people to engage in the company culture of innovation.