A Leaders Corner Interview with Raytheon’s VP Corporate Tech & Research

From Technology Today


Heidi Shyu
Vice President, Corporate Technology and Research
Raytheon Company

Recently Technology Today talked withHeidi Shyu about technology and innovation, and her new role as vice president of Corporate Technology and Research. Shyu discusses her approach to creating an enterprise-wide technology vision and direction, the importance of disruptive technologies and radical innovation, and her penchant for taking on – and reaching – “unachievable” goals.

TT: Throughout your career, you’ve held many senior leadership positions. Can you share with us some of the attributes you believe are essential to effective leadership? And how do those attributes influence your new role as vice president of Corporate Technology and Research?

HS: First, I always try to look at the big picture, and figure out how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Even from the early stages of my career, when I was given one task that was part of a huge effort, I always tried to understand, “Here’s my little piece of the puzzle, now, how does it fit into the big picture? What is the right thing to do for our customer?”

Second, you need to communicate your vision and your plan. You can never communicate enough. People fail because they don’t communicate clearly. Therefore, your ability to articulate and communicate is very essential.

One other thing that is always helped me is I have always had a passion to do whatever task I am given. I just dive right in; whatever the challenge is. That becomes infectious. When troops see that you really care about what they are doing and the goal that you have set, they then realize we are really trying to aim for the same goals. Namely, we are trying to do the best thing for the company, the best thing for the customer and to beat our competition, not each other.

TT: How has your past experience prepared you for this role?

HS: I think that as I grew in my career, I faced many things that I have tried to figure out how to orchestrate. One of the early tasks I was given was developing modeling and simulation, and I tried to figure out, “How does my piece fit into that big picture?” I then took the initiative to lay out the entire simulation, and show my little piece in the overall big picture. I am always trying to figure out “How does this work?” I know my project manager was delighted that I took the initiative to do that.

Another key: Never stop learning. Each step, wherever I am in my career, I look a couple of ladders above me and I observe the people there. What are things that they know, that I don’t know? Those are things I need to learn. What attributes do they have, that I currently don’t have, and I can learn? Find out your own shortfalls. It’s good to get independent assessments of yourself, and figure out how you need to grow as a person throughout your career.

TT: What people or programs influenced your career?

HS: When Dr. Peter Pao asked me in 1997 to lead the Joint Strike Fighter Active Electronically Scanned Array development, it seemed insurmountable at the time because we had an incredibly short period of time to develop something that seemed unachievable – weight reduction, reliability improvement, reducing the observability, improving the survivability, reducing cost … and do it in record time. Most people told me I was crazy to take that job, but I never came to that conclusion. The way I approached it was, “OK, truly here’s an opportunity to do something that’s incredibly important for the company.” So you have to not be afraid of challenges. Then you have to methodically figure out how to do it. You can’t eat the whole elephant in one bite, so what is your path? What is your plan? How do you put your arms around this incredibly difficult problem? I think a lot of the “thinking through” early on and planning the steps that you have to take is so important.

TT: In your new role, you’re responsible for the development and execution of an integrated enterprise-wide technology and research vision and strategy. How do you go about formulating a vision that encompasses Raytheon’s breadth of technologies, programs and priorities?

HS: Again, the approach I take from the beginning is to figure out the big picture. I read the Quadrennial Defense Review – the 20-year vision of the capability we would like to have. I then think about the capability we would like to achieve. What are the threats out there that we are facing today? What are our capability shortfalls that we have relative to the threats in the environment we are facing? Then you take a systems approach to decomposing the problem. What are the opportunities out there for us? What are the enablers that can help you achieve this capability to fill the gap that we have, and what are the technology options that we have to close this capability gap?

Then, from the technology options we have, how well are we doing in this particular technology relative to our competition? Are we ahead of the pack? Nose to nose? Or are we lagging? Then consider are there other companies out there that we can team with to help us bridge this gap? Then you flow down: Are there CRAD (Contract Research and Development) opportunities? Are there IRAD (Internal Research and Development) opportunities we should be pursuing? What is our road map for getting there in the near term, in the mid-term and in the long term?

TT: One of your major areas of focus – influencing enterprise-wide research collaboration and technology opportunities – requires a substantial commitment to cross-business engagement and knowledge sharing. How do you facilitate this dynamic in a company like Raytheon?

HS: This year, I’m having a week-long IRAD meeting with all the businesses, where we’ll talk with all the technical directors to understand what capabilities their customers want, then figure out how that ties into the technology road map. With all the technical directors from the company there at the same time, what you often find is that you are trying to solve the same problem from a slightly different angle. This way, we can put our resources together and figure out the different ways of solving the same problem. So the joint IRAD week is something new this year.

What I am also trying to do is give each technical area director a much broader breadth, a broader perspective of the company’s work at this IRAD review. At the same time, we have technology networks – RF technology network, EO technology network, materials and structures technology network, etc. I am going to invite them along to all these cross-company IRAD reviews so they too can see a much bigger picture and understand the breadth of our capabilities and the problems we are trying to solve. You also want to nourish the bottom up, so I am trying to take the technology leaders and make them understand the breadth of the problems we’re trying to tackle, so they can go to the next layer and help out.

TT: This year Raytheon has redefined our core markets and is looking to grow in our Strategic Business Areas. Tell us about your organization’s role in this process, and which areas you believe Corporate Technology and Research can influence most.

HS: We need to expand from a single phenomenology focus to multiple phenomenologies in order to increase the information content that we can get on a target. For example, one of the Technology Challenge areas that I have set up this year is “Assured ID and Continuous Persistent Track.” There are many ways to get ID: One can use synthetic array radar (SAR) map, or EO imagery, IR imagery, vibrometry, hyper-spectral imaging, hyper-temporal, 3D ladar, taggant, SIGINT, HRR, etc. Any one of the phenomenologies will have strengths and weaknesses. This combination will produce additional information on the target.

The technical area directors have taken the initiative to work with the EC leads on Multi-INT, the ET leads on ATR, prior warfighters and users of our products, as well as the tech directors from each business. We just had a Technology Innovation Workshop in June and the tech directors from each business are identifying a cross-discipline list of innovators from their businesses to participate. So Corporate Technology and Research can help to be the catalyst in expanding our core markets.

TT: There is a new emphasis on emerging disruptive technologies and radical innovation. Tell us more about these concepts and how they can influence Raytheon’s future success.

HS: When the Wright brothers helped to develop the first airplane, that was pretty disruptive because you were no longer stuck in a two-dimensional world on the ground. That is very disruptive in terms of how it changed our lives. So think of “disruptive” as something that enables you to have a capability you simply don’t have today. It is not incremental change; it is a quantum jump in capability.

What we are looking for are nuggets that can provide us a revolutionary increase in terms of capability across our customer base. This year, I focused this disruptive technology effort into two tough technology challenge areas: Assured ID and Continuous Persistent Track of targets and Novel Effects.

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TT: In what ways can a large, super-structured company like Raytheon nurture a culture of radical innovation?

HS: One of the things we need to do is not squash ideas. Sometimes we have a tendency to say “it doesn’t work,” and that statement can squash a younger engineer’s ideas so they stop attempting to come up with something innovative, because they don’t want to feel stupid. You become risk adverse, and one of the key things to do is create an environment in which it’s OK to throw out ideas, to think outside the box.

My other hat is the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board chair. One of the things that I’m always so impressed with is that young AF officers are incredibly creative in trying to figure out how to solve the problem, because they’re not restrained by the past. This younger generation is coming up with a fresh perspective in attacking the problem from a very different angle. I think we need to create that culture within our company.

TT: The diversity of Raytheon’s workforce continues to grow, and with it, opportunities to broaden the company’s scope of expertise in many areas. How do you build productive, diverse teams and why is it important?

HS: We each have certain experience, knowledge and education, so diverse teams are important. There are so many different ways of looking at the problem and it is the exact same thing with skill sets. That’s one of the reasons why the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board looks across 25 different disciplines and finds people from across very broad, diverse backgrounds. The problems that are brought to us are very difficult, and I’d rather have a room full of people with very diverse backgrounds thinking very differently to try to come up with solutions.

TT: Can you share an experience that helped provide you inspiration or guidance?

HS: I have always tried to have a mentor in my career, and talk to somebody who is probably two levels up, because I like to have somebody that has a broader perspective. We’ll periodically chat about career prospects, what you’re doing and whether you ought to do something else.

TT: What are the ways we as professionals can help youngsters get excited about math and science?

HS: I think you have to make the problem interesting. I applaud DARPA for having a Grand Challenge competition, in which participants design an unmanned robotic vehicle to travel a course. So what you have to do is create challenges and incite their curiosity. Kids are very curious about things and incredibly creative. If you make the problem interesting enough, you will gain their interest. You have to capture them at an early age.

Bottom line: Help the kids get interested in a little problem. Challenge them and make it fun.


Of Related Interest

  • America’s New Deficit: A Shortage of Technology Specialists
    By Heidi Shyu, Raytheon Company, special to IMDiversity.com
    Op-Ed: A ‘holistic approach’ is key to solving the nation’s critical technologists shortage, and attracting more women and minority scientists and engineers to pursue leadership roles in the industry


This interview originally appeared as a Leaders Corner feature in Technology Today (2007 Issue 2), the quarterly magazine of the Raytheon Company, which reserves the copyright. It appears here on IMDiversity.com with permission. Please do not reproduce article without seeking prior authorization of the copyright holder.

IMDiversity.com is committed to presenting diverse points of view. However, the viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at IMD.