Editor’s note: Rick Ambrose is the Lifetime Achievement Award winner in DBJ’s 2020 C-Suite Awards program. Winners were recognized at a virtual event on Sept. 14 where he sat down for an interview with DBJ reporter Greg Avery. You can read the full special report here.
As the senior leader of Space, Rick Ambrose is responsible for the strategy, execution and financials of this almost $11 billion segment at Lockheed Martin. He is dedicated to advancing STEM education in the Denver area and maintaining a diverse talent pipeline for the future of the space industry.
In all, Ambrose has held six vice president roles, the position of president of a $2.7 billion product line, and is now executive vice president, all at Lockheed Martin, where he’s worked since 2000.
Ambrose is personally invested in the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where he serves as a board member. Under his leadership, Lockheed Martin has made significant financial contributions to DMNS, supporting STEM programming and the renovation of the Space Odyssey exhibition hall. And he’s been instrumental in establishing Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship Program.
Biggest C-level challenge: One of the most significant challenges I’ve faced as a C-level executive is helping my team of 20,000 employees — who operate at sites across the globe — achieve an enterprise view. We have five generations in the workforce, spanning roles from engineering to production to launch operations to finance. It’s an innate challenge within large organizations to make sure everyone is aligned to one strategy and mission, and that’s been a prime focus for me during my seven years as executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space.
To overcome this challenge, I’ve focused first on mission — we’re all united by our support for our customers, and we’ve implemented Centers of Excellence across our business to streamline processes and connect dots across organizations.
Additionally, I’ve found the key to achieving synergy in any organization is culture. At Lockheed Martin Space, we prioritize culture in three ways. First, by staying aligned to our values: Do what’s right, respect others and perform with excellence. Second, we’ve launched a new cultural initiative to help our thousands of new employees come up to speed quickly, while also helping our tenured employees recommit to the big picture. Finally, through all of this, we’re serious about fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace where various perspectives are appreciated and speaking up is encouraged.
What surprises people most about your job? Setting vision for the company is no easy task, and what some people might not realize about my role is the balance I am constantly seeking to find between legacy and innovation.
There’s never been a more dynamic time to be a space industry executive. In 2019, the Satellite Industry Association reported the size of the industry at $390 billion, and Morgan Stanley estimates the global space industry could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion by 2040.
We’ve seen nearly 1,000 startups join the industry in recent years, and that introduces a lot of new players and competition. Juxtapose all those entrants with Lockheed Martin, a century-old company with over 100,000 employees, where Space represents one of four business segments. It’s my job to connect the dots for my team and ensure we’re taking a one-Lockheed-Martin approach to solving our customers’ most difficult challenges.
Every day, my challenge is to leverage decades worth of knowledge and experience while creating new efficiencies and leaning in on cutting-edge technologies. We make it a priority to invest in emerging innovations, startup companies and digital transformation so we can continue to disrupt our processes and mindset — and at the end of the day, I’m responsible for deciding which risks to take and where to commit our resources.
Proudest accomplishment of past year: I’m most proud of how we’ve seen innovation take flight at Lockheed Martin Space. I’ve always been committed to finding new ways to do things and encouraging those around me to do the same — and that’s become even more critical over the past six months.
Whether it was successfully launching the third GPS III satellite into orbit, completing a touch-and-go rehearsal with our OSIRIS-REx spacecraft for a sample collection site on the asteroid Bennu, or watching the Human Landing System National Team that we’re a part of build a full-scale mockup of its solution at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, I’ve seen our team “innovate innovation” by continuing to push the boundaries and deliver for our customers during this global pandemic.
And we’re continuing to innovate for the future with things like Pony Express 1, which is a self-funded shoebox-sized satellite that’s testing mesh networking, resource sharing between satellites, AI and mission software that’s able to be easily updated while in orbit. The Pony Express missions are pathfinding truly revolutionary technologies that will change what we can do in space. Built and integrated in just nine months, this satellite is an example of how our engineers are thinking outside the box, and I couldn’t be more excited about how projects like this will pave the way for even greater advancements down the road.
How company has adapted to pandemic: Like most companies, our operations have been significantly impacted by Covid-19. While we were fortunate to always remain open due to Department of Defense guidelines, we’ve seen dramatic shifts — like having a large portion of our workforce teleworking, implementing new cleaning measures and precautions, and shifting to virtually recruiting and onboarding hundreds of new employees.
We also pivoted quickly as a team to respond to the needs in our communities. Our additive manufacturing labs developed processes for 3D printing personal protective equipment for donation across the U.S., including 19,000+ face shields and 60,000+ gowns. We also extended financial support to 36 local food pantries, relief funds and school districts with philanthropic grants to support Covid-19 needs or distance learning access across 13 different communities and offered all Lockheed Martin Space employees a $20 meal voucher to spend at a local restaurant, yielding $232,000 in support to local communities across the nation.
I’m proud of the way the team has leveraged new tools for collaboration to help stay connected and remained focused on supporting our customers’ missions.
Your role in that pivot: During the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve maintained three priorities: employee health and safety, delivering for customers and supporting our local communities. My role has been to lead in these areas, and I’ve done so by remaining connected through regular touchpoints with my leaders and all employees.
Whether it’s been through recurring audiocasts, video messages or written correspondence, I’ve made ongoing communication and transparency a top priority during this challenging time. While I have led many virtual engagements, it’s also been important to me that I lead by example and be in-person with the team whenever necessary — of course, doing so in a safe and responsible manner.
And even though we’ve seen many changes due to Covid-19, one thing remains the same: our mission. Our team at Lockheed Martin Space saves lives every day, whether that’s through precision navigation, advanced weather forecasting, strategic deterrence or finding new ways to protect astronauts — and it’s my responsibility to remind and encourage the team to keep our mission at the forefront every day.
Currently reading: I read a lot — my daily reading consists of about 20 various news sources that I peruse to keep up with the latest updates. In terms of actual books, one I’ve enjoyed recently is “Goliath’s Revenge” by Scott Andrew Snyder and Todd Hewlin. This book gives examples of how industry leaders are pursuing innovation, emerging technologies and new skills to disrupt themselves and their industries.
At Lockheed Martin Space, we’re constantly thinking about the skills we need, the digital tools we use, and how we can be more efficient at scale. This book provided so much food for thought that I invited Scott to speak to my senior leadership team earlier this year (pre-Covid). He led a few sessions and workshops about innovation that I’m confident benefited our thinking as a team and will serve us well as we prepare for the future.
No. 1 pandemic escape: This might sound somewhat cliché, but I’m really enjoying the extra time with my family. Before Covid-19, I was on the road virtually every week — and it was so much a part of my routine, I forgot what having extended downtime was like. Spending time with my wife and kids and three grandchildren has certainly been an unexpected upside to this pandemic and something I’m thankful to have the opportunity to do.
What you’d do with 10 extra minutes in a day: Since I’m not traveling nearly as much during the pandemic, I’ve been using my extra time to focus on my personal health and wellbeing. Whether it’s taking a walk in my neighborhood or getting in a morning workout before heading to work, I’m trying to make the most of having more time at home.
Advice for up-and-comers: The first thing I’d say is to lead from the front. Leading from the front means you take care of those around you. It means you have the ability to lead under tough conditions. And it means you can become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When the going gets tough, leaders stand up and own the challenge. They don’t wait for someone else to tell them what to do — they chart the path forward and they bring their team along.
The second is that the future is full of options where “either/or” just won’t cut it, and success will ultimately be determined by our ability to embrace any and all ideas that enable us to do more. There’s nothing more detrimental to a leadership team than an environment where new ideas and diverse perspectives are stifled, and it’s important for leaders to champion that kind of inclusive culture.
And finally, along the same lines, don’t be afraid to be authentic, speak up and share your point of view, too. You are here not only because of what you’ve accomplished in the past, but because you have conviction about the roadmap for the future. Of course, it’s important to listen to others and present your ideas respectfully, but never hesitate to be bold and challenge the status quo.