'Retired' executive at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics lands a new job

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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FORT WORTH -- The top executive at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, who the company said was retiring Monday, has taken another job, leaving some industry observers wondering whether his departure is tied to a broader shake-up at the defense giant.

"It's a mystery," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst in Washington, D.C. "You don't rise to the top of the ranks to get to the No. 1 spot and then spend, what, 14 months in that position?"

On Tuesday, Spirit AeroSystems, which supplies fuselage structures and other components to Boeing and Airbus, announced that it had hired Larry Lawson as president and chief executive officer.

That news came less than 24 hours after Lockheed announced Lawson's retirement and named Orlando Carvalho to succeed him as executive vice president of the Fort Worth-based aeronautics division.

Lockheed also named Lorraine Martin general manager of the F-35 Lightning II program, which Carvalho has been running.

Lawson decided to leave Lockheed for "personal reasons," spokesman Ken Ross said Tuesday. He said Lawson, promoted to the top of the aeronautics division last year, enjoyed a successful career over more than two decades at the company.

Lawson did not return phone calls Tuesday, but an official at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Kan., said it is pleased to welcome the new CEO.

Others in the industry, including some smaller area defense contractors, viewed the leadership changes as a signal that the company hopes to set a new tone.

It's nothing new for aerospace companies to change their strategy to "enhance operations and maintain prominence," said Mike Cox, a spokesman for AVX Aircraft Co., a Fort Worth helicopter maker.

"The industry, in general, is going through a lot of changes right now," Cox said. "It looks like the industry is going to be going through some rough times."

Like other aerospace companies, Lockheed faces the prospect of massive spending cuts under sequestration, a provision of the Budget Control Act of 2011 that calls for across-the-board cuts of $500 billion to defense budgets over the next decade.

The company has also been dealing with "crisis after crisis" on its F-35 program, Aboulafia said, including cost overruns, technical problems and other delays. The estimated cost for the F-35 program has ballooned to $395.7 billion, 70 percent higher than in 2001, drawing intense scrutiny from Pentagon leaders.

Aboulafia said the change in leadership could pave the way for better relations with the Pentagon.

"There's just been a very bad dynamic established by current [Lockheed] leadership and the customer [the Pentagon]," Aboulafia said. "This is a desire to refit relationships and take a different approach to things."

The executive changes were announced by Marillyn Hewson, who took the reins as chief executive in January after the CEO-to-be departed amid disclosures that he had a close personal relationship with an employee.

In Monday's announcement, Hewson called Carvalho and Martin "impressive leaders who have consistently demonstrated their ability to build strong customer relationships, successfully manage complex programs and inspire our teams."

She also thanked Lawson for serving 26 years at Lockheed.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

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