March-April 2015 | Featured Article

Flying High

In 2013, Marillyn Hewson became the first woman CEO in Lockheed Martin's history, making her one of the most powerful women in the world. Here's the story of the Potomac resident's unlikely rise to power.

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Lockheed Martin CEO and President Marillyn Hewson helps other volunteers stuff care packages for overseas troops at the 2013 AT&T National PGA Tournament in Bethesda. Lockheed Martin served as the tournament’s official military partner.

IN NOVEMBER 2012, Christopher Kubasik, the company’s chief operating officer and designated successor to Stevens, was forced to resign after a personal relationship with a subordinate was revealed. Lockheed’s board convened in emergency session and soon summoned Hewson, then 58, to inform her that she’d been elected president and COO and would succeed Stevens as CEO on Jan. 1, 2013. After 29 years with the company, 19 leadership positions and eight geographical moves with her husband and two sons, Hewson grabbed the lightning bolt. “I’m ready,” she told the magazine Aviation Week.

“Her last-minute selection was regarded by Stevens as a gift from God,” says defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, who is a paid consultant for Lockheed and other defense contractors. “Marillyn’s personality and style were a better fit for Lockheed than Kubasik would have been.”

Hewson is the first female CEO in Lockheed’s history, an achievement that would have made bigger news if the announcement of her promotion had not occurred on the same day that David Petraeus, a retired Army general, resigned as director of the CIA amid revelations of an extramarital affair. Largely unknown outside the Pentagon’s gravitational pull, Hewson now runs a company with about 115,000 employees worldwide—some 15,000 in Greater Washington, D.C. One-third of those are in Montgomery County, where Lockheed is the third-largest private employer. The company generated $45.3 billion in revenue in 2012 and is responsible for some of the U.S. government’s biggest and most critical weapons programs, including the massive stealth F-35 fighter jet program, which has been beset by repeated cost overruns and production delays.

When she assumed the top job, Hewson joined Phebe Novakovic of General Dynamics and Linda Hudson—now retired—of the U.S. unit of Britain’s BAE Systems as the only top female executives in what has been a testosterone-heavy industry. Last year, Hewson was rated No. 21 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s most powerful women, ahead of the president of Chile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Queen Elizabeth and Vogue editor Anna Wintour. In September 2013, Hewson was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Export Council, the principal national advisory committee on international trade.

Only 11 women rank in the top 200 best-paid CEOs and Hewson, at $15.7 million, is fifth among women overall and 13th among all executives in the industrial goods sector, according to a compensation analysis by Equilar. In the D.C. area, Hewson’s salary ranks her seventh among all executives, according to Equilar.

Hewson has resisted definition by gender. “I don’t think it’s necessarily about being a female in our business. I think it’s about…my track record, my results,” she told The Washington Post.

The industry is hardly gender-blind. Hudson, a pioneer, admits that when she started out as a young engineer there was a lot of skepticism regarding women. “I would say the first 15 years of my career were extremely difficult and challenging,” Hudson says. “Every time you walked into a room, people assumed you were incompetent until you proved otherwise.”

Attitudes changed when Hudson moved into middle management and beyond. At times, being female was an advantage because she was relatively unique. These days, women are employed in far greater numbers, yet reflections of the glass ceiling remain. “I still think you have to be better [than others] to be accepted,” Hudson says.

She met with leaders of Abu Dhabi at the Dubai Airshow in 2013.

Hudson has appeared with Hewson on various industry and women-in-business panels. “She got the position the hard way,” Hudson says of Hewson, “working her way up through the organization, doing all the difficult things you have to do.”