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.

share this

Hewson took over at a time when government budget sequestration kicked a $500 billion hole in defense spending, and the company was battling the aforementioned F-35 mess and a wobbly relationship with investors. According to Thompson and others, Hewson has met those challenges. “Lockheed has led the industry in pressing for [defense budget] changes that will permit more flexibility,” Thompson says. “She’s acquitted herself very well in restoring the relationship with the Pentagon customer on the F-35 program. She has maintained the company’s appeal in the investment community.”

Bob Trice, Lockheed’s former head of corporate strategy and business development, chuckles when asked what he thinks of Hewson’s first two years as CEO. “When I retired in 2011, the stock price was $97 a share,” he says. “Now it’s something like twice that. Need I say more?”

Hewson has also brought her own style to Lockheed’s executive suite. At 61, she exudes youthful passion for the work and favors vivid blouses under conservative dark suits. Her Southern accent masks an exacting boss with high expectations and a low tolerance for mistakes, co-workers say.

Hewson exhibits a “civility and humaneness,” as Trice puts it, that underlies her ability to demand high standards of performance. “Marillyn is a good listener; I’ve never seen her lose her temper,” Thompson says. “You have to know her pretty well to know when she’s mad. She’s very analytic and not very emotional. There’s been a tradition in the defense business of management by shouting. Marillyn has made a firm break with that tradition.”

Despite her reputation for being gracious and gregarious, Hewson is a realist ready to make tough choices, as she demonstrated in Owego. Stevens says he identified Hewson as a high potential candidate 15 years ago. “You look for people with management and leadership skills, who have empathy and can identify talent and allow people to pursue their aspirational goals,” he says.

Hewson had those skills, yet she said it was even more important to understand that the corporate ladder went down as well as up. “You may be the smartest person in the room,” she told Reuters, “but if you can’t get along with others, you will not succeed.”

Hewson visited the USS Freedom, one of the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ships, in Pearl Harbor

If there is a chink in Hewson’s corporate armor, it’s that she “is very much Lockheed—technically excellent but commercial sensitivity, not so much,” says Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst at Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. He says Hewson’s shortsightedness about market conditions puts the company at a disadvantage against other contractors, such as Boeing and General Electric, which better understand how to stimulate demand by keeping costs down. Ironically, he cited the presidential helicopter program as a classic example. “I mean, $13 billion for two dozen helicopters,” Aboulafia says. “That doesn’t make any sense.” That’s why, he explained, the program was scrapped before being restructured years later.

Everyone interviewed for this profile mentioned Hewson’s work ethic, which is to outwork everybody else. Through aides, Hewson declined to be interviewed for this story, repeatedly citing a packed schedule as the reason. She appears to exist off the radar in a presidential-like bubble, access to her carefully controlled. She resides in a sprawling, $3.4 million home in a gated Potomac community off Persimmon Tree Road. The two-story house has nearly 10,000 square feet of living space and sits on just under an acre, six miles from her Bethesda office, or about a 14-minute ride in her BMW. Hewson told CBS This Morning that she rises most days at 4:30 a.m. to exercise, and is usually in her office shortly after 7. She travels often to Lockheed facilities. Neighbors say they sometimes see her, but none of those interviewed said they have spoken to Hewson.

When she’s not working, she likes to read and sometimes plays golf—not well, by her own admission, but it’s a sport her husband, James, enjoys. With sons Will, who, like his parents, graduated from the University of Alabama, and David, a graduate of Texas Christian University, the family vacationed in Peru one year, and then in Italy, at Lake Como and Portofino, the next. “Growing up in a meager environment, I didn’t get to travel at all,” Hewson told The Sunday Times of Great Britain. “So it’s been one of my goals to make sure my kids do.”

Mostly, Hewson works. A habit acquired not by favor, but by fate. Her story resembles not a smooth glide path through life, but one shaped by early turbulence. “From a very early age, Marillyn was exposed to a set of life circumstances that required her to think of others,” Stevens says, “as well as herself.”