The grill: Cheryl Whitis
- 10 May, 2011 04:19
Cheryl Whitis is vice president and CIO for Raytheon's Network Centric Systems, a group with 13,000 employees, 8,000 of whom are engineers and scientists. Working in the aerospace and defense field is a passion for her, one she discovered almost by accident with her first job at Northrop Worldwide Aircraft Services. The industry holds a personal significance for her as well: Both her father and father-in-law are career Army servicemen, and Whitis takes pride in the fact that she contributes to U.S. national defense and the protection of its war fighters.
Something most people don't know about you: I love to travel, and when we go, I like to do things like zip-lining through the jungle canopies. I've done it a couple of times, in Costa Rica and Jamaica.
Technology you could not live without: I am terrible with directions, so to me GPS systems are the most wonderful inventions.
Favorite nonwork pastime: We spend quite a bit of time boating with our family. Our sons live nearby, and I have two grandsons now, a 4-year-old and a 4-month-old.
How is IT changing the aerospace and defense industry? Raytheon is what I would call a Tier 2 aerospace and defense company. We are not manufacturing platforms like the actual aircraft itself or the actual tanks, but a lot of our products go onto the aircraft or go in the tanks. We had been used to just delivering our products and having some afterlife support, but more and more we have what we call "product life management." From the time you conceive the design until your customer retires that asset from its portfolio, we are responsible for all of that support, and that drives a lot of requirements on the IT organization. So I think we are uniquely positioned to help grow our business by providing all of the tools necessary to do that.
What IT and security challenges do you face? While many companies have to worry about export regulations, we also have to worry about ITAR -- International Traffic in Arms Regulations -- because of the products we produce. I think that our security concerns are even more substantial, because if we have a breach, it is even more dangerous for the U.S.
A growing concern for us is the consumerization of IT products. I can remember a time when employees weren't allowed to bring cellphones in because they had cameras. The amount of data that you can store on these portable devices represents additional risks for us. We spend a lot of time educating employees on security matters and safe ways to use consumer technologies. We have been spending time on digital and information rights management, trying to put multiple layers of security around the data that we protect. At the same time, we are trying to invest in how we adopt more of this consumerization of products. I would love to see a time when we could really be device-agnostic and not have to control all of that so intensely.
You implemented some changes when you took your current position. Did you encounter any challenges or resistance when you began reorganizing? One was that the business really didn't see IT as a major part of the delivery of their product. It was more the traditional "make sure my desktop is working." Budget for our key products was actually held and managed in the other functions. There was little strategic planning across the company of where we needed to put our investments. I had to work with my peers to get my budget back, and we set up a governance with our business partnership council on what we would do with those large investments. We didn't want to be restricted by the budget [as to] where we put our efforts. And for the first time, it made them aware of what was important to other functions and other parts of the business.
You spoke at a Women in Technology International summit in 2001, to women who wanted to become CIOs or CTOs. What advice would you give today to women who want to advance their careers, both in IT and in other industries? I don't know that these things are specific to one gender anymore. I have seen young women think that they have to operate the same way that a man would, and I always try to tell people that there is not just one way to get to the top. There are lots of different paths. I personally took a couple of years off when my first son was born. You don't have to have a role model in the exact position where you aspire to be that is exactly like you. You need to be well rounded, but you just really need to be the best that you are, and you are going to be unique in what you bring to those leadership roles.
Leadership is looking for someone who brings a different skill and ability to the role so that they have a very well-rounded leadership team. But in IT, I do think that women have to think about the business, not just the technology. The higher up you go, the broader your skill sets need to be and the more they need to focus on understanding the business and how IT can bring value to the business. It is important to cultivate both aspects -- the technology and your knowledge of the business.
What challenges do you think women in IT face? It is a challenge that we do not have more women in those positions that we aspire to get to. I think it is a challenge for people of color as well. Raytheon is doing a fabulous job in that area. Aerospace and defense companies get stereotyped as not being too forward-leaning on things like that, and to some extent there are probably some ways we are not, but I think we have created a good balance. Our retention rate for our young employees, particularly women coming in, has improved significantly. But something that our company is very concerned about is women in math and the sciences. We are not graduating enough people in general with those skills. So a big concern we have in our company, as the boomers start retiring, is how we fill those science positions.
Linke is a writer and editor living outside of Boston.