Lockheed Martin CEO
At about the age of thirty, Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet was a far cry from the pampered executive suite he currently occupies at the company’s headquarters in Bethesda Maryland, rather, this courageous young airman was operating the cockpit of a massive troop transport plane raddling in the skies over a Middle Eastern region being violently terrorized by Saddam Hussein. For further context, within the days following the Iraqi leader’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2nd of 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush promptly ordered the organization of Operation Desert Shield, the military maneuver would involve a coalition of 35 nations whose overbearing goals were to defend Saudi Arabia and ultimately liberate Kuwait.
By August 8th, the XVIII Airborne Corps, with its elite 82d Airborne Division, were the very first American soldiers among this coalition to begin moving toward Saudi Arabia. Responsible for flying them there safely, alongside U.S. Air Force crews navigating three more lead planes, was none other than Jim Taiclet.
He’d later consider the endeavor his most high-stress mission during the Gulf War and can recall being told by an intel briefer, just before the inbound flight from Germany, “Well, good luck when you head out of here because the Iraqi tanks could drive to the base ahead of you guys flying there if they decide to cross the border while you’re in flight. And you should at least expect a chemical attack on the airfield once they know that you guys are there.”
Upon touching down, the 82nd Airborne Rangers successfully secured the airfield, paving the way for a build-up of combat power that exceeded 600,000 U.S. personnel at its peak. Doing their part to put this mighty counter-invasion force in place, Taiclet and his fellow pilots flew almost every day for six months straight, frequently making trips to forward frontline operating bases.
Operation Desert Shield transitioned to Operation Desert Storm on January 17th, 1991 with the start of the air war. The U.S.-led coalition conducted more than 18,000 air deployment missions, more than 116,000 combat air sorties, and dropped 88,500 tons of bombs in a barrage of air attacks against Iraqi forces that lasted six weeks. Subsequently, the ground campaign lasted only 100 hours before Kuwait was liberated. In the end, about 697,000 U.S. troops took part in the war, with 299 losing their lives.
As an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Jim Taiclet experienced a hefty load of responsibility at a very young age. By his mid-twenties, he was commanding multi-million dollar aircraft and seasoned aircrews on classified missions all over the world. On a few of these, the mission briefer’s parting words were, “If anything happens, we never heard of you.”
Throughout his military career, he logged over 5,000 flying hours as an aircraft commander, instructor pilot, and unit chief of Standardization and Evaluation; additionally, his rotational assignments included the Joint Staff and Air Staff at the Pentagon. Taiclet learned to engage with and lead people of varied skills, age, rank, and motivation by treating them right and earning their respect by way of exemplifying expectations.
“You’ve got to perform, and learn to do it with grace under pressure – often with very high stakes involved. Again, at a very young age, too,” he said while reflecting on his early years in the Air Force. “All of these [attributes] are directly transferable to business. One is embrace responsibility. The second one I mentioned is to demonstrate authentic leadership to people. Thirdly, handle pressure or adversity in the process.”
According to a Boston Magazine interview, the best business advice Taiclet ever received was actually given during a check ride after operating a transport aircraft. The flight was over, he had finished his checklist, and was waiting in the cockpit for the rest of the crew to unload. That’s when his evaluator said, “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be the leader and your crew is still working to complete the mission, so get back there and help them!”
Taiclet appreciates the encounter, sharing, “it was a great lesson: You can’t lead from the sidelines. You have to be in the game with your team until the job is done.”
Jim Taiclet holds a master’s degree from Princeton University, where he was awarded a Fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson School, and he is a distinguished graduate of the United States Air Force Academy with degrees in engineering and international relations.
The Career of Jim Taiclet
With the war being over, Taiclet decided to leave flying behind and pursue a career in business. One of his first positions in the private sector was serving as vice president, Engine Services at Pratt & Whitney, where he managed both military and commercial jet engine overhaul and repair and also functioned as a consultant specializing in telecommunications and aerospace.
He next became President of Honeywell Aerospace Services, a $2.4 billion, ten thousand employee division within Honeywell International; there, Taiclet conducted worldwide aircraft engine and component overhaul and repair, parts sales and distribution, space operations, and technical services. While in the jet engineering/aerospace equipment services industry, he played a crucial role in coordinating and negotiating long-term contracts of up to ten years with massive, international business to business customers involved.
It was some time before working at American Tower Corporation (AMT) that he was confronted with the toughest decision he ever had to make as a leader in the private sector. It came to his attention that one of his unit presidents, who was an icon in the industry, had perpetrated what Taiclet would generously describe as a breach of ethics.
“There was no other choice but for me to fly out to his headquarters, walk into his office, and fire him on the spot,” he reasoned. “I thought this would damage both the organization and the business, but the effect was the opposite – nobody wants to work for or with someone whose integrity is subpar.”
American Tower Corporation
Jim Taiclet was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of American Tower Corporation in September 2001 and was initially responsible for the company’s tower and services business. American Tower is a real estate investment trust and an owner and operator of wireless and broadcast communications infrastructure in several countries worldwide and is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts.
“Most people just expect their phone to work whenever and wherever they need it and don’t realize the extensive network infrastructure that actually provides the connection – which is what our company does,” he once explained. “In today’s society, cell phone infrastructure should be considered in the same category as roads and bridges.”
The communications real estate business proved a far more lucrative asset class than the jet engine parts he was selling before. Because when a tower is in place, the operating leverage of additional tenants or revenues can approach 100 percent.
“I studied the company and the industry prior to joining American Tower, and [founder Steven Dodge] and I built a really good rapport and dialogue. I felt really ready on my first day at the company, which was Sept. 10, 2001. The next day was 9/11, and everything changed,” Taiclet remembers. “Tragically, we lost 13 employees at the World Trade Center. The first job responsibility I had was to set up funds for their families and make sure that they got all of their benefits that they had coming to them and really focus on that.”
Over the course of several years, Steve Dodge diligently procured a succession plan for himself – as he was both founder and chief executive of the company – by assembling a senior team that could someday be led by Jim Taiclet, whom he had intentionally recruited to take on the CEO role.
Establishing Financial Stability
A late 90s dot-com bubble, the World Trade Center tragedy, and untimely telecom industry woes combined to affect American Tower’s business model terribly. The overall economic recession that followed 9/11 shined a light on the company’s extremely fragile financial condition, prompting concerned investors to flee, and as a result, sink the value of AMT stock to less than a dollar per share. But in spite of this, Steve Dodge’s executive team pulled together to do all the difficult things that must be done to treat a company in crisis.
They went back to Wall Street banks and negotiated covenant relief and extensions on some of their loans, meanwhile, refinancing an especially difficult issuance that was going to seriously harm the company. Operationally, they had to divest quite a number of non-core businesses. American Tower ended up having to decrease its headcount from 5,000 people in September 2001 to 1,000 people by the end of its recovery process.
“One of the things, believe it or not, we’re most proud of about that period of time was when we sold our non-core businesses, we took lower proceeds for them than we could have otherwise got with the requirement that the buyer had to take on all the people and keep their jobs,” Jim Taiclet joyfully states. “The vast majority of the folks that were no longer wearing an American Tower badge at the end of all this had a job with another company that actually was a better home for their business: Industrial companies took on our manufacturing and distribution businesses, et cetera.”
On October 10th, 2003, American Tower Corporation announced its board of directors named James D. Taiclet Chief Executive Officer, succeeding Steven B. Dodge in the role. Steve Dodge would continue as Chairman of American Tower’s Board of Directors.
At the time, American Tower was the leading independent owner, operator, and developer of broadcast and wireless communications sites in North America; operating approximately 15,000 sites in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil, including approximately 300 broadcast tower sites. Of those 15,000 sites, approximately 14,000 were owned or leased towers and approximately 1,000 were managed and lease/sublease sites.
Forming a Domestic Stronghold
As the rebuild took shape, American Tower reported third-quarter revenues increased to $186.9 million for the three months ended September 30, 2003, from $174.9 million for the same period in 2002.
“The cash flow from operations, combined with the proceeds from non-core business divestitures and our recent equity offering have provided us with the liquidity to reduce our overall level of net debt,” Taiclet said in a press release. “Moreover, our sustained operational performance and balance sheet de-leveraging have improved our access to capital, as we continue to reward stakeholders across our entire capital structure.”
In 2005, American Tower announced its $3.1 billion acquisition of an industry rival, SpectraSite, to create a network of 22,600 wireless and broadcast towers, and therefore, the largest tower company in the United States. Annual revenue rapidly accelerated from $706 million in 2004 to $944 million in 2005 to $1.3 billion in 2006, per American Tower annual report documents.
In addition to increasing their number of tower and transmission site assets to meet ever-increasing demand, demonstrating reliable operational excellence in asset management was likewise an imperative driver of the company’s exponential success.
“Once a mobile operator or broadcaster or a company like Gogo that’s providing internet in airplanes decide that they need a new transmission site, they want it up and running quickly,” Taiclet divulged during an interview with Nareit. “We’ve designed all of our operational processes and systems to get excellence into that process of getting you on air, and that’s why we’ve got a pretty good market share of the business.”
By 2007, American Tower officially joined the S&P 500 and opened its first office outside of the Americas in New Delhi, India. Two years later, the communications real estate giant acquired XCEL, an Indian company that owned and operated approximately 1,700 tower sites, and in the twelve months following that buyout, the company acquired Essar Telecom Infrastructure in India, adding approximately 4,450 wireless tower sites to its portfolio and marking a third major transaction in India. Additionally, 2010 saw American Tower launch operations in Peru, Chile, and Colombia.
American Tower became a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) in 2012 and thereafter began paying regular dividend distributions to stockholders. REITs are companies that own or finance income-producing real estate across a range of property sectors. The company also reached the historic milestone of 50,000 communications sites that same year and launched operations in Uganda, only bolstering an African continent portfolio already featuring South Africa and Ghana.
In 2013, American Tower agreed to buy real-estate investment trust MIP Tower Holdings LLC for $3.3 billion in cash amongst a growing need for cell sites on the part of wireless carriers as more Americans adopted smartphone technology, which in practice, poured fuel onto the carrier’s race to update their networks to the latest 4G LTE technology. According to The Wall Street Journal, amid demand for broadband data services in the United States, cell tower companies benefit from volume increases because greater data requirements prompt wireless carriers to spend more on upgrading equipment.
Embodying the only cell tower company with international reach, American Tower had nearly 150,000 sites in 15 different countries on five continents by 2017. They were the leading independent provider of towers in the largest free-market democracies on all five of those continents. Between 2013 and 2018, Jim Taiclet was consistently named to Harvard Business Review’s annual list of The Best Performing CEOs in the World, an honor that only six other chief executives held over that same period of time, one of his peers being the richest man on Earth, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Lockheed Martin Chief Executive
Under Taiclet’s leadership as CEO, American Tower’s market capitalization grew from approximately $2 billion to over $100 billion while annual revenue reached another record high in excess of $8 billion by 2020. He guided the company’s transformation from a primarily U.S. business to the only truly global player in its industry, with operations and a portfolio of approximately 180,000 communications sites in 19 countries around the world.
Then the bombshell news came on March 16th, 2020, as Lockheed Martin announced their board of directors was electing James D. Taiclet as president and CEO, effective June 15. He’d be succeeding Marillyn Hewson, who had served as chairman, president, and CEO since 2014 and president and CEO since 2013.
“I’m honored to be asked to succeed one of the most respected CEOs in America. While serving on Lockheed Martin’s board, I’ve not only been impressed by the company’s continued growth as a leader in aerospace & defense but also by the dedication and commitment of Marillyn and Lockheed Martin employees to deliver for its customers,” said Jim Taiclet. “As a military veteran, I understand the mission of this great company to provide global security and innovative solutions for the brave men and women who protect our freedom.”
Tom Bartlett, Taiclet’s successor, and American Tower’s President and Chief Executive Officer stated, “it has been an incredible honor and privilege to work closely with Jim for more than ten years and I want to thank him for his tremendous leadership of our company.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne Acquisition
In December 2020, Lockheed Martin expanded its foray into futuristic space travel and missile defense by acquiring supplier Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. in a deal valued at $4.4 billion, targeting higher sales and more savings in an environment of tightening defense budgets. With 2019 revenue of approximately $2 billion, nearly 5,000 employees, and 15 primary operations sites across the United States, Aerojet Rocketdyne has been a world-recognized aerospace and defense rocket engine manufacturer.
Lockheed’s space division is its third-largest business, contributing 18% of the company’s 2019 revenue. According to the Los Angeles Times, Lockheed competes with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for U.S. government rocket launches through the United Launch Alliance, its joint venture with Boeing.
“Acquiring Aerojet Rocketdyne will preserve and strengthen an essential component of the domestic defense industrial base and reduce costs for our customers and the American taxpayer,” said Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet. “This transaction enhances Lockheed Martin’s support of critical U.S. and allied security missions and retains national leadership in space and hypersonic technology. We look forward to welcoming their talented team and expanding Lockheed Martin’s position as the leading provider of 21st century warfare solutions.”
Connecting Weapons Systems
The Pentagon should start electronically connecting its most important weapons first as it builds a broader strategy to link everything on the battlefield, the head of the world’s largest defense contractor says.
Per an interview with Defense One, Jim Taiclet also believes companies should help write the technical standards for the Pentagon’s effort, just as private industry did with mobile phone standards in the 1990s, which laid the foundation for the current generation of commercial wireless. The creation of a 5G military network has been a top priority of Pentagon leaders. It is experimenting with the technology at military bases across the country.
“There’s a lot of ways to get there, but I think the only feasible way is to literally start connecting individual platforms together within a technology roadmap, that plans for…the best combinations of existing and new platforms to create a network effect and thereby, greater returns, capability, and also greater effectiveness, if deterrence is not successful,” Taiclet said in the interview.
In March 2021, Lockheed Martin entered into a strategic interest agreement with Omnispace to explore jointly developing 5G capability from space. The proposed global 5G standards-based non-terrestrial network (NTN) would offer commercial, enterprise, and government devices ubiquitous communications worldwide. This type of network has the potential to redefine mobile communications, benefiting users requiring true mobility, regardless of environment or location.
“[We] see an opportunity for 5G technologies to bring greater connectivity, faster and more reliable networks, and new data capabilities to support our customers’ multi-domain and autonomous operations on 21st century battlefields,” John Torrisi, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said in an email. “In partnership with our customers, we believe Lockheed Martin is uniquely positioned, leveraging commercial best practices and the expertise of our leadership, to bring 5G connectivity and capabilities to the defense industry rapidly and affordably.”
If you enjoyed this story on the life of Lockheed Martin CEO Jim Taiclet, be sure to check out our biography of General Electric CEO Larry Culp.