Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 46)
This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Chanel Flores, industry director for the advanced manufacturing and aerospace and defense targeted industries at GOED, and Greg Manuel, vice president and general manager for the Strategic Deterrent System Division within the Northrop Grumman Space System sector.
The Business Elevated podcast is also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher.
Welcome to the Business Elevated Podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Chanel Flores: (0:22) Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast. I’m Chanel Flores, the industry director responsible for overseeing the advanced manufacturing and aerospace and defense targeted industries for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
My guest today is Greg Manuel. Greg is a vice president and general manager for the Strategic Deterrent System Division within the Northrop Grumman Space System sector. Greg, welcome, and how are you doing today?
Greg Manuel: (0:49) I’m doing very well, Chanel. Thanks for having me.
Chanel Flores: (0:51) It’s a pleasure to have you join us today. Before we get started, please tell a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get started? What led you down the career path to join Northrop Grumman?
Greg Manuel: (1:06) Great question, and I appreciate you asking it. I’m born, raised, schooled and bred in Southern California in LA, and through the first, you know, forty years or so, that’s all I knew was Southern California. Then I had the opportunity with Northrop Grumman to move around. But like I said, I’m a Southern California city brat and did my business bachelors at Cal State – Bakersfield along with my Masters of Business Administration. I had the opportunity to move around in several different locations within Northrop while working and going to school. Through that process, I decided to stay on with Northrop Grumman and make a career out of it. And like every child probably there’s always the thought of moving on to different things. I wanted to be a deputy sheriff in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. I got in a motorcycle accident when I was 18, and that kind of stopped that process of being able to do it, to get through that system. I stuck it out with the company, and believe it or not, I’m just short of 36 years, and I’m still here and now a senior executive. I’m very happy to be here.
As I mentioned, we’ve been able to move around. I lived in and worked for the company in Melbourne, Florida, three times and down in San Diego, California, a couple of times and LA obviously. We relocated to Northern Utah in January of this year. We moved our headquarters from Los Angeles, what we call the organization center here in Northern Utah, and we’re very excited for the opportunity to partner with all of the industry here, both local and state to start up a brand new division with several thousand people executing a very exciting program.
Chanel Flores: (3:04) That sounds amazing. Like your career path and kind of stayed with Northrop Grumman for the last 36 years. I love hearing about you recently moving to Utah in January. Unfortunately, we went right into a pandemic, right? You probably haven’t gotten to experience our beautiful state here. One of the questions I have is as you’re talking about the history and the legacy of your career, it brings up a great point about Utah has a great rich defense history here in the state. It began back in the 1930s. And one of the largest defense contractors at that time, who arrived in 1956, was Thiokol.
Can you give me a little bit more history about Northrop Grumman and how you guys moved into the state of Utah? Obviously, Thiokol is now Northrop Grumman, but kind of that whole legacy, within the state for Northrop Grumman.
Greg Manuel: (4:02) Absolutely. I’ll help us with a little more history. You mentioned Thiokol, but actually, Hercules was our first legacy company here in Utah. They started in 1912, and Magna, which is now our Baccus organization just west of Salt Lake City. We have a rich heritage, and I believe you’re probably a unique one for the Northern Utah area. We have multiple legacy companies that have now come together over the decades to form what is now Northrop Grumman. We have Litton, which is a legacy, and they’re in Salt Lake City. They’ve been there for a very long time designing and building and their navigation units.
I referenced Hercules, out of Magna. You referenced Thiokol out of Promontory, today we are organized in four different sectors as a company. All four of our sectors have operations here in Northern Utah, both defensive systems that do a lot of the F-35 depot work.
Our aeronautics assistance sector has a lot of our fabrication of the composite structure for the F-35 and A-350. The space systems sector that I’m part of that has what’s now called the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program that we’ll talk more about later on, plus all of the legacy Thiokol and Hercules activity that combined itself into an organization called ATK that I’m sure most of the folks here in Northern Utah still remember us by. That was eventually bought by Orbital. And then, they combined to form an organization called Orbital ATK, and then we did acquire them a couple of years ago. Lastly, the legacy Litton organization, which is now part of our mission systems sector that does a lot of strategic instruments, they’re in our facility just outside of the Salt Lake City Airport.
Chanel Flores: (6:10) Greg, how many employees do you guys have now? After all of the acquisitions, and acquiring some of these you mentioned Orbital ATK. How many employees do you have actually in the state and then nationwide?
Greg Manuel: (6:25) Across the world Northrop Grumman, has about 95,000 employees. We are operating in every state in the union, and then we’re in about 35 countries across the world. Here in the greater Northern Utah area, we have about 6,300 employees today. We are the largest aerospace and defense company here in Utah, and that 6,300 doesn’t count about 1,600 open positions that we’re trying to fill in jobs in Northern Utah. You can just imagine by the time we fill those jobs, there will be upwards of 8,000 employees just within our company here in the Northern Utah area.
Chanel Flores: (7:10) That is incredible. You guys really are an anchor for the state of Utah and the defense and aerospace industry here in the state. That kind of leads into some of the recent announcements that I wanted to discuss with you today. Hill Air Force Base is still our largest single-site employer, and they have a ton of different essential defense initiatives that they’re working on that range from the F-35 program to the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program, which is the largest acquisition program in the history of the United States Air Force. And talking about what is stationed at Hill and some of the different projects that Northrop’s working on. I know that you guys just got awarded on September 8th the contract to support the US Air Forces Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program. Can you tell me a little more about this recent award and maybe for our listeners, maybe you could explain what the GBSD program is.
Greg Manuel: (8:15) Absolutely. And I can talk about GBSD all day long. I’ve had the opportunity to be part of this enterprise working on securing this contract with the United States Air Force since July of 2016. And it’s very exciting for this company. It’s exciting for the Air Force and exciting for the community.
Just imagine a very large as you reference one of the largest acquisition development programs the Air Force has ever taken on. And as you referenced, a contract award was made on September 8th just last month, and the initial value for the award was $13.3 billion for the development part.
That will follow on to what we call the production phase and eventually, the support phase. Hopefully, most of the listeners know that our deterrent system is made up of three different elements that deter any adversaries from attacking us with nuclear weapons. It has stood up to every adversary for the past seven decades. And what it does is it’s made up of a submarine leg, which has the most survivable part of what we call the triad. The airleg, which is supported by the B-52 bombers and the B-2 bomber, which is the most versatile or most agile piece of the triad. And then the third leg is the Intercontinental Ballistic missile leg. Which today is supported by the program called Minuteman III. Minuteman III has been in place since the early 70s. It’s a 50 years old program and was designed and built to last ten years, and in the subsequent 40 years, the Air Force has been able to extend the life of that weapon system to where now we’re at a point where it needs to be replaced. GBSD is the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program that is all about replacing the Minuteman III program. And what that is, is replacing all of the missiles. The missiles sit in silos in five of the northern states today. It is modifying and replacing much of the infrastructure to include launch facilities, launch centers, and all the command control infrastructure. It’s a huge project that will be undertaken.
About a year ago we decided to put our headquarters here in Northern Utah. And that came with a lot of focus on criteria on why we would make such a decision. A lot of it had to do with the rich heritage that Hill Air Force Base and the people in Northern Utah bring to this area that we can tap into because we will be here for a very long time executing this program.
Chanel Flores: (11:14) I know this is one of those really exciting things. I think not only for Northrop Grumman, Northern Utah but for the state in general. Do you anticipate, are there any challenges that you, you foresee that you may face? I know you mentioned that you have close to over1,400 positions currently open that you have to fill. What are those job requirements or positions that you’re currently hiring for? What are some of these, you know, challenges or opportunities, you know, that you have to oversee and work on with this recent announcement?
Greg Manuel: (11:56) That’s a great question. When you talk about challenges, one can say every challenge is an opportunity to be successful. And you think about the infrastructure. We decided about 18 months ago now that we would locate our headquarters for this program and a larger division called strategic turn systems here in Northern Utah. And as a result, we had to build a campus.
There isn’t a building or a set of integrated buildings into a single place near our customer here at Hill Air Force Base that existed. We have a massive infrastructure project going on. If you drive north up I-15 and you look just east when you get to 5600 North in Roy, you’ll see these large buildings going in that’s us. And we were able to build our first building in record speed with the help of the Woodbury Corporation and the Hunts family and R&O, our construction company, plus Nexus Architects. The whole team just pulled together to fabricate a building in record time during winter to move in before the contract award. And that just shows the strength and the focus that the community here rallies around when you give them a task.
We built three more buildings and the other three buildings are bigger than the ones we already built. And we need one of them done by October for next year. I’m going to need another one done by the end of next year. And then the subsequent building after that by the end of 2022. That’s a lot of infrastructures to be built. We’ve got to bring all of our suppliers in. As you can imagine, it’s not just Northrop Grumman who is leading and developing and facilitating the efforts to execute the Air Force program. When you set up an organization or a program this big, you also tend to attract many of your suppliers that want to stand up buildings and facilities and resources here locally. So you can imagine the number of resources just with our 3,600 or so people here and as a real innovation center. Multiply that by two or three; you get the rest of the resources that we’ll be supporting GBSD from the industry. And then you get the several thousand supporting GBSD from the government.
To get to your question about resourcing, it is really hard. You can imagine, as you referenced, the pandemic hit in March, we have very low unemployment across many of the States in the nation. We were one of the best low unemployment states in the nation. So when the pandemic hit and things kind of blew up, we were really challenged with ‘how do we now bring in resources in a very constrained, interactive environment and still meet our obligations’. Because you couldn’t just say you can’t do it. We had a multibillion-dollar program that we knew we had to start executing this summer. Like anything else, the team’s resilience stepped up and we were hiring approximately a hundred people a month.
And these aren’t just one hundred normal people. These are folks with STEM degrees. Science, technology, engineering, and math degrees. These are folks with nuclear engineering doctorates. These are folks who have extreme system engineering knowledge of a weapons system of this complexity.
We were able to hit those numbers. And then, as you think about the challenges ahead, we got to continue hiring a hundred a month over the next two and a half years. It’s one thing to do it for the first eight months or so. We got to do it for the next two and a half years and we got to sustain it.
Because as everyone knows, attrition does happen and we bring people in and people that attrit, they go places, or they retire. You have to replace them plus hire for your future. We have that challenge, and we’re very much interested in hiring. We’re very much interested in any of those people that are here in Northern Utah that are very interested in coming in and working for us. All of our current open jobs are posted on our GBSD careers website. We’re always looking for good people that help us.
Chanel Flores: (16:13) I have two different questions, but first, I want to start with the pandemic kind of what you talked about. You guys started much in a new facility in Northern Utah, a pandemic hit and you still had to continue on. You still needed to hire; you still needed to stand up operations. How have you foreseen the pandemic and the potential for what’s going to happen in the next six to eight months when it comes to the outbreak. If people are going to be working remotely, have you guys had to make really big changes? How are you guys looking at remote work? How are you looking at teleworking? How are you doing the interviews and hiring processes that weren’t as relevant or something you had planned to be part of your setup process?
Greg Manuel: (17:06) It’s interesting. I’ll give a couple of stories that kind of highlight some of the challenges we’ve been dealing with. The resource pool that we’re getting into when you’re doing mass hiring. You’re mass hiring out of universities and colleges and institutions coming out of these trade schools or what have you. And those tend to be less experienced and a younger set of resources. And I think everyone knows who’s listening to this podcast can relate to the fact that that generation has to talk to each other. That generation has to interact with each other. It is one thing to socially interact through social media, but that is not enough.
We’ve got this large generational gap between who is in place today and who are hiring where the more senior generation gap may have figured out how to deal with it because they could understand how to keep calm in their lives and structure to telecommute or telework which is what we call it when we have temporary opportunities to not work at the campus. We had this large generational set of resources that came in that had been wanting to do it. It was novel the first two weeks for them to work at home. They thought it was great that they didn’t have to get dressed but that wore off quickly and they wanted to be in the office and they wanted to interact. The state and the governor and lieutenant governor did a fabulous job leading us through this process and putting in place the boundaries and the barriers that we can all make good decisions based on our business to put in place the rules and regulations and constraints. But we struggled mightily to keep people apart. We put in different constraints inside our buildings.
We had to go through all the conference rooms and remove chairs. We had to go through all the break rooms and remove chairs and put up posters and because they wanted to interact. We struggled a lot. You have a building constraint because you’re building new buildings and you’re bringing on all these new people. You can’t just have everybody work from home.
And the reason is you can’t have everybody work from home because GBSD, for the most part, is a classified program. And it’s not one of these things that you can just go ahead and hit the easy button to go create this opportunity to work remotely and on a classified program. It became a challenging time for us through the summer to really find unique ways to keep people apart and keep them operating. And again, we persevered. We’re able to create enough space to keep everybody at the six-foot minimum distance. We drove culturally that desire to naturally want to put a mask on. That was probably the hardest thing than anything else. We went through the social distancing problem, but then when what we found is that there was no way to stand six feet apart from each other without a mask on and have a conversation with each other for half an hour. That wasn’t the intent. They’re okay to talk for however long they want but put a mask on.
We went through that just like everyone else is also doing today. We went through that learning process. But once we got the core people that were already here and as all the new hires came in and it didn’t matter what generation they came in from, they saw everybody wearing masks, and everybody felt comfortable putting a mask on.
We have a saying’ if you’re up and out, you’re masked up. If you’re away from your desk, if you’re leaving your desk, office cubicle or what have you, you have a mask on. It’s a very simple rule for us. As a result, we have a really low percentage of positive infection rates here within my business. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, and it’s just taken a long time. It’s taken a completely different view or different approach on how to make it happen.
Chanel Flores: (21:25) I completely get it. It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. I know a lot of companies are having to be innovative and think differently about how they’re addressing work life during the pandemic and the social distancing and the masks.
So with that in mind as we look at hiring the 1,600 positions, and we’re still in a pandemic. There’s a lot of probably virtual hiring events going on right now. How are you guys addressing and trying to attract that talent to your organization? Are you recruiting out of state? Are you recruiting in Utah? And are there certain best practices that you use to attract the talent to Northern Utah?
Greg Manuel: (22:17) Great question. Let me go back to one of the first things you asked, which was how did we continue our process of just simple things like interviewing?.
I think the infrastructure, the different technology infrastructure exists to go out and recruit. But it’s another thing to have remote interviews. It’s not easy to have remote interviews because not everyone has a camera. It’s stressful early in the process, but I think what our team did is we stood up a separate team called the agile hiring team that was focused on hiring, and they were able to set up using open source or social media activity to create these opportunities that virtual hiring events have. And those virtual hiring events are just like any other hiring events, be it a diversity conference or a university hiring event. Or just a mid-career hiring event; it was all virtual. It was like it was wherever they were they were called in. Hopefully, they were on camera, but we went through the same process.
We went through the same process, what we call speed dating. You get two minutes and the manager declines or accepts and you get an interview ticket. And we did the same thing; just we did it personally. I give the team a lot of credit for finding the right opportunities to continue what we will normally do in person, just to do it at a distance where there is a barrier of this virtual cloud between you.
The other thing that we’re able to do is change our rules within our company to allow for virtual processing of paperwork. And you scratch your hand and ask yourself, well, why don’t you already do that? I don’t know, but we don’t. And then there are some laws in place about citizenship and how you sign for taxation and things you have to physically sign. So, we broke through all those barriers and actually figured out a way to virtually do all that. Then you get into what we call onboarding.
Where was your first-day experience with our company where you brought in all of the hired people and they had a new start date? All of a sudden, you normally come in, physically in one big location, and then they go through a series of briefings about benefits and how to record time.
And how to process, how to go execute this process of what happens. We even had to retool that to where we could because we couldn’t have more than 10 in any given one location with or without masks. We had to retool our entire onboarding process, and we did it all out of just the sheer necessity of being successful because we knew the end goal was we had to have a thousand people in place when the contract award was issued on September 8th. A lot of innovation, a lot of good ideas.
That’s kind of the talent acquisition piece, and then you asked about where we are getting resources. We’re getting resources everywhere. We are hiring an awful lot of people from Northern Utah. But this is just a sheer size problem; there’s not that many extra resources and the state of Utah. In March, the Utah unemployment rate was like 2.3% or something like that. We already have a national talent acquisition program that we’re executing. And even in the pandemic, we’re able to continue on that process and build and recruit people into this great state.
Chanel Flores: (25:57) Perfect. I know you and I have talked about a little bit of hiring people into Utah. Sometimes there are misconceptions about working and living and playing in Utah. I traveled quite a bit before to the pandemic for this position and I still get asked like, ‘Oh, well, you dress normally.’ So there are like misconceptions you guys still have to address, and how are you handling those to get people to relocate to the state?
Greg Manuel: (26:31) For me to answer that question, I think to get a little more of my background. I’m an integrated family, meaning we have half Protestants and half Latter-day Saints. It was a coincidence. Half my family is from Southern Utah and half of my family from California via Texas. I had the opportunity to know about this state. As we started gearing up for understanding our old recruitment plan and trying to convince about 700 or so people at headquarters in California, we wanted to come here with us. Some of the things I heard, you just have to really shake your head. It’s like how’d you ever come up with that? And it doesn’t matter what that is.
You can imagine the perception that people outside of the state have on people inside the state of Utah. We spent a lot of time talking about what the real state of Utah was and how magnificent it is and how great the people are and how welcoming everybody is, and how diverse it is. Does this perspective of homogeneous reality throughout Utah that doesn’t exist. It does in certain areas, but when you look at it as a whole, it’s very diverse, and it doesn’t matter if you want to live in the city or want to live in the mountains. Do you want to live in a small community? Do you want to live on the main road? Do you want to live five miles off the road? Do you want to live in a house that’s 10,000 square feet and has a built-in trampoline and cold storage that’s four floors? You can have that. But if you want to live in a smaller house, you can have that too– condo, townhouse and apartment. There are RV parks where you can live in your RV. We went through all that and I think we finally started getting traction when we had other people start migrating to Northern Utah, and then messaging back. It wasn’t what I had to say, or it wasn’t what we could have had ambassadors who worked here to come and talk to the employees. It was really word of mouth.
I moved here, and then they sent word back, which was ‘This is a great place to live. It’s a great place to learn. It’s a great place to play. It’s a great place to have a different, completely different level of stress between here and LA’. And somebody asked me one time; they were concerned about work-life balance, coming here on this program, being on a large development program like this one where you spend a lot of time working and I had to think about it because my work-life balance doesn’t change. I’ve still been working a lot but the stress level being here versus the stress level of living in LA completely changed when I moved here. And I don’t know what it is, but it is different. And I haven’t been able to put my finger on it. Other than that, the people create a culture and atmosphere that is a little more relaxed and a little more calming, a little more accepting, a little more of, don’t worry about what’s going on. Just live your life.
Chanel Flores: (29:41) It’s so true. That’s the number one thing for us. We always say if we can just get them here. They fall in love. I mean, it really is an amazing state. And like you mentioned, the people here are fantastic, and we have a ton of work opportunities and different career positions and a lot happening in our great state. I appreciate that input. As we wrap up, we’re going to go back to a personal question, what is your favorite thing? If you had to name your favorite thing to eat or do in Utah, what is your favorite thing you would want other people to know?
Greg Manuel: (30:39) It might sound odd, but one of the things that struck me 180 degrees against my perception was this idea of going downtown and visiting a speakeasy in Salt Lake City. Going downtown and going into a jazz bar and Salt Lake City and not just doing it, but doing it on a whim, meaning you don’t have to, you don’t have to plan for it because you don’t have long lines. You don’t have to make a reservation two weeks out. And you don’t have to worry about what’s going on, and it doesn’t matter if it’s snowing, raining, or 95 degrees outside, it’s still okay. Because that’s what everybody else is doing. It’s an idea of finding these niche places that aren’t on maps or that don’t just come upon a review list like go visit a speakeasy. It has been very exciting for me as well. I know for a fact we haven’t found them all, but I know I have team members on my team that are doing the best to identify them and pass on the message to others.
Who likes going into these old-style places trying to replicate how things were back in the 50s and the 40s and 50s. I do a lot here, and I camp a lot. I go in my side-by-side a lot. I just got back from 10 days in Lake Powell boating and fishing and relaxing. I’m looking forward to the ski season coming up.
Chanel Flores: (32:10) I love that you mentioned some of those, like the speakeasy, some of those cool bars that I think most people if you’re looking or visiting from out-of-state or looking to relocate don’t know about them. They don’t realize that we have a ton of breweries here in the state. There’s a lot of those niche places that you mentioned that are great. When you look at our outdoors you can find something to do every weekend from hiking to kayaking, mountain biking and skiing. I think we are very blessed in the state to have the type of scenery we do and access to the outdoors.
I love that you could join us here today, and I’m excited about your life here in Northern Utah. And as you continue to learn and grow your organization, please keep us updated. We are so excited to have such an anchor organization like Northrop Grumman that has the type of footprint and impact on our state.
Greg, I appreciate you taking the time today, and we look forward to watching the future growth.
Greg Manuel: (33:31) Thank you, Chanel very much appreciate the invitation, and I’ll leave one more comment. We’re hiring. So if you’re interested in joining aerospace and defense and specifically a deterrent system that keeps us safe every day, every hour, every month, every year. Please look us up; we’re very interested in having you.
Thanks for listening to the Business Elevated podcast, a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Listen to other episodes where you get your podcasts or at business.utah.gov.