WASHINGTON — The former assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy for research, development and acquisition is heading to industry — though not with one of the mainstay naval primes as some might have predicted.
Sean Stackley, who also served as the acting secretary of the Navy from Jan. 20 to Aug. 3, 2017, kicked off his tenure as corporate vice president at L3 Technologies on Jan. 8, leading the company’s strategic advanced capabilities and technologies.
“It’s a whole new world,” Stackley said of his new role during an exclusive interview with Defense News on Jan. 3, the day after he officially wrapped up his tenure in government.
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As one would figure for a high-level official from the Defense Department, Stackley did have options — he said he was approached by a number of market leaders. (He wouldn’t name which specifically.) He wasn’t ready to engage and settle with a single defense company, nor was L3 even on his radar as a possibility until he got the call from the company’s new chief executive. Chris Kubasik, who stepped into the CEO role at the start of the year after serving as chief operating officer since 2015, has worked with Stackley on government projects on and off for about a decade.
“Our strategy and vision has gained traction and is appealing to a lot of leaders,” Kubasik told Defense News. “Sean and I are completely aligned as to how L3 can help our customers with their important missions, and he was one of the most respected leaders in the Pentagon. We are excited to have him on board.”
For Stackley, the fact that L3 is a company built upon acquisitions, thus far maintaining some of the speed and agility that can come more easily for smaller companies, is an advantage.
“The government and our closest defense firms tend to grow up together; organizationally and structurally, they tend to become mirror images,” Stackley said. “For all the goodness — and I have four decades of public service and nothing but love and respect for what we do — the government is not credited with being really quick. L3, unlike its larger defense companies, did not take on that mirror image of the government. It’s kept its roots that came from the smaller companies that formed it. That’s a strength.”
That said, among the priorities for both Stackley and Kubasik is to further unify a corporation that remains relatively segmented — “to integrate all these parts of the companies to make something bigger,” in the words of the former Navy official.
In terms of his Navy tenure, Stackley remained rather mum about the recent challenges faced by the service, voicing strong support for the current leadership’s ability to address challenges and saying only that the June 2017 collision involving the destroyer Fitzgerald while he was serving as acting secretary “shook us.”
He did, however, speak to his optimism about the current administration’s approach to defense.
“More so than some of the past administrations that I’ve worked closely in or with, there’s been a heavy focus on the industry side with this administration,” Stackley said. “That brings with it a greater understanding of some of the challenges that industry faces, coupled with an understanding of the opportunities that the government has in terms of dealing with industry — from acquisition strategies to contract negotiations.”
“We’re at year one of the administration,” he continued. “But the team in place has a good respect for and understanding of industry, which lends itself to smart policies that protect the health and welfare of industry, but at the same time puts the department in a strong position to be a demanding customer.”
Jill Aitoro was editor of Defense News. She was also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brought over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.