Through a series of progressively senior leadership roles, Pamela Drew has worked half a lifetime helping aerospace and defense organizations succeed. Now in retirement, she’s turned her attention to board service and mentoring the next generation of leaders.
With a background that includes executive roles at ITT Exelis, TASC, Northrop Grumman and Boeing, Drew serves on the boards of government contractors Serco, Inc., Ultra Electronics Secure Intelligence Systems and QinetiQ, Inc. She’s also a member of the computer science advisory board and of the strategic advisory board to the chancellor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as the dean’s advisory council at the Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School.
Recently a judge for WashingtonExec’s 2020 Chief Officer Awards, Drew has had many professional accomplishments. But those that have been most gratifying centered on helping place other people in the right positions and facilitating their success.
“I take pride most of all in identifying appropriate and high-potential talent, setting high expectations for them, enabling them with resources and some guidance to succeed, holding them accountable and then getting out of the way,” she said. “Every time I’ve taken this approach, great outcomes are the result.”
It’s a formula Drew has used often over the years. At ITT Exelis, where she rose to executive vice president, she led the process of creating a new leadership team structure, including hiring 10 vice presidents, some of whom were later promoted to C-suite positions within the company. In her first year there, she exceeded her operating income target by 30%.
At TASC, where she became a senior vice president, she worked in Strategic Capabilities and Technology, as well as Enterprise Systems — a business unit she helped establish as part of the spinout of TASC from Northrop Grumman. Not to mention, her efforts saw a work backlog that increased 300% and multiplied revenue. At Northrop Grumman, where she served as vice president of business development for the company’s Mission Systems sector, the business development initiatives she led resulted in more defense wins, including a $2.5 billion award in 2014 related to consolidating onboard network and computing services on Navy carriers.
And at Boeing, where her last role was as vice president and general manager for the company’s Integrated Defense and Security Solutions organization, she led development of a new long-term technology strategy, including hiring new expertise and investments in advanced technologies that led to winning a multibillion contract with the Army.
Early in her career at Boeing, Drew was asked to lead the effort to reshape long-term investment strategy and oversee research and development.
“This was in the late ’90s, shortly after I started with the company, and I was often joking with other leaders that the jets were going to become ‘just nodes on a network,’” she recalled. “I had built up some credibility with some special projects that led to millions in savings, so I was given the long-term technology assignment.”
The team revamped the direction of the research and development to have a much greater focus on technology such as data warehousing, agents and information assurance — all precursors to the data analytics, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity of today. That work led to new software capabilities that became the basis of a series of multibillion-dollar contracts with military customers and led to the largest defense backlog Boeing had ever had, she said.
“The big wins were great, but it was seeing the real impact of the technology improving conditions for warfighters that I thoroughly enjoyed,” Drew said.
Now in her focus on board work, Drew still taps into the wisdom learned through the most important lesson of her career: that one’s success is largely dependent on the caliber of leadership, talent, experience and dedication of those on one’s team. And sometimes, to motivate herself and her teams, she turns to a favorite quote, from cultural icon Leonard Bernstein: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.”
The B2B Project has been instrumental in Drew’s transition to corporate board work following her roughly three-decade career in aerospace and defense. The organization helps connect board-ready women with open positions, the goal being to leverage board diversity as a competitive advantage.
Drew credits the B2B Project with helping her get her first board position in 2018, at Serco. Her work there positioned her for appointments to the other two boards. She is available for one more position, which she hopes to fill with an appointment to the board of a public company in the U.S. She also enjoys raising awareness of the positive impact of being intentional about creating diverse boards.
“In addition to the traditional notions of diversity such as gender and race, I believe diversity of thought and experience is very important, and one domain that is tremendously important to the success and security of the business community is technology,” Drew said. “I am participating in various technology forums, e.g. cyber or artificial intelligence focused, to stay at the forefront of technology and bring it to the board room.”
Giving back by mentoring aspiring engineers and future leaders in aerospace and defense is another area on which Drew is focused.
She also serves on several nonprofit and advisory boards. The current chair of the Air Force Museum Foundation board of trustees, Drew supports the organization’s mission to raise funds and awareness for the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“I was recruited to this board through relationships I had developed in participating in National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine studies and committees over my career,” she said. “One of these was focused on the U.S. Air Force, which was also a major customer of the businesses I led at Boeing, Northrop Grumman, TASC and ITT Exelis.”
A graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, Drew holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics as well as master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science.
She enjoys travel, a passion that has roots in a gift she received in celebration of completing her master’s degree.
“The gift was a sum of money, which I was to stretch as long as I could travel solo in Europe,” she said. “As a result, I spent six weeks traveling all over Europe, solo. The trip changed my life.”
That exposure to places of historical significance, meeting individuals who had lived through historic events, and seeing the U.S. through a different set of lenses, had a profound impact.
“I vowed I would continue growing this part of my knowledge and cultural understanding for the rest of my life and that I wanted to spend part of my life living overseas,” Drew said. “I met that goal when I accepted an assistant professor role at the newly formed Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.”
She and her husband lived in Hong Kong nearly five years until just before the handover to China. More than 20 years later, Drew still thinks of it as one of the experiences that has made her a more complete person.
In her spare time, Drew enjoys exercising, decorating and cooking. Referring to herself as a “serial redecorator” and possibly “the first fan of the various cooking channels,” she appreciates the balance the creative outlets afford her in contrast to working in technology.
Drew takes pride in the fact she has redesigned the interior of one whole house, including demolition and reconfigured spaces, as well as several significant spaces inside her current home. Cooking from scratch is another favorite pastime she finds time for in retirement.
And if Drew had a giant microphone to deliver one message to the world, her words would apply in a variety of situations, including addressing the idea of keeping one’s commitments in business.
“It’s hard to think about a message to the world without addressing the current terrible pandemic we are all experiencing,” Drew said, “but I think it would be applicable in a general business setting as well. My message is related to the people around us: Be respectful of one another, do what’s right and take care of one another.”