Phantom Works is the advanced R&D; unit of Boeing (Chicago, IL). Geraldine Wilmot Spear develops and implements international technology collaboration projects as a program manager for the unit.
Spear works out of Boeing's Seattle, WA industrial and executive complex. For the past two years she's worked with both Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) and Boeing Commercial Airplanes (BCA) in developing appropriate collaborative projects with overseas organizations. Working on both the commercial and defense sides of the business is "an incredible balancing act," she says.
About Phantom Works
Phantom Works has about 4,500 employees, working across the U.S. on more than 500 advanced technology projects for Boeing's commercial airplanes, communications, space and defense businesses, along with contract R&D; work for branches of the U.S. military. Phantom Works also collaborates with universities, companies and organizations around the globe.
Spear helps develop collaborative technology-based projects that support IDS and BCA sales efforts. She works with technologists inside the company as well as outside technologists in other countries to identify and develop projects that will benefit the country as well as Boeing.
An interesting recent project, Spear says, was with an aerospace company in Turkey that wanted to move beyond manufacturing into design engineering. "I brought a high-level team from Boeing to Turkey with me," Spear says, "and we did an assessment to see if we could find projects that would be suitable for both sides."
In the end Spear and her team arranged for three Turkish engineers to spend two years at Boeing in Seattle to learn new design and manufacturing skills. "When they went back, two of them became high-level managers and have helped the company become successful," Spear says.
The puzzle and its pieces
Spear enjoys investigating international business situations and interacting with people from around the world. "I like to look at the big picture, but I also like to take a piece out of the puzzle, work on it, then put it back and go on to another one."
A recent project in South Korea was particularly interesting. "The organization I was working with wasn't known for working easily with women," she notes wryly.
"At first they wouldn't even look at me and then they tested me a few times with some thorny technical questions. As soon as I passed the test, the eye contact started," says Spear.
Training for success
Spear was born and raised in Ireland, and came to California with her family when her father, well known in the medical field, was invited to Stanford University (Palo Alto, CA) for a six-month appointment "that turned into forever. The day my father told us we were staying I was not a happy camper," she remembers.
But she adjusted, as did her four younger brothers and sisters.
Her original goal was to be a commercial airline pilot, and "When I was seventeen, I met Terry London Rinehart, one of the first woman pilots for what is now Delta Airlines. My mother introduced us and Terry took me under her wing. The very next weekend I was up flying in her Cessna 150 and I was hooked," says Spear.
Fallback to Northrop
Rinehart supported Spear's ambition to be a pilot, but advised her to have a fallback career. So Spear got a BS in aeronautics with a minor in business administration at San Jose State University (San Jose, CA). Spear is also an FAA-licensed, instrument-rated private pilot and FAA-licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic.
When she graduated there weren't many jobs for commercial pilots, so she found a manufacturing engineering post at Northrop Grumman in Hawthorne, CA and her career path was set.
For five years she concentrated on composites. "Today just about everything is made out of composites," she notes. "Although I'm certainly not an expert at it, the background is valuable."
For the next two years she worked on projects to streamline some of the company's manufacturing processes. "Northrop was ahead of its time and wanted to become leaner and meaner," says Spear. "I worked with a team that built parts for the F-18s to send to McDonnell Douglas for final assembly."
Her team pioneered processes that are now standard. "Today you can go out on any shop floor and they're all paperless, but we had the first one. It saved the company millions of dollars," she reminisces.
As a fairly young engineer in charge of veteran manufacturing folks, she had to develop good interpersonal skills fast. "I have to say Northrop mechanics were fabulous," she says.
Her success led to an offer from the Long Beach, CA location of McDonnell Douglas (St. Louis, MO) that combined travel, airplanes and people. "The offer incorporated all three of my passions, so I couldn't resist," she says with a smile.
She traveled across the U.S., working with aircraft parts suppliers to reduce costs and increase efficiency and quality. Then she was picked to manage the company's mentor-prot�g� supplier development program.
In 1997 Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged. Spear had just become engaged, and, "As luck would have it, my future husband lived in Seattle, so moving to Seattle was ideal," she says.
She found a job with BCA engineering, then as now working on technology collaboration projects. She was also responsible for the BCA engineering global trainee program: on-the-job-training for international customers. She began to develop her international focus and eventually moved into the job she has now.
Her work keeps her on the road much of the time, but her husband, an ME with a Seattle engineering firm, supports the needs of her exciting job.
Networking and mentors, Spear says, have both been essential to the evolution of her career. She always makes an effort to develop relationships.
The first woman VP at McDonnell Douglas-Long Beach was a mentor and role model. "I could see she was well respected and got there on her own merits," Spear remembers.
Spear is now a mentor and role model herself for newer techies, and also Boeing's corporate representative to Women in Aviation International.
"I tell the people I mentor that networking is a critical element if you want to move up and around in a company. You never know what will come out of it," she says.
The second critical element, of course, is "to really perform. Don't ever think you can do it halfway or just well enough."