Denise Russell Fleming is a BAE Systems business tech VP
She's a well-rounded leader who uses business savvy to leverage technology at her company, and good sense to leverage success in her career
'We protect those who protect us" is the slogan BAE Systems has chosen to illustrate its commitment to its customers. It is one of the reasons Denise Russell Fleming joined the organization in 2010.
BAE Systems (Arlington, VA) is a global defense, aerospace and security company, and the second largest defense company in the world. Fleming is vice president of business technology and transformation, reporting directly to D. Michael Bennett, SVP of information management and CIO. She's responsible for developing strategies to ensure alignment of business technology with business goals.
About one hundred people report to Fleming, including business technology officers, enterprise architects, and portfolio and project managers. Her team works with the business to identify technology and process improvements that can create discriminators for BAE Systems in the marketplace. Part of BAE Systems' growth was through acquisitions, Fleming points out, so it is important to ensure consistency.
"BAE Systems has a vast product portfolio and each line of business has a technology officer," she says. "We spend a lot of time reviewing the changing needs of the enterprise and the opportunities these create. I also work with my counterparts in operations. From an IT standpoint, we communicate what we are doing to the business, focusing on delivery of technology and capabilities.
"It isn't just technology for technology's sake," she emphasizes. "We have various engineering, HR and other collaboration tools in place to create consistency in order to reduce cost. We ensure that processes, people and technology are all aligned to support the needs of the customers."
Early aspirations and lessons
Fleming refers to herself as "a New York City girl," born in Queens. She was good at math and science and took specialty courses designed for pre-med, her original aspiration. "But in my junior year when they wheeled in the cat for dissection, I realized that the blood wasn't for me."
Fortunately, her physics teacher piqued her interest in engineering and she attended a week-long program for women at the Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, NJ). "Women with engineering degrees came in to talk to us. I remember one who was an electrical engineer working at a telecommunications company. She had parlayed that degree into a role in technical marketing, and that ended up being a path that I followed."
Fleming attended the University of Virginia (UVA, Charlottesville, VA) and earned her BS in electrical engineering in 1993. She had done a co-op at IBM (now Lockheed Martin, Manassas, VA) working on a submarine sonar program for the U.S. Navy. "It confirmed that the business aspect was where my passion was. I enjoyed what I was doing but I wasn't the research person. I wanted to focus more on the application side to enable business to use technology for differentiated advantage."
After graduation, she joined Telecommunications Techniques Corporation (now JDSU, Germantown, MD) as a product marketing engineer, where she led product development and marketing efforts for a line of portable test equipment.
She wanted to strengthen her background in finance and business development, and enrolled at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business (Durham, NC), earning her MBA in 1997.
Armed with both technology and business degrees, Fleming sought tech companies that offered management development programs. She joined Sprint Nextel (Overland Park, KS), and completed a three-year rotation highlighted by assignments in platform design, management and competitive marketing strategy, and was part of a long-distance team negotiating rates for wholesale minutes.
"The goal was to exit at a director level and I actually did that before I left," Fleming says proudly. She became director of staff operations for the office of the chairman and CEO responsible for pre-sales and post-sales engineering for Sprint's federal government business, which reached a billion dollars in revenue during her tenure.
She then became vice president of service and repair, platform planning and alliances and, finally, network service management. After thirteen years at Sprint Nextel, Fleming went to BAE Systems in 2010. "I wanted to continue to leverage technology to create business advantage and my position here was a new one in the company."
She had another reason for joining BAE Systems. "When you make a change at this level, the cultural fit is something you think about," she admits. "The CEO is a woman who understands the value of technology as a differentiator. She also values diversity and inclusion. The investment that is made in the development of leaders here is broader than I have seen anywhere."
Fleming serves on advisory boards for Women in Engineering in the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland (College Park, MD) and the information systems department in the School of Business at Howard University (Washington, DC).
"Early in my career, I had a mentor tell me that 'Success is when preparation meets opportunity,'" remembers Fleming. "The part I can control is being prepared. I can't control what those opportunities are but there is some sense that things are going to work out and I will be in the right place at the right time."
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