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Dr Pamela Drew: guiding critical networks for Exelis

A passion for technology has involved this dynamic pro in large-scale initiatives, including deep space communication, airspace safety, defense strategies and more

'I’ve always been interested in advanced information and communication technologies,” explains Pamela Drew. Since January 2013, Dr Drew has been a company executive vice president and president of the information systems business at Exelis (McLean, VA), a diversified global aerospace, defense, information and services company.

“Information systems is the business area of Exelis that provides mission-critical network solutions,” she explains. “These solutions span the lifecycle of critical networks including system architecture, design, development, deployment, integration, test and evaluation, operations, maintenance, sustainment and modernization.”

Users of these services are U.S. government agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Army, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the intelligence community. Additionally, the business includes a growing commercial aviation and international presence, primarily in Australia and Southeast Asia.

Drew is part of the executive leadership team, reporting to the president and CEO. “We are a business that looks out for the interests of our customers and also our employees,” she notes. “These 17,000 people make up the fabric of who we are and what we have to offer.

“We offer solutions to complex systems problems, working across boundaries to support the customer, grow our employees’ skills and reward and recognize outstanding performance,” she says. “Our team has a shared sense of purpose that I believe is central to our success, with our customers and across our organization.”

Leading the team
As president of information systems, Drew oversees a leadership team of ten direct reports who collectively advise and guide the business. The team is made up of representatives from business support functions including finance, human resources, legal, contracts, business development and engineering, as well as four business area leads, each of whom oversees a key initiative of the information systems business at Exelis.

“I hope my colleagues would describe my leadership style as dynamic and innovative,” says Drew. “I expect top-notch performance and provide opportunities for employees to make a significant difference in the world through technological advancements. It all comes back to the idea of a shared purpose and high performance, which I believe is central to leading a successful team.”

A bounty of experience
Before joining Exelis, Drew spent four years at TASC (Chantilly, VA), a technology-focused defense contractor, where she was senior vice president of strategic capabilities and technology. She led an enterprise-wide team that provided systems engineering and integration, cybersecurity, financial and business analytics, and test and evaluation solutions to intelligence, defense and federal and civil customers. In a prior role at TASC, she led the enterprise systems business unit that served defense and federal civil agencies.

For one year, 2008, she was sector vice president of business development for Northrop Grumman’s mission systems sector. Before Northrop Grumman, Drew was at Boeing for six years. She served as vice president and general manager for Boeing’s integrated defense and security solutions organization, heading strategy and business generation in homeland and global security markets.

While at Boeing, Drew also worked as vice president and general manager of the company’s C3ISR business unit serving the U.S. Air Force and Navy, and international customers including the United Kingdom, NATO, Australia and Turkey. Before that, she led a significant portion of Boeing Phantom Works in developing and transitioning technology across the commercial airplane and military businesses.

Grown from deep engineering roots
Drew was born in Brooklyn, NY into a family with strong engineering and entrepreneurial roots. “My father was an electrical engineer who worked on many NASA programs, including the Viking, Sky Lab and Apollo programs,” she says proudly. “He then went into biomedical engineering and started his own company, Aspen Labs. My mother was also part of the aerospace industry at the time. I was inspired by the great accomplishments of the space program and wanted to make similar contributions myself. Engineering was a path to become part of initiatives larger than myself.”

She earned her bachelors degree in mathematics at the University of Colorado-Boulder in 1985. “UC Boulder has a history of excellence in engineering education, which is what attracted me.”

She got her masters degree and doctorate in computer science at UC Boulder in 1987 and 1991. “While I was working on my PhD, I became an assistant professor of computer science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology,” Drew says. “I was attracted to that opportunity for the chance to pursue research in my field of study, but also because the university was interested in applied research, a preference of mine. It was, of course, also a wonderful opportunity to live in Southeast Asia and learn about other cultures.

“After about five years, I felt it was time to use my applied research acumen to benefit industry. I immediately chose aerospace as my targeted sector. The field is always changing. That’s why this is an especially exciting time to be at a company like Exelis. Whether it’s international space exploration, global air travel or homeland security, we are at the heart of the networks and systems that truly underpin modern life and help connect the world.”

Sharing the passion
Technology and engineering are Drew’s passions, and she devotes as much of her time as possible to advancing them for the betterment of society, she says. “I’ve held several leadership roles with the National Academies, including my recent service as the vice chair of the National Research Council Air Force Studies Board and my current role on a NextGen Air Traffic Management committee for the Transportation Research Board.”

She serves on the board of directors for the University of Washington’s applied physics lab, and was named an associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. She is also a member of the chancellor’s strategic advisory council and chair of the engineering advisory council to the dean of engineering at UC Boulder.

At Exelis, Drew is an executive sponsor of the inclusion and diversity council. The council provides guidance for Exelis’ D&I; efforts as well as input in the areas of talent development, staffing, and workforce planning. It educates and raises awareness for employees across the company, and provides a forum for employees to raise issues relating to D&I; within the organization.

“I am a strong advocate for diversity in the aerospace and defense industry,” Drew emphasizes. “I think it’s critical to encourage women and people of diverse backgrounds to pursue degrees and careers in STEM-related fields, as they bring diversity of thought, which will ultimately help improve and evolve the industry.

“My focus at Exelis is now on the development of the business and our talent,” Drew says. “We are engaging our workforce to ensure our customers’ mission success. Many large-scale national initiatives, like communicating with the Mars Rover in deep space, and helping to ensure the safety and efficiency of our national airspace system for the flying public, rely in part on our efforts. As you can imagine, executing on these programs is top priority on my list.”


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