Making a difference... early
Michelle Scarpella joined Northrop Grumman from university. Now she is vice-president responsible for all aspects of its fuselage and vertical tail work as a Boeing F/A-18 subcontractor in El Segundo, California
What is your typical day?
The assembly line starts at 05:30, so my day typically begins at 03:30 at home, before I head in to work. Our customers are two time zones ahead of us, so by the time I'm arriving at work, they've been going for a couple of hours. This is the nature of building aircraft - when you're responsible for projects and manufacturing, you have to be here for the people.
Any number of issues may grab my attention throughout the day, from production situations to personnel matters. It's a big job, and sometimes, as they say, the only thing you can be sure of is no two days are exactly alike.
One thing is relatively constant, however. While many aspects of my job are enjoyable, I find it quite satisfying to clear pathways so my team can perform its job of putting out safe and cost-efficient aircraft of unquestionable quality. Each day, I'm working to help make a difference for our nation and our war fighters, and nothing, to me, can compare with that.
How did you begin your career at Northrop Grumman?
I joined the company right after earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fullerton. I started work on the B-2 programme as a quality engineer.
I didn't really have a specific career plan when I started; in fact, I was 15 years into my career here when I started to tell people what I was seeking and where I wanted to go. I learned from that, and now I mentor four people, all young and fresh out of college. I'm helping them control their own destiny.
© Northrop Grumman
Scarpella: colleagues, company, culture, values mark Northrop career
I've stayed at Northrop Grumman because of my great colleagues, this organisation's culture of respecting people, and the company's values that were evident from the time I started here in the 1980s. The people who surrounded me have been professional, fun to work with and really concerned about others.
It's important to recognise opportunities when you see them. Northrop has given me many such opportunities to grow in this career, beyond the day-to-day work I do. For instance, thanks to Northrop Grumman, I've earned an MBA and a certificate in executive management.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned in your career?
Overall, I've learned the importance of keeping customers informed, acting with speed and seeing things through to completion. It's crucial to involve customers early and often, integrating them into the team environment. They see your successes, and when things don't go as planned - and that happens - they know you [and] the situation, and they're more likely to trust you to overcome it.
One other lesson that has proven to be very valuable: ask for help when help is needed. No-one can have all the answers or all the experience needed to address every issue. The value of a high-performance culture like ours comes when we learn from each other's experience.
What does the future look like?
I look at the future in two ways. For me, the future is what I make of it. I plan to continue to seek opportunities and build on my experiences to continue to help this company grow and succeed.
For Northrop Grumman, the future is very bright. This is a work environment that doesn't just pay lip service to concepts such as developing people, striving for excellence and exceeding customer expectations; we're doing it, and it's exciting to be part of it.