Rita Flaherty is vice-president of business development at Lockheed Martin Fire Control in Orlando, where she is committed to building strong, lasting relationships with the US armed forces, with which she once served.
What led you into the military?
When I was 10 years old, one of my brothers entered West Point. I observed the great opportunities, challenges and fun he had, and I watched women cadets to see if I might be able to do what they were doing. I was inspired by their fearlessness and commitment and wanted to be like them.
As graduation and commissioning neared at West Point, I selected Military Intelligence as my branch because I was intrigued by the strategic challenges of the role. After Intelligence, I served as an officer in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and in the 82nd Airborne Division, both located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I flew in helicopters and jumped out of [Lockheed Martin] C-130s and C-141s. The soldiers I interacted with were hard working, incredibly intelligent, up for a challenge and loved serving their country.
How did that prepare you for Lockheed Martin?
My time in the army showed me why companies like Lockheed Martin are so vital for the defence and security of our nation and allies. Our company motto is “We never forget who we’re working for”, which is the enduser – the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who use our products and services.
Where else did you train?
After leaving the army in 1997, I attended graduate school at Syracuse University. While there, I held two separate internships, as well as paid work as a reporter at local TV stations. I enjoy writing, meeting people, asking questions, building relationships and telling meaningful stories. The work was fun and challenging, and allowed me to enhance a number of skills that I use in my current business development role at Lockheed Martin.
What roles have you held there?
Since joining Lockheed Martin in 2001, I’ve held various business development roles of increasing responsibility. I currently oversee a talented team that works closely with all branches of the US military and allied countries to ensure they have the fire control sensors and systems necessary to complete their missions.
What’s a typical day like?
My role looks a little different every day, but I regularly focus on listening and understanding our customers’ needs and helping them find solutions for their challenges. I am also focused on being a good leader and helping my team meet their career goals. More than 80% of my staff has a military background, and we are all united in our commitment to do our best to support those who serve. Many of our customers come to Lockheed Martin because they want and need the assurance that technology is achievable, reliable, on schedule and on budget.
World events shape our customers’ requirements every day, and we are honoured to help them address those challenges.
Is the glass ceiling as solid as it once was?
That’s a question I was often asked and dreaded, when I was in the army. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the women of the West Point classes of 1980 and 1981 as role models. Those were the first two West Point classes containing women, breaking 174 years of a male-only tradition. Because of their courage, confidence and conviction, my place at West Point was never credibly challenged.
I’ve seen the defence industry continue to evolve, as evidenced by a growing number of female leaders, including our own chief executive. Lockheed Martin has been an exceptional employer for me personally.
My top priority is to be a great wife and mother. Lockheed Martin has taken progressive steps to accommodate the “life” aspect of work/life balance, which helps me as I strive to have a fulfilling personal life and career.