Alumni Spotlight: ATK
As an undergraduate Accounting and Finance student I don’t encounter rockets quite often. They just don’t seem to pop up on the balance sheet like widgets, and sometimes I miss the excitement that engineering students enjoy. Sure discounted cash flows and unamortized debt expense are great, but do they explode! Our longtime corporate partner, ATK, is an expert on rockets, and I’m tired of engineering students hogging all the fun. That’s why I felt compelled to travel to ATK Defense Headquarters in Baltimore this past week.
As a QUEST student, you learned in the ATK Classroom at some point or heard one of their annual Capstone Projects. However, if you’re still unfamiliar with their work, let me fill you in. ATK is one of the largest Aerospace and Defense companies in the United States. A leader in the field of solid rocket motors, ATK applies its expertise to a variety of technologies, including missiles, space shuttles, and armament systems, to name a few. Additionally, ATK is one of the largest providers of ammunition in the country. In my attempt to acquire a rocket from ATK, I decided to put up a façade and find out more about their products, culture, and industry. Laruen Powers (Q20) and myself met with fellow Terrapin, Bryan Buckland.
An ATK employee for 30 years, Mr. Buckland has held a variety of positions within the company’s Finance, Marketing, and Program Management functions. Currently, as a Senior Vice President for ATK’s Defense Group, Mr. Buckland manages the Finance functions of the organization. Mr. Buckland also serves as a Finance Fellows Mentor for the Smith School and owns a water sports dealership. Eager to help out fellow Terrapins, Mr. Buckland shared personal stories and industry experience with us.
Pride in the Products
Walking through the halls of ATK Defense Headquarters in Baltimore you are flanked by some of the most impressive military technology this country has ever produced. And if you talk to ATK employees, they know it. ATK is incredibly proud of the products they make. And when we sat down with Mr. Buckland, I asked, “What unique opportunities do you believe ATK brings forth as an employer?” While a terrific 401k was a perfectly acceptable answer, Mr. Buckland went on to describe the “excitement of the products.” He described the thrill of testing a product after a year of development, and the sense of purpose one feels contributing to this country’s national defense.
Although I had the opportunity to learn about a ton of awesome ATK products on my trip, my favorite was the AN/AAR-47 Missile Warning System. The product attaches to the bottom of helicopters and detects when missiles are shot at it. In response the system initiates countermeasures and removes the threat. Mr. Buckland described hearing from pilots how the product saved their lives, exclaiming, “their really is pride in what you do” at ATK. Another culture topic we covered in our talk was that of teamwork at ATK.
As an aerospace and defense company, ATK relies heavily on the cooperation of employees across starkly different disciplines. Mr. Buckland is a prime example with experience in finance, marketing, and project management himself. With so much industry experience, I was interested to hear if Mr. Buckland’s philosophy on teamwork at ATK. The key, I was told, is “to run at the pace of many, not at the pace of one.” He elaborated, stating that in order for a team to work well “each member needs to trust each other.” Without trust, team members constantly second guess each other’s work, and the whole team starts to slow down. If the engineer and finance guy don’t trust each other, they start to work at the speed of “one” instead of the speed of “many.”
External Strategy and the Sequester
Lastly I wanted to find out how ATK viewed the sequester and its affect on the defense industry. The Sequester threatens to cut $1.2 trillion dollars in federal spending over the next 10 years, and many Americans worry that such an event will pull our already fragile economy back into a recession. Indiscriminately affected by these significant cuts is the defense industry, a particularly sensitive sector for Americans. Interested to hear the perspective of a defense industry insider, I asked Mr. Buckland how ATK was responding to the Sequester. His response was assuring, and provided much needed perspective on the matter. Mr. Buckland views the cuts as a challenge rather than an insurmountable obstacle. He described the manner within the context of managing ATK’s program portfolio. While ATK already has secured many contracts, which form the base of the company’s revenue stream, top ATK brass constantly monitors the defense environment, identifying promising contracts and those at risk. That way ATK can backfill lost contracts with new opportunities— even those in new technologies— and maximize its performance in a new, more challenging environment. It was interesting to hear Mr. Buckland’s perspective, and certainly reassuring.
So my time at ATK was over. Saying our goodbyes in the lobby, Lauren Powers was saying something about torque and aerodynamics when I finally saw them- ROCKETS! They were there in the lobby, and it was finally my chance to play with one. Mr. Buckland must have seen me staring, because he immediately asked me if I wanted to hold one. Sure it was inactive, but I finally got what I came for. I quickly though about dashing with it, but how would I answer to Dr. Bailey? I already signed in when I arrived, and the jail time didn’t seem worth it at the time, so I left satisfied. Not only did I get to hold a rocket, but I learned a ton about ATK and what its like to work in the aerospace and defense industry.