PODCAST: Making a technical contribution to Australia’s defence force – Ian Irving, Northrop Grumman

PODCAST: Making a technical contribution to Australia’s defence force – Ian Irving, Northrop Grumman

In this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast, Northrop Grumman’s Ian Irving reveals how he’ll align the business’ abilities with the Australian government’s initiative to further develop the country's defence force and sovereign capabilities.

“We’re focused on doing things that are really the future of national security,” he explains. “Cyber security, C4I networking, fifth generation communications, unmanned systems and autonomous systems … these are really things that Australia hasnt had available to it in the past.”

Tune in as Irving shares his insight into the ways in which Northrop Grumman can make a technical contribution to the Australian Defence Force, as well as what industry insiders can do to “fly the flag” for defence to garner more interest in the industry at large.

Enjoy the podcast,

The Defence Connect team.

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Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:

Episode 63: PODCAST: The art of influence, Nicole Matejic, Info Ops HQ
Episode 62: PODCAST: The industrial dating service, Peter Webster, Industry Capability Network NSW
Episode 61: PODCAST: Expanding UK business interests in Australian defence industry, Stephen Phipson CBE, DIT DSO
Episode 60: PODCAST: Defending the defence industry, Daniel Mendoza-Jones, Mendoza Legal and Consulting founder
Episode 59: PODCAST: Making industry a fundamental input to capability, Andrew Garth, general manager, CDIC
Episode 58: PODCAST: The shifting sands of AIC, Lee Stanley, Daronmont Technologies
Episode 57: PODCAST: Fostering the future of defence industry, Margot Forster, Defence Teaming Centre CEO
Episode 56: PODCAST: Propelling Defence through advanced automation – Andrew Seal, Siemens head of defence and marine solutions
Episode 55: PODCAST: Exports key to the future of Australia’s defence industry, Richard Marles, opposition spokesman for defence
Episode 54: PODCAST: Mining boom to defence boom – Minister Paul Papalia, WA’s Defence Issues Minister

Full transcript

Phil: G’day, everyone. It's Phil Tarrant here. I'm the host of the Defence Connect Podcast. Thanks for joining us today. Kind of an interesting chat around the world of primes today and the connectivity of the market, but I think more so the connectivity with the growing development of our local industry here, leveraging some international capabilities to truly deliver some national security outcomes into the years ahead and equipping our warfighters with what they need to deliver what our government requires.

In the studio today I have the chief executive of Northrop Grumman Australia, Ian Irving. Ian, how are you going?

Ian: It's a pleasure to be here, Phil.

Phil: Good to have you, mate. I'd been wanting you in the studio for a little while now. I've been watching with interest a lot of the stories that we've been producing around Northrop Grumman and your ongoing current focus. You've been in your role now for just over four years, I believe?

Ian: Yeah, just four years actually. Just coming up on my anniversary in July. Just on four years.

Phil: How's it been? All right?

Ian: Oh, it's been great. It's been a great ride. I was busy running my own company and I was asked my Northrop to set up Northrop Grumman Australia and I've really enjoyed it. It's kind of the dream opportunity to start a company like this almost from scratch in Australia with the backing of a global prime like Northrop Grumman.

Phil: You've covered a lot of ground pretty quickly. What's sort of been the key milestones for you with four years now in the job?

Ian: Yeah. We started really, I guess, just before I arrived, five years ago with about five people in Australia.

Phil: There's only five was there?

Ian: Yeah, only five. We'd been supplying, really selling equipment to the Australian market for many year, about 20 years. But from that period now to being over 550 people in Australia with contracts, winning our own rights, has been a really pleasing achievement, I think, for our team to really take ourselves from a player that nobody even really knew our name four years ago to one of the fastest-growing defence primes in the country, with what we would consider very, very good prospects to contribute to Australia's national security over the coming couple of decades.

Phil: Can you talk me through the decision within the US to say, "Hang on a second, there's this place called Australia down south across the Pacific. We've got five people there now selling equipment. Let's actually invest in building a sizeable business here." What was the logic or the rationale for it?

Ian: Great question, Phil. Our CEO, Wes Bush, decided that Northrop was such a very a successful big domestic defence industry prime and really needing to globalise, really needing to become an international player. We identified a number of focus countries around the world where we've got good linkage with the United States. Where our portfolio resonates with the national security needs. Australia was one of those. UK and Europe, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Japan and Korea, and Australia. We decided that we really needed to respond to what our customers were asking of us and that was to not just be able to supply the tremendous portfolio that we have available to us but also then become part of the industry fabric of those countries, to provide not just systems into the warfighters but provide an industrial solution, industrial capability and national security outcomes for the country. A completely different approach than we had in the past. I think it really resonates with what our current government is saying about developing local defence industry and being able to establish sovereign capabilities through the investment that's coming into these military platforms.

Phil: How much of the decision to build a presence down here was driven by obvious investment moving ahead? Obviously some big programmes underway in Australia or coming up right now. The government's channelling huge investment into defence industry, defence infrastructure. Chicken and egg type story, right? Did you say, "Let's get down into Australia and let's start building presence there?" Or, "Hang on a second, there's a big opportunity here. We need to get down there."

Ian: Well, we really looked at the overall market dynamics. The important linkage between Australia and the United States, the alliance considerations and the opportunity to provide our portfolio into the Australian market and the ADF particularly. A lot of our portfolio is quite sensitive and so it's not exportable everywhere. Most of it is accessible to Australia, which is great.

Also, the growing market in expenditure and defence systems that we could see coming that's now come with the new defence industry plan and the new white paper. Really settle the market conditions. It was a very good opportunity for us to invest where we would be able to make a great contribution. I think that's bearing out. I think our success over the last four years is on the right trajectory and we see the similar kind of growth going forward and our ability to really be in a position, I think, to supply some of the things that Australia's really needing in the next two decades. We're focused on establishing capabilities and doing things that are really the future of national security. Cyber security, C4I networking, fifth generation communications, unmanned systems and autonomous systems, where these are really things that Australia hasn't had available to it in the past. What we want to do is access our US portfolio and establish local competence in Australians to take those programmes forward.

Phil: When you look at defence industry, today's competitor is tomorrow's collaborator. What do you think the boardrooms globally with other defence primes but also here locally in Australia, what do you think they were all saying when they knew of Northrop's plan to make a big mark down here in Australia. You think you ruffled some feathers?

Ian: Well, I guess some might not have been too pleased about that. We've certainly got a tremendous presence in the United States and we'd like to have a similar presence here in Australia and be a top tier provider. I think overall we work collaboratively and competitively with our competitor-mates as we would call them. The market here in Australia is such that I think tall industry's going to be challenged to keep up with the potential demand for jobs and demand for skills that's going to come over this next decade. I think personally there's more than enough work for all of the big players and the things that we bring, were often partnered with the platform suppliers. Oftentimes we're providing the system that's hosted on an air platform or a land or sea platform. We tend to work very collaboratively with all of our industry partners there if you'd like. Maybe more so than others because oftentimes we are a second tier player, providing systems that are packaged into another platform.

Phil: Talk me through the strategy for the next three to five years for Northrop Grumman Australia. When you committed to your role, five people. Now you mentioned 500 plus.

Ian: Yeah. Over 500.

Phil: 500 plus. Obviously you're growing organically but also through acquisition. You made some acquisitions early on in that period. What's the strategy moving forward? Much of the same or are you still doing the acquisition path or it's got to be more of an organic way?

Ian: Well, we've moved ... It's a bit of both. You're right, we have grown significantly through those acquisitions of M5 Network Security and QANTAS Defence Services that really got us started, got us a good base underneath us with some programmes that were running well. We've assimilated those two organisations into Northrop Grumman Australia we're now winning work in our own right. We recently succeed with JP 2008, the east coast satcom network management system and we've got other prospects going forward. Triton Air 7000 probably the largest amongst those that will allow us to continue to grow our capability with the reachback from North America that we would be seeking to invest in in those programmes. We're still keeping an eye on acquisition but most of our growth now will be winning programmes and investing in ourselves.

We recently made an announcement, you'd be aware Phil, of $50,000,000 worth of investment around establishing an air electronics repair capability at Badgerys Creek in western Sydney. That's all about transitioning some of the things that we would like to have to be doing locally in Australia, supporting the ADF more locally. Helping them keep their supply chains short and their costs down in terms of sustainment.

Phil: I'm sure you're not going to give too much away but keeping your eye on the prize with 195 billion to be invested over 10 years. Anything you particularly like at the moment? Anything that you're gearing up for some of these projects coming online?

Ian: We're very excited about not just the amount of expenditure but the kind of expenditure and the kind of capability that Australia's generating. We really do see the ADF moving almost as a first mover into this integrated fifth generation force. The advent of programmes like Triton, like the F-35 and these aircraft arriving in Australia and the P8 and Wedgetail providing the opportunity for ... And Land 400 in fact in the land domain and then these future frigates, allowing Australia to really have a very integrated approach to the future development of a joint force.

This is not something that we have an exemplar around the world where we're actually as a country moving on the very front edge of that. Something we need to do. We need to have that interconnectivity. The ability to move information around that network, improve decision-making for the folks that are in that battlefield. It's very exciting for us because we do a lot, that's kind of what we do in spades in the United States. C4I capabilities, analytics, networking, and advanced sensors. We're very excited about those opportunities and the technical contribution that we can make into Australia into the future that I think will be a very important part of our national security for people, from a cyber-domain on your desktop right through to somebody in a foxhole with a radio trying to get advanced information through a network that's now deployed into the battlefield.

Phil: You're talking about the exchange of the technology from the US to Australia, right now which has a lot of prospects, but let's talk about people. You've grown a business from five to 500 plus in four years and that comes with a certain amount of headaches no doubt in terms of transition of acquisitions and giving the culture which I imagine that transcends out of the US. How are you going with doing business in Australia with a US parent?

Ian: Yeah, that's a great question, Phil. Yeah. We've really as a company been learning how to be a global player. As I said, when our CEO decided to launch this international approach we weren't that familiar with how to actually be a local contributor in these focused countries. So we've been learning how to do that effectively. We've been establishing the connections and the backbones of the company that allow us to operate effectively as an international player. There's been some interesting lessons through the years on how that's evolved.

Phil: Anything to share? Any particular rub points -

Ian: Well, as always we've hired a bunch of local Australians that we think we know how to do business here in Australia and not using the US model and the US approach all the time is something that we've got to adjust. Our company's very familiar with how we do business in the United States and just tuning that and adjusting that to how our local customer wants to receive information and do business is a constant education process for many of our US colleagues. But it's been a very positive opportunity for us to learn how to improve our business in that respect. That's an ongoing process. Big company. We've got 65,000 people so there's a lot to talk to and a lot to get exposed to that.

Phil: How much of your role is massaging that cultural fit? To actually get the best out of the US but I guess you're pretty much a translator, right? Because you've got to be [inaudible 00:11:47] between that and the way business is done here in Australia?

Ian: Yeah. Yeah. What we're doing is we've got this tremendous technical competence that we can access from the United States and really coupling those technical experts with locals that understand the way the ADF operates, understand how we need to do business here in Australia, and understands how those systems need to applied in the context of a force that's a lot smaller than, say, the US Navy or the US Air Force or the US Army. It's really bringing together those two knowledge bases and creating an environment where we're being very responsive to what our customer needs and able to access those huge repositories of technology and competence that we can gather from our teams in the United States.

There's always an element for us of government to government engagements. Well, a lot of the systems that we've built for the United States are restricted and require government engagement with Australia in order to export them. So it's quite a sophisticated and complex arrangement in order to present those appropriately and get them implemented in the context it's going to be useful for the ADF.

Phil: From what I understand about your career you're an engineer by background, straight out of a graduate programme into defence industry and now heading up Northrop Grumman. It's a good story. A lot of people take a different career path in defence. They might be ex-services and that provides its own set of challenges but also its own sort of advantages as well. How are you going building a business mixing traditional engineers and tech people with people coming out of service? Are you finding good people coming out of Air Force, Navy, etc.?

Ian: Yeah. I'm a little bit unusual. People always say to me, "Have you been in the services?" I came straight out of university, straight out of engineering school into the defence world in the Collins Programme, Collins Submarine Programme. What we're looking to do is we love to have our ex-service men and women working in Northrop Grumman. They bring a tremendous set of experience from their experience in the ADF. They're great leaders, they're great team players, and they have that knowledge of the application of the systems that we're looking to contribute to. We're also very keen to get great graduates out of the university system who have deep levelled skills in the engineering disciplines and science disciplines that we're looking at and really bringing those two things together. For me and my background is from that world, from the engineering world, where I think we've got a great opportunity to engage with the universities locally and provide what I think is some tremendous career paths for kids coming out of those science schools and engineering schools.

I've been the recipient and beneficiary of a great set of opportunities over my career and I wouldn't ... Being an engineer I wouldn't choose another discipline to work in in Australia because you really get to design and work on these tremendously exciting programmes that I can't think of another sector where you would get the same kind of experiences.

Phil: Was that by accident you ended up on Collins or did you say, "No, I want to go into defence"? Tell us the story.

Ian: Well, yeah. I guess when you're 22 years old almost everything's an accident to some extent. I had the opportunity of doing my industry training with the Navy. You've got to do three months of industrial training as your engineering degree. Navy had a programme at that stage, didn't get me to join the Navy but got me quite interested in defence systems. Back in 1997 we didn't have a defence industry and Collins programme was getting started. The ANZAC programme was getting started. John was just kind of getting its feet and these US companies were coming down to Australia looking for a workforce to hire and there wasn't one. Myself and a few of my mates were hired out of university straight into these programmes, so I didn't really have necessarily a direction there but working for an international US firm at that stage was very exciting.

Phil: Yeah.

Ian: And got to work on one of Australia's most challenging programmes at the time, the Collins submarine programme.

Phil: Beauty of sliding doors, right?

Ian: Exactly.

Phil: You've got to take the opportunities when they pop up in front of you.

Ian: Yeah, that's true. One of the things that was great for me at that stage was the mentoring that that provided me in terms of being able to work with a bunch of what we called at the time gray-beard Americans with huge experience that really mentored us, younger 22, 24, 25 year-olds at that stage on this tremendous engineering challenge for which I have a lot of scars.

Phil: That's good. When you look at our undergraduates today, and there's a lot of people out there trying to influence them into a whole bunch of different industry sectors. Banking, finance, fintech. There's numerous ... What do you think defence industry can do to fly the flag for this particular marketplace and actually influence, persuade graduates to be considering this? Because let's be honest, the outcome of these projects are only as good as the people individual in it so we want the absolutely best in defence. How do we do it?

Ian: You're absolutely right. We've been working a lot with the universities ourselves as a company to be able to explain to the undergraduates the career opportunities and the excitement that you can get working on these programmes and the great career development opportunities at a company like ours can offer. I think we can all do more in that regard. I think generally across the country there's not a deep appreciation of the opportunity space that these defence programmes can give. It's absolutely vital to our industry to be able to access those pipelines of students and if we are going to deliver on the 195 billion of expenditure we have to suck in to this industry the best and brightest minds and have them contribute to these successes in the future. We've got to get on the front foot as industry and get out there on the campuses and show the undergraduates and the post-graduates the potential and the opportunities that a career in a national security can provide. Career in defence engineering can provide and get them excited.

We've even been working with the school sector. We're doing outreach in STEM, science, engineering, technology, and maths, to get kids interested in technology. To get kids interested in maths so we can increase the gene pool if you'd like, for the betterment of all our companies in our sector. A lot of those kids won't come work for us necessarily but if they're coming into this sector that's goodness for all of us.

Phil: What are you doing at the research level? One of the great assets we have as a nation is some smart people in universities doing some very interesting things but to be able to take that and commercialise it and get it to market is a big challenge. What's Northrop doing to help facilitate that?

Ian: We're very encouraged by the recent announcements that Minister Pines made around this university engagement and the programmes between the United States and Australia for the university sector. We've been engaging with a number of our key university partners on undergraduate programmes. We've got scholarships in place and we're now starting to look at collaborative research and we've got a couple of programmes going in Australia and we've actually got our technology director coming out to Australia to actually start up a number of specific programmes in the latter part of this year. I think it really is important that we do engage with the university sector. It's been a sector that's not been well-connected with defence industry in the past. There's tremendous potential there and our ability to engage with that sector, to do that collaborative research that can then get turned into product and can then get turned into system solutions I think is imperative.

I think the DSTG has been doing a great job. Alex Zelinksy at the DSTG has been leading that really over the last four years and I think doing a great job getting DSTG engaged with the university sector and industry needs to do that as well. On our own right each company engaging where they can with those great schools within the university sector.

Phil: I think it's very clear the need to engage all levels of academia to provide the talent in the future but going back to services. Defence industry is an obvious career path for many people. An attractive career path. Both financially and also for longevity. What is it with Northrop and I imagine primes are quite similar in regards but there's probably some differences. What do you look for in service people? So we have a lot of people within senior levels of service who listen to the podcast. How do you make yourself most attractive? You're going to get a job poster, post your time in the ADF?

Ian: That's a great question, Phil. I think for those that are in the services we've got a policy. We don't want to poach from our customers. We want to have strong services but we can be a repository for people when they want to leave their national service and come and work in an organisation. We can be a repository for keeping that talent within the national security domain. It is a transition from being in the Army, Navy, or Air Force to industry. It's a very different management culture and so I'd recommend for those that are thinking of making that transition, have a think about really where you want to drive your career. Have a think about taking a step that allows you to get into that business management culture in a way that you've still got your underpinning skills that are supporting you so you don't change everything at once.

We really value our service men and women that have come into our company. They bring great skills. They bring great teamwork and one of the great things, I think, is their leadership potential as well. We really value that. We've got a great engagement with Solder On that looks after veterans and the opportunity to provide career opportunities. We're a foundation sponsor of the Hand Up programme which is specifically aimed at finding career paths for people leaving the services. We want to be one of those companies that, I guess, an environment that's very accommodating for people leaving the services because we really value their contribution. But it is a very different management culture and people need to be able to adjust to that. We don't have as many staff that might be available that you can put trips to task, if you'd like. We've got to do a lot more ourselves. We're a lean organisation but we're doing a lot of exciting things. The value that the service men and women bring in terms of their understanding of the application of the systems that we're delivering is invaluable for us.

Phil: The experience I've had chatting with people who've made the transition from services to a corporate environment, some of them absolutely excel in it and some of them absolutely fail at it. You talk about leadership. Leadership's an important thing. Something I think a lot about. Leadership is something which is, you might not be a manager but you can always be a leader so that right mindset to transition into a corporate environment. What I'm quite interested in terms of your role in leadership, so you're driving the child of a large organisation which is looking for quite ambitions growth in industry and marketplace. You have some talented people underneath you who are engineers and all and sundry and also service people. What's your leadership challenges in terms of steering this ship moving forward? What keeps you awake at night?

Ian: Well, it is all about the people as you said before, Phil. Great companies are made from great people that can work collaboratively in teams. I was actually at one of our leadership forums yesterday and I was talking to the leaders about the fact that it's hard to grow a company. It's easy to shrink and I've been in those modes as well. It's hard to grow a company because you need the grow the people at the same time. As we're adding maybe two, three, four hundred people into the company over the coming years we've got to grow our own leadership capabilities and grow ourselves at the same time. That places a great opportunity on our leaders to kind of rise up and grow with that growth, but it's also an obligation on us to be able to bring those new people into an environment that's healthy and stable and growing.

One of the things that really challenges us is being able to start these programmes well, being able to build the capabilities and build that leadership framework all at the same time. We're not in a stable environment. I often talk to my US colleagues who are in a very stable environment where they win programmes and they've got teams established and things are a little bit more static. We're actually growing an enterprise at the same time as looking to execute these programmes. It's incredibly exciting. It's exactly what I love doing. But it is reliant on growing our leaders at the same time and bringing in new people into that environment.

Phil: What frustrates you the most in terms of your role and being a leader or leading leaders?

Ian: As with anything leadership, it's leadership by influence. My role, I'm not in control of the big sectors in the United States, so we're there to collaborate and manage and lead by influence. That requires a lot of coordination. There's a lot of moving parts. It's very exciting to be doing that but it's not a command and control environment. We're really working in teams and collaborating. That's also a challenge but it's also very exciting in that opportunity.

Phil: I bet you it is.

Ian: We see across the whole breadth of what our company's doing, a huge company and lots of people, very deep specialists in lots of areas and we've got the benefit in Australia of seeing a sliver across that whole breadth of what we're doing so it requires us to be quite broad in our ability to understand our technology and connect that with our local customers.

Phil: I'm sure your response to this next question's going to be, "It depends," but talk me through an average day for you? What's it look like?

Ian: An average day for me, it's pretty high tempo because we're a US-based organisation starts with early phone calls, typically. I tend to try not to do them before about 6:30 in the morning but we start with a number of phone calls because that's when we can really engage with the teams in the United States. For me it's very, very ... Our headquarters is in Canberra so I'm often there but I'm travelling a lot as well. Do a lot of travel to the United States and my role requires a lot of engagement with our local stakeholders and customers but a lot of engagement with our stakeholders inside the company as well and connecting those two is really our role. A lot of travel to the US. A lot of travel locally. Early phone calls. Lots of meetings, both around how are we attacking these new opportunities, how are we building the organisation?

A lot of very, very enjoyable engagement with our customers. One of the things I really love about this role is we're dealing with real people. We're supplying things that make a difference to real people and we've got real customers with real names. It's a very connected business which I really love.

Phil: That's good. You started your career on the Collins as a young graduate. '87. Now 2017. It's a little bit longer than that.

Ian: A few more grey hairs.

Phil: A few more grey hairs. You're doing all right. I think I'm worse than you. '87, watershed time for the white paper then. 2016, a new white paper. What's your views on these two pillars, I guess, or bookends of your career right now, right? Same difference?

Ian: It is, it's interesting to cast our mind back to those times. I remember as I said that the country was building a defence industry, didn't have one at that stage. Tremendous investment through Kim Beazley's initiative and the Collins programme and the ANZAC programme and establishing an industry. The AII programme, Australian Industry Involvement programme, which was mandating local content at that stage to build the local industry base. I feel that it's important to reflect back on that time now with this new increase in expenditure and a clear focus by the government, which I really applaud, to develop local defence capability in the industry. We need to learn some of the lessons from the nineties where we built an industrial capability but we really didn't sustain it and it ebbed away and it cost us a lot of money to establish that and we're really, in a sense, re-establishing some of that. I think there are some lessons there for us to learn as a nation that we really want to build this for the future sustainably so that we build this industry capability and we then utilise it effectively into the future.

I think in the nineties in a way as a country we built this defence industry and then mid-nineties said, "Oh, Gosh. What do we do with it now?" We need to not have that problem this time around. I think the other opportunity we must take is with this 197 billion of investment I to ensure that we get some flow through to the advanced manufacturing economy as well, such that the companies that are winning this defence work have also got opportunities outside of the defence sector into the general engineering sector so that that builds strength into the economy as well. I think it would be a shame if we didn't take that opportunity for this significant expenditure and get a broader economic benefit as well as the very important national security benefit of that.

Phil: Chris Pine came out recently talking about the changing of how procurement process would happen. One of those key tenets of that was SME engagement. Making sure we get good local content. It's a very attractive market right now for SMEs, but there's a lot of frustrations dealing with defence and we chat about it a lot on the defence connect podcast. For those SMEs who are looking to build a relationship with you guys or being an attraction business, are you going to be more likely to consider them as a partner in projects moving forward? What do they need to do to be attractive for you guys?

Ian: Well, I think we've got a great level of dialogue with a lot of the SMEs. We've had some good success with a small number of them that have succeed with programmes. Quickstep for example, we always love to hold up Quickstep. Fantastic company. Has had tremendous success with us on the F-35 programme, building composite doors and panels and will continue to win work in that regard. Electrotech, our partner on naval systems as well and a number of others who have ... Rockwell Collins and others on the F-35 programme. We're learning as a company how to do these, too. Connecting SMEs with our global supply chain. Ensuring that they can be competitive into our international programmes. I think there's still some work to do as a country and as a company in terms of ensuring that that access can be facilitated from the start. Oftentimes when we look at the opportunity there's tooling and setup costs that make it hard for some of the SMEs to actually take that step and access the programme.

We have been having a discussion with some of our SME colleagues and with the government around how do we deal with that? How do we provide that access so that those setup costs are not an impediment and a barrier to what is an otherwise very competitive offering?

For the SMEs themselves to be attractive to us we've got a partnering programme, if you like, where we're trying to ensure that the SMEs can understand our very complex procedures and processes in order to select these partners and we are a big company and we do have a bit of bureaucracy there. They need to understand how to line that up and be able to just be attractive and be in that selection process. We've been very pleased with the globally competitive nature of the SMEs in Australia. The ones that we've dealt with have   demonstrated without doubt that they can compete on a global scale. That's not for all of them. Some of them have achieved that. Others have found that quite difficult and they probably have exited the arena. But it's still something we've got to work on where we're not happy with the level that we've got in terms of SME engagement in our global programmes today and that's one of the things I'm pushing very, very hard. I'm very fortunate.

I've got very good support from our chief operating officer to really dig into that in the next 12 months and get some great solutions for local industry.

Phil: Behind closed doors obviously the government's putting these policy decisions in place saying, "Hey, use SMEs." When you're chatting with people in Canberra or wherever geographically they're located from government and they're saying, "Ian, we've got to get more SMEs," is it a real close up focus of the government outside of just policy decisions? Do they really want a champion?

Ian: It's really champion. The global supply chain programme, we really applaud that. I think it's something that we should be doing and really actively engaging in and we've signed a global supply chain contract deed and I'm very committed to pushing that very hard and getting those solutions. I know that the minister is very passionate about this. The Australian industry capability framework and the global supply chain framework really work closely together.

What we're really looking for is some SME partners that we can go with, if you like, on our local proposals and can also be integrated into our global supply chain programmes so that we get to know them. We know their reliability. We know their quality. We know that they can perform and they perform for us on their local programmes and they've also got access to our global programmes. I'm really hopeful that through some of the contracts we're going to win in Australia we will develop solutions with our SMEs that we can take to the global market. And there's a couple that I've got in mind right now. I won't mention them but I do think there's great opportunity for us to design something here for the ADF that we can pick up effectively with our local partners and offer that in another market in either in the United States or in one of our other partner countries at another means of accessing global supply. We want to use all those levers together really as a team.

Phil: I'm going to have to wind up, mate, but I just want to finish on your recent investment. 50 million announced into western Sydney, particularly Badgerys Creek. What's the play for that, mate? How's that resonated the people ... You're one of the early guys who have come out saying, "Hey, look. This is a hub that we want to involved. We're here to support it." How's it gone?

Ian: It really makes sense for us. We want to establish. We got this $50 million investment in electronics repair capability. We wanted that to be in a location that made sense from a supply chain point of view, from the point of view of having great workforce availability. University proximity. And that new defence industry precinct and the university precinct out there at Badgerys Creek that's being developed just seemed perfect for us to be able to do that. We stepped up and we said we'll be a foundation tenant at that location. Personally I'm very pleased to see the government moving forward with the Badgerys Creek initiative. I think it's an extremely exciting programme for the national and not just for Sydney but for the whole national.

We wanted to be a part of that as a ground floor tenant, if you like, to get that advantage. The exciting things about that precinct, the university campus that'll be out there and the workforce that will generate from that in a green field site. You don't often get a chance to do that. We're starting with our investment. It'll start at Richmond as we're building up this electronics repair capability. We want that to be a growing hub for us in the greater Sydney area. Some of our project work and some of our other sustainment work will probably hub out of that facility as well. It will be on a growth path. It starts small but it will start to become what we would consider to be one of our key facilities in the country.

Phil: That's good. I'm going to have to wind up, Ian. But before we go you've been in this game for a while now from a young graduate to now leading the charge within Northrop Grumman. What would be your message to defence industry considering the state of play right now?

Ian: I think it's a tremendously exciting time and that brings with it both opportunity and responsibility. We have to succeed with what we're doing. We've got to be very professional. We have to match the government's commitment to these programmes coming through. That's going to stretch industry. We need to bring the talent involved onboard at the right time and we need to work cohesively together. I think there's an awful lot of work out there that's required and, as I said before, I think it's all about establishing an ongoing, sustainable defence enterprise in this country that can be the foundation of Australia's national security for the future. Great opportunity. We've got to perform and it's a very exciting time for us. Probably as good as I've seen it in this industry.

Phil: That's good. Keep connected. Let us know what you're up to. I know you're personally very passionate about developing this industry and as a company as well, from what I've seen thus far your growth path's been impressive and there's obviously a lot more your come.

Ian: Yeah, thanks Phil. It's been a real pleasure talking to you.

Phil: It's fun. Remember to check out defenceconnect.com.au for daily news, market intelligence around defence industry. Make sure you subscribe to the newsletter – defenceconnect.com.au/subscribe. We're on all the social channels. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. If you'd like to follow me on Twitter @philliptarrant. That's it for us. Please keep those reviews coming on iTunes as well. We do appreciate them. We do read them and they are something that we like to see. We're looking to continue to grow and evolve this podcast. If you'd like to be involved or to come into the show, email the team editor at defenceconnect.com.au. We'll be back again next week. Until then we'll see you later. Bye-bye.

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