STEM Woman Leader of the Day- Susan Opp (L-3)
Submitted by Tommy Cornelis on October 5, 2012
Susan D. Opp is Corporate Senior Vice President of L-3 Communications Corporation and President of L-3’s Communication Systems Group, providing a variety of sophisticated communications and encryption products and services forU.S.and foreign military customers.
A talented engineer and inspirational business leader, Susan holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and an MBA from the University of Utah. Her professional passion is inspiring teams to develop product innovations that address unique customer needs and help to save lives in extreme and demanding environments.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
Strong STEM skills are fundamental to succeeding in the international marketplace where the ability to innovate is synonymous with prosperity and global influence. The surest path to economic growth and leadership is by helping our younger generations understand the value of STEM education as early as possible in the education process.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
One of the best things senior leaders can do to support and advance STEM is to use real world examples to demonstrate the opportunities that a STEM education offers to those who are willing to work hard to achieve results. The world will always need problem solvers and the essence of a STEM education is coming up with better ways to advance our society. By inspiring a sense of initiative and ownership among today’s students, senior leaders can play a pivotal role in how well we will solve our problems and make our world a better and more stable place.
What principles do you as a leader apply to your professional and personal life to advance the STEM cause?
First and foremost, leaders need to be good listeners. Understanding what is important to others is the first step on the road to innovation. Also, it is important to encourage the people on your team to challenge conventional wisdom and be willing to take educated risks to do what has not been done before. And don’t forget to lead by example. The best way to get people to do what you want them to do is to show them you are willing to do it yourself. Once you have that level of trust, there is no limit to what you can accomplish as a team.
What can we do to assure more women leaders in STEM?
There is no substitute for hard work. Hard work leads to accomplishment and it’s tough to argue with results. I believe that the most progressive and effective workplaces are those that foster respect – respect for professional ability and respect for performance on the job. STEM is an area where women’s accomplishments can really distinguish them in a working world that has traditionally been male-oriented. Scientific inquiry and ground-breaking research are the result of natural curiosity and persistence, and neither gender has a corner on that market. By rewarding employees for their meaningful contributions, STEM can lead the way in achieving equality in leadership positions.
What is your concept of mentoring and sponsorship of others for STEM careers?
STEM is an area where mentoring and sponsorship can yield measurable results by encouraging students and those entering the workplace to seek out accomplishments they admire and find ways to build on them. Personally, I favor a combination of “official” and “unofficial” mentoring. The official programs that require mentor-mentee relationships often pleasantly surprise those who may not have been initially disposed to working this way. Some of the best working relationships develop when a senior person takes a promising young engineer under his or her wing because they recognize real potential and wish to nurture it. I encourage both because I’ve witnessed the great things that can come of them.
Of what one initiative are you most proud?
I am extremely proud that my colleagues in STEM at the company I lead have put their heads together to come up with innovative products that are doing more than just bringing in revenue or addressing customer needs – they are actually saving lives around the globe. That is certainly not something every company can say. At L-3, we make products that make our warfighters more efficient and safer in protecting our freedom wherever and whenever the threat arises. That is something we all do with pride and humility.