The Orlando Regional Chamber presents AWEsome Women in Orlando, a series highlighting the region’s top women executives and innovators whose ideas and companies are changing the world right from our own backyard.

The Orlando Regional Chamber, a core component of the Orlando Economic Partnership, recognized a need in the community to unify resources into a strategically coordinated campaign to propel women forward. All Women Empowered (AWE) is comprised of private, public, and nonprofit partners working to unify our community resources into a strategically coordinated campaign to propel women forward. AWE seeks to amplify stories of women’s initiatives, programs, women in business and women entrepreneurs in the region with a goal of providing resources and programs that equip women with the tools to build the future they envision. 

Be sure to sign up for the Chamber’s weekly newsletter for timely and relevant information to help small businesses and female leaders accelerate growth. You can also find more information on All Women Empowered, including how to add your resource to the women’s business resource directory, here.

This edition features Catherine Ni, director of Advanced Rotary Wing and Ground Systems at Lockheed Martin (LMC). Catherine has held 17 different positions in her 21 years with the company. In her current role, Catherine is responsible for $300 million in revenue, oversees 300 employees, and runs teams in Florida, New York, and Connecticut.

AWEsome Women in Orlando: Catherine Ni, Lockheed Martin

Tell us about your journey with Lockheed Martin

In 21 years, I have held 17 different positions at LMC through rotation programs and stretch assignments. It has been a fast and furious adventure.

Although I graduated with a mechanical engineering degree, I knew that I was better at being a translator then an engineer. I immediately joined LMC’s Operations Leadership Development Program and spent the first third of my career in operations – everything from production supervision, supply chain leadership and quality engineering.

The second third of career was focused on business development (BD) and understanding the customer and strategy development. I spent a few years in international BD selling missiles and sensors in various regions. I also spent time understanding the capture process and being a capture manager on pursuits in our training business, as well as our maritime business.

The last third of my career has really been the sweet spot for me of bringing it all together in program management (PM). I used my international experience to lead the International Apache PM team and was asked to run a large 8-billion-dollar U.S. Special Operations Command capture. When the team won the Special Operations Forces Global Logistics Supports Services program, I was then promoted to run my current Advanced Rotary and Ground Systems (ARWGS) team.

On the ARWGS team, I am responsible for $300 million in revenue, oversee 300 employees, and run teams in Florida, New York, and Connecticut. I have execution responsibility for a sensor program that goes on AH-1Z helicopter for the U.S. Marine Corps. We also make a sensor that goes on Army vehicles for route clearance. This is a sensor on a vehicle that goes out ahead of the soldiers to look for land explosive devices. I also lead a team to develop the mission system solution for the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft, which is the next generation helicopter for the Army. My team of engineers work everything from sensors, weapons, displays and communication for a key Future Vertical Lift (FVL) platform for the Army.

What makes the Orlando ecosystem unique for women in business?

A uniqueness in Orlando is the strength of service-based businesses and how that allows for anyone, women or man, to start a business. An example is that in our neighborhood we have security that watches the gates. When the contract was up, one of the women guards decided to start an LLC and she competed and won the contract. With grit, determination and support, she started her own company and now secures our neighborhood better than anyone in the past.

Who or what has influenced you in your career the most?

How I was raised set the course for my career. I was an only child, raised by a single mother in a low-income household. Since it was just the two of us, I was a part of the decision-making process at an early age. My mom helped me understand how decisions were made and what impacted those decisions. She raised me knowing that my voice was important. She taught me to respect the CEO with same grace as the person taking out your trash. These foundations she taught me really set the course. Once I started at LM, I have had many mentors, male and female, help me along the way.

Why is it important for you to be a member of AWE?

I have been involved with many women’s groups inside Lockheed Martin and initiatives to help women in the company, but I wanted to broaden my reach and knowledge base to outside of our organization. I thought it was important to understand what we are or aren’t doing in the community and identify intersection points for Lockheed Martin.

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How would you describe your leadership style?

As a leader, I use my authentic passion for the work we do to create an energized environment. I help folks individually grow and thrive for the good of our collective mission. I accomplish this by:

  • Tough love – I support my team, but if I am not happy with performance, I let them know right away. I dedicate myself to their improvement.
  • Honesty – I am known to be genuine in all I do
  • Humor – I am a sarcastic Jersey Girl!
  • “Get’er Done” mentality – build a plan, own it and work to complete it
  • Trusting my gut – I like to see data but won’t get into analysis paralysis
  • Staying open to new ideas

If you had to describe to an out-of-town friend what it’s like to live, work, learn and play in Orlando, what would you say?

I always tell my friends that we are more than just Disney. I challenge visitors to venture beyond the resorts and, instead, spend the day at the springs, take a stroll in Winter Park or enjoy one of the many chains of lakes. Of course, we love Disney and can play at any of the theme parks within a moment’s notice. While others plan and save to visit our attractions, we have it all in our backyard. However, it is so much more that keeps us here. I remember my first winter here going swimming on Christmas day, and thinking, “this is the life!” During the pandemic, we have been reminded how blessed we are to have so many outdoor adventures where we can enjoy natural beauty and be safe.

Challenges faced in your career and how you overcame them:

  1. As a woman in a man’s world, I realized that I had to fight to be heard. very early on Many times, I would naturally be talked over by the louder, bolder voices on the team. I learned to be assertive and to continue repeating myself until they listened. The key is to be respectful and impactful with my stage time, not just talk to fill the air. I started connecting with peers and gaining allegiance to my ideas prior to the meeting. I also gained male mentors that championed me in bigger forums.
  2. The second challenge was when I started my family. I was concerned about the impact it would have. I wanted to be a good mom, while also continuing to be a good leader. Most of my peers didn’t have to leave at a certain time to go to carpool or get dinner on the table. They had wives to do that. I was really lucky to have a female mentor, who is now one of our division presidents, offer excellent advice. She told me, “Personal boundaries aren’t limitations. Don’t be afraid to voice what you need to succeed.” I did just that. Since I knew I needed to leave work by 6 p.m. to pick up my children from daycare, I maximized my efficiency during the day. I embodied working smarter, not harder. Anything that wasn’t done, got done while my kids were asleep. The other key to my survival was the art of delegation and setting up efficient teams. These were and are challenges, but I have figured out how to turn them into key areas that set me apart for excelling in comparison to my male counterparts.

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