Shan Cooper, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Vice President and General Manager, Marietta

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Leading By Example

By Meghan Miranda

Success is one of those intangible words that means something different to each person based on their goals and personal achievements.

For Shan Cooper, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. Vice President and General Manager, Marietta, success is not defined by personal achievements, but rather the impact we have on those around us.

“I believe others define or determine our success,” she says. “We may believe we’re successful, but it’s really the positive impact we have on those around that is the true measure of our personal success.”

“It’s those whose lives we touch who will declare us successful … or not,” Cooper adds.

Overseeing around 6,800 employees at the Marietta, Ga., site and 1,200 more at other facilities, Cooper has a tall order to fill when it comes to achieving success by her definition.

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Leading others has been one of the biggest obstacles she has faced throughout her career, which was predominantly focused in Human Resources until her move to her current operational role.

“Just because you’ve been named the ‘boss,’ doesn’t mean you automatically have the respect of those on your team. You have to earn that,” says Cooper

“In my first job out of college, I learned quickly that you can’t tell grown-ups what to do. You have to earn their respect and involve them in the decision-making process.”

She attributes her leadership development to her father who taught her how to effectively earn respect from employees by making them a part of the planning process and learning from them as well.

With a Masters of Business Administration from Emory University and a Masters in Human Resources from Rutgers, Cooper joined Lockheed Martin in 2002 as part of a diversity management team, of which she was later named VP.

Her involvement with a variety of diversity-focused positions has earned her several honors and awards including the Women of Color in Technology Corporate Responsibility Award.

She was also named one of the Top 100 Under 50 Executives by Diversity MBA Magazine in 2009.

Cooper has one, grown daughter and lives with her husband in Atlanta, where she is involved in a number of local organizations – including the WellStar Board of Trustees and Atlanta Council of the Boy Scouts for America Executive Board.

Read more about her secrets to achieving success and more in PINK’s exclusive interview.


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Little PINK Book: What’s the secret to your professional success?
Shan Cooper: Be inquisitive; don’t be afraid to ask questions; and, never stop learning. Be bold and stretch yourself, too. Always treat others with respect.

My opportunity to serve in the role that I’m in today is an example of how these characteristics have served me well.

I spent many hours studying and preparing – reading, climbing all over airplanes on the production lines, talking with our customers, leaders, employees and subject matter experts.

I try to live by these tenants and they have worked very well for me – personally and professionally.

LPB: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
SC: You can do anything you want to do, but you have to work hard to achieve your goals.

Don’t expect anything to be handed to you; you have to earn it through education, preparation, mentoring, skill, knowledge and performance.

LPB: How would you describe your leadership style?
SC: I try to be as approachable as possible regardless of where my teammates work or what level they are in the company. I enjoy mixing it up with members of our work force and try to visit different areas of the operation every week (we have 6,800 people here in Marietta scattered in buildings over 900 acres).

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It’s amazing what people will tell and ask you if you genuinely care about their input. I learn a lot about what’s going on – what the issues and trends and concerns are – by just walking around the factory talking with our people. If people know you care and will listen, they will be very candid with you.

LPB: What is your biggest weakness as a leader?
SC: Wanting to fix everything, now. Some things are a journey – especially when you are dealing with people and their aspirations, needs and expectations.

We’re a huge, fast-paced, state-of-the-art business. We build the best military aircraft in the world. It’s complicated, dynamic and a continuous learning process.

LPB: What is your biggest weakness as a leader?
SC: Over the years I think I’ve gotten better at this but I’m a bit of a perfectionist. At times, I have a tendency to micromanage.

As a leader, you need to have great people around you. You create a strong team to be able to delegate responsibilities to and then move out of their way.

LPB: What is it about your background that resulted in your choices and success today?
SC: My Mom and Dad – along with my faith – helped shape and support me throughout my life and these influences continue even today.

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My faith is my foundation. Having a Dad as a pastor, I learned this early on. I learned that I can do all things…but only if I recognize that it’s not about me; it’s all about how I can positively impact the lives of others.

I depend completely on God to lead, guide and direct my path. I pray for guidance on every decision in my life.

Integrity is another key learning from my faith. It’s not negotiable!

LPB: What are your best balance tips?
SC: As you might imagine, my calendar is full. I’m usually on the job every morning around 6:30, and the workdays often extend long into my evenings with community events, meetings and emails.

I try very hard to set aside my weekends for my family. I love just hanging out…just being together. My extended family is pretty large, so just visiting is always like a family reunion! We are huge sports fans, especially college football. We also enjoy movies – but, not horror movies.

Setting boundaries and maintaining them is often hard to do, but I think it makes me a more effective leader.

LPB: What is your favorite book or one you’re currently reading?
SC: I recently read “American Icon,” the story of the turnaround for Ford Motor Company. It is an inspiring book and reminded me of the importance of being resilient and focusing on what’s important to the customer and performance!


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LPB: What is one personal goal you haven’t yet achieved?
SC: I want to make sure that I positively touch and change the life of our at-risk youth – to restore a sense of hope in young people I believe has been lost.

We are all products of our environments. So, I want to show these young people that there is a world outside of their day-to-day. Some kids just need exposure to the possibilities.

LPB: Do you have a favorite funny, wise or inspirational quote?
SC: I love the Maya Angelou quote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

LPB: Do you have a favorite funny, wise or inspirational quote?
SC: I don’t think much about my legacy. I try to make a difference in the here and now, every day. I simply try to be the best person I can be, and work hard to bring out the best in those with whom I come in contact. It’s a bit cliché, but I just hope when my work here is done, that I’ve left the world a little better than I found it.

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