Gulfstream Aerospace, a key business unit of General Dynamics, is a name in technologically advanced commercial aircraft. It all started in 1958 with the Grumman Gulfstream 1, and today there are nearly 3,000 commercial jets worldwide. Headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, Cheryl Bunton, the company’s SVP and CIO, joined the manufacturer in 2015 to lead its business technology division, which means she oversees all technology solutions, cybersecurity and digital transformation strategies across the company. This is a unique role she previously held in manufacturing, where if something was sold it would be made and delivered in the next quarter. At Gulfstream, what is sold today may not be available for years. And when an airplane is created, it can be used for 40 years or more. It is a unique manufacturing journey, she says. It takes a long view, requires coordinated teams, and must simultaneously focus on immediate tasks as well as long-term horizons. It also means a deeper understanding of what is important and what is not.
“We need to make sure that we’re not always chasing the next shiny thing and we’re not doing our part around the current digital transformation,” she says. “We have a full plate for the next four years and that’s our focus because otherwise you can get distracted. We need to dedicate our time, resources and transformational leadership to bring about transformation.”
After all, the decisions she makes have ripple effects throughout the organization. “I’m not trying to arm five people,” she says. “I’m trying to equip 5,000.” And despite his passion, Bunton understands that to be an effective leader, it’s important to research people—more than ever—especially those who are new to the job or don’t have an established network of trust with the company. on
“I think we can’t go out for a few more years, so let’s be good people and talk to each other,” she said. “When people are under sustained, long-term, incredible pressure, they see who a good leader is and maybe they need some coaching. But find some humor in the dark times. It’s always there.
CIO Leadership Live host Maryfran Johnson recently interviewed Bunton, who discussed accelerating digital business, layering IT agility, respecting female representation in the C-suite and more. Here are some edited parts of that conversation. Watch the full video below for more insight.
On the digital transformation journey: Everything we do is customer-centric, making sure our customers have a great experience in the aircraft we offer or how they interact with us on our customer support side. We have enough legacy debt, and my team and I will think about how best to do it. How to get from A to B. Because you can’t say, “Give me $100 million in five years and I’ll pay you back in a nice little digital environment.” That’s when we brought in the Agility layer, which is the cockpit, which takes eight different systems and puts them all into a new digital front end so people don’t have to go into all the different systems. It does this very manual work in the background. So instead of printing out lots of paper and writing down all the part numbers and memorizing the work instructions, you can now bring your laptop to the plane being built, see it all there and have the confidence to know it’s right. So when we talk about the efficiency layer, it’s important to understand the underlying technology and how this strategy prepares and improves our shop floor.
In the Business Technology section: I am fortunate to have an extraordinary leadership team that has stuck by me. We like to say that we’ve been inextricably linked in how we’ve built this place since seven years ago. The main thing we want to think about is how we deliver in the future, and make sure everything we do makes sense for the business. Structurally, I have three application groups dedicated to certain parts of the business. One focuses solely on our engineering and innovation teams, all things Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). We have a highly engineered product and about 2,500 engineers that cut across all parts of the business. Then I have a fantastic global infrastructure team. We outsource almost everything, so we manage our environment. The third is my information security cyber team. I am lucky that they have all been with me through the most difficult years.
On Supply Chain Barriers: The challenge now is to find anything: access points, servers. We are accustomed to having security inventory across a variety of different vendors. And our partners have always taken great care of us. We need something and can find it in a day or two. It’s been months now. We had a big thing to do and they gave me a timeline of 42 weeks. We don’t call it weeks at that point; Let’s just say a year. You have to plan with more horizons. I hope it gets better but I don’t think it will for another 18 to 24 months.
In the mix work; If you walk into one of our hangars and see this incredible aircraft being built and see the level of work and dedication that goes into it, the level of quality and detail and the sheer beauty of these things, you’ll appreciate it. Go back to your support work and ask, “What can I do to make this easier and better?” You’re not completely remote because you’re an outsourcer or don’t come to the office. It connects what we do and what it’s like to be on the shop floor and the experience our people have. We started coming back from the pandemic hiatus in June 2020, ahead of many others. It was very foresight because the longer people stay at home full time, the less they want to come back. And I got that. But it is also more than culture. When you’re in manufacturing, when you do something for a living, three-quarters of your company can’t work from home. You can’t build a shelter in your dining room. And you have the “you commute from home to work and I don’t” piece of fairness that needs to be addressed. The other thing is that if you work from home full-time and want to manage people, you won’t be able to get there in your career until you’re at least back in the office.
About female representation: We recently formed a women’s worker support group and I am the executive sponsor. Especially in light of labor challenges, you need more diverse talent than ever before. Oceans of color have flowed about the problems facing women in IT and we have as much as I can, but I want it to be more balanced than it is now. I am very intentional about development for women in my organization. One of our largest business units is run by a woman and my boss, including myself, is very nervous about bringing women into the leadership team. I have spent most of my career being the only woman in the classroom, so I hope it will be very different for the next generation. It’s hard to be that place, and something can be different down the line if we’re intentional about it. We need to share our experiences, ensure opportunities exist and uplift women.