Gulfstream Aerospace, a key business unit of General Dynamics, is a household name in advanced business aircraft technology. It all started with The Grumman Gulfstream I in 1958, and today it has about 3,000 business jets in service worldwide. With the company’s headquarters in Savannah, Georgia, Sheryl Bunton, the company’s SVP and CIO, joined in 2015 to lead the manufacturer’s Business Technology Unit, meaning she oversees all technology solutions, cybersecurity, and strategies of digital transformation across the company. It’s a role that’s unique to other high-level builds he’s had since, if something is going to sell, it’s going to be made and delivered in the next quarter. At Gulfstream, what is sold today may not be delivered for years. And when an airplane is built, it can be used for 40 years or more. It is a unique manufacturing journey, he said, one with a long view that requires cohesive teams that must simultaneously focus on immediate tasks as well as a distant horizon. It also means having a deep understanding of what is necessary and what is not.
“We need to make sure that we are not always chasing the next shiny thing, and not doing our duty around the digital transformation that already exists,” he said. “We have a full plate for the next four years and that is our focus because otherwise, you will be distracted. We need to dedicate our time, resources and change management to get the change done.
After all, the decisions he makes have ramifications for the entire organization. “I’m not trying to feed five people,” he said. “I’m trying to equip 5,000.” And despite a deeply stoic disposition, Bunton understands that to be an effective leader, it’s important to evaluate people—now more than ever—especially those new to their careers or newer. in the company that does not have an established network to rely on. in.
“It’s a strange and difficult time that I think we’re not going to get out of for a few more years, so let’s be good people and check in with each other,” he said. “When people are under, long, incredible pressure, you see who is a good leader, and who needs to teach. But find some humor in dark times. It’s there always.”
CIO Leadership Live host Maryfran Johnson recently interviewed Bunton, where they discussed accelerating digital business, the agility layer of IT, celebrating female representation in the C-suite, and more. Here are some edited excerpts from 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 with the plane delivered or how they interact with us in our customer support side. We have a fair amount of legacy debt, and my team and I are thinking about how to implement well; how to get from A to B. Because you can’t say, “Give me $100 million in five years and I’ll come back to you with a beautiful little digital environment.” That’s what we know in the agility layer, which is basically a cockpit that takes eight different systems and puts them all in a new digital front end so people don’t have to sign in all the different ones. systems. It does this work behind the scenes that used to be very manual. So instead of printing out a bunch of paper and then writing down all the part numbers and remembering the work instructions, you can take your laptop to the manufactured plane, see it all there , and have the confidence to know it’s right. So when we talk about the agility layer, it is important to understand the underlying technology and that this strategy complements and enhances our shop floor.
In the Business Technology Unit: I’m blessed to have an amazing leadership team standing by me. We want to say that we are traumatized by how we built this place, starting seven years ago. One important thing we want to think about is how we deliver going forward, and make sure everything we do makes sense for the business. In terms of structure, I have three application teams dedicated to certain areas of the business. One is just focused on our engineering and innovation in the flight group, all the product lifecycle management (PLM) stuff. We have a highly engineered product and something like 2,500 engineers crossing all the different parts of the business. Then I have an amazing global infrastructure team. We do almost everything insource, so we manage our environment. Third is my information security cyber team. I’m glad they all stuck with me through some tough years.
On supply chain failures: The challenge now is to get anything—access points, servers. We are used to having safety stock from different suppliers. And our partners always take care of us. We might need something and get it within a day or two. Today is the month. There was something big we had to do and they gave me a timeline of 42 weeks. At that point, we don’t call it weeks; let’s just say one year. You need to plan with a wider horizon. I hope it gets better, but I don’t think it will for 18 to 24 months.
In hybrid working: When you go into one of our hangars and see this amazing aircraft being built, and the work that went into it and the level of commitment, quality, and detail, and the sheer beauty of these things, you have an appreciation that you take back to your support work and say, “What can I do to make it easier and better?” You can’t get that from complete remoteness, either because you’re an outsourced employee or you don’t go to the office. That connection to what we do and what it’s like to be on the shop floor, and actually experience what our people are experiencing. We started coming back from pandemic outages in June 2020, much sooner than others. It was a very good view because the taller people are at home full-time, they don’t really want to go back. And I got that. But it’s more than just culture. It’s if you’re in manufacturing, if you’re making things for a living, three-quarters of your organization can’t work from home. You can’t build a landing gear in your dining room. And you have that “You work from home and I don’t,” part of the equity to pay attention to. Another thing is if you work full-time from home and you want to lead people, you won’t get there in your career until you go back to the office even part-time.
On the representation of women: We recently started a women’s employee resource group and I am the executive sponsor. Especially in light of the challenges of working, you need different talent than ever before. There are oceans of ink spilled about the difficulties for women in IT and we have as much as I can find, 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 has been very good about bringing women into the leadership team, myself included. I hope it’s very different for the next generation because I spent most of my career as a woman in the bedroom. That is a difficult area, and something if we intend, can be different from the line. We need to share our experience, make sure opportunities are presented, and lift up women.