Leadership in Action
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Wes Kremer fondly remembers when he witnessed history.
It was a brisk autumn day in November 2020 at Fort Belvoir near Washington, D.C. Kremer, along with the director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and others, watched as a Standard Missile-3, the first program Kremer ever managed, was launched off a naval ship near the Marshall Islands.
The test, conducted by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency and the U.S. Navy, aimed to see if the SM-3 could intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile target – something many thought was impossible.
“We had the opportunity to prove that this could go beyond the capability of what it was designed for,” said Kremer, president of Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
The assembled crowd watched a live video feed from the missile and witnessed it successfully engage the target in space.
“It was spine-tingling,” Kremer said. “To be part of a team like that and see the teamwork coming together to accomplish a mission everyone thought was impossible…it gives a great sense of pride. I was incredibly proud of our entire team.”
Kremer’s pride in his team – and the entire Raytheon organization – is immediately evident when speaking with him. Leading Raytheon Missiles & Defense, he oversees an operation of 30,000 employees across 30 states and 28 countries. Raytheon’s Tucson facility is a small city in itself that’s home to 12,500 employees. The defense giant’s programs include air-, land-, and sea-based capabilities, as well as strategic missile defense systems.
An electrical engineer by training and a U.S. veteran, Kremer came to Raytheon 19 years ago after an 11-year career in the U.S. Air Force. He said he was drawn to the company after witnessing some of the best engineers in the world. “There’s nothing better than being around smart people that challenge you every day,” he said. “That’s what I like most about Raytheon – the passion.”
Kremer has had many roles at Raytheon and served as president of both Raytheon Missile Systems and Integrated Defense Systems. Those two organizations merged in January 2020, becoming Raytheon Missiles & Defense.
Raytheon Missiles & Defense is one of several divisions of Raytheon Technologies, a defense behemoth that employs more than 180,000 around the globe and posted revenues of more than $64 billion in 2020. Other divisions include Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney, and Raytheon Intelligence & Space.
Raytheon’s importance to the region is momentous. The defense powerhouse’s Tucson facility has a $2.6-billion annual economic impact and is Southern Arizona’s largest private employer. The company actively contributes to local workforce development initiatives, particularly in the STEM fields, and its employees give more than 60,000 volunteer hours per year to charitable organizations. Raytheon is – and has been for 70 years – a kingpin of Southern Arizona.
Kremer loves his job and his role at the helm of a defense industry leader. “We have a lot of employees that connect to our mission of being able to protect our warfighters and our allies around the world,” he said. “I find it very fulfilling, and I’m just really proud to be the leader of this great organization.”
Kremer is equally enthusiastic about the capabilities of the combined organizations under his leadership. “We brought together … the premier radar house with the premier missile house,” he said. “We’re able to go from detecting a threat to actually engaging it.”
Kremer is driven by a desire to solve difficult problems. He feels that, with its sheer size and breadth, Raytheon is uniquely suited to identify and solve the biggest challenges facing customers. “Ballistic missile defense technology … was developed right here in Tucson,” he said. “When you think about that legacy, it’s really just a phenomenal organization to be a part of.”
Tucson again is poised to be a leader in an emerging technology: hypersonics. While hypersonic technology has existed for decades, its use in the U.S. defense industry is relatively recent. Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds greater than Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound. Harnessing this technology for defense will lead to shorter response times and greater accuracy. Raytheon’s Tucson facility is at the forefront of hypersonic defense technology.
“We’ve been making significant investments for several years now and those programs are really starting to come to fruition,” Kremer said.
Raytheon enjoys great collaborative relationships with all three Arizona universities, but given its proximity and expertise, the University of Arizona is central to the company’s development of hypersonics. Raytheon even assisted UArizona in obtaining funding for the construction of wind tunnels, which will be used for modeling and testing of hypersonic designs.
Looking ahead five to 10 years, Kremer said he sees several technologies on the horizon, including speed of light weapons, high-powered microwaves and cyber defense. And he sees the need for the latest in high-tech defense systems becoming ever more important.
“The demand for our products is really driven by the threat,” he said. “More so than ups and downs in the economy, it’s driven by the threat posture and, unfortunately, the world is a pretty threatening and pretty dangerous place. Our mission is to deploy superior technology to the U.S. and our allies to deter war.”
Kremer said none of Raytheon’s many accomplishments would be possible without the time and talent of his team. As such, he believes it’s critical as a leader to empower his staff and to foster more diversity.
“I need my frontline leaders, the people that are on site working directly with the customers, [to have] the ability to make decisions in real time,” he said. “In many cases, they’re going to make better decisions.”
He also believes in cultivating diversity. “As a nation, we need our best and brightest, and we know that diversity makes us better, creates better teams and leads to better solutions,” he added.
To that end, Raytheon is active in the community promoting science, technology and math to younger kids and, hopefully, fostering an excitement and passion in them. The company maintains several partnerships focused on workforce development such as the Pima County Workforce Investment Board, the Workforce Arizona Council and the Pima Joint Technical Education District.
In fact, last November, Raytheon pledged $100,000 in support for a namesake event center at JTED Innovative Learning Center @ The Bridges. JTED is a public program that supplements traditional high school studies with vocational and other career training for sophomore, junior and senior-level high school students.
Another tenet of Kremer’s leadership is creating a ‘freedom to fail’ culture. “In the defense industry, though we’re working with leading-edge technologies, there’s an adversity to failure,” he said. “We tend to overengineer things.”
But today’s world moves too fast for the old overengineering mindset, he added. “What we’re seeing today … [are] rising threats from China and Russia,” Kremer said. “We need to go faster and in order to go fast, you have to create a climate where it’s okay to fail, to try something and quickly learn from it.”
Digital engineering is key to fostering this climate. Kremer said the processing capabilities and accuracy of today’s digital models allow engineers to not only visualize, but actually model very complex environments to test their systems. “We see incredible accuracy,” he said. “The high fidelity of these models allows you to move faster by having those failures then quickly recovering and moving on.”
He said that younger staff almost innately have this mindset. “A lot of our earlier career employees grew up in the video game era. If you don’t like the way the game is going, you just hit reset,” Kremer said. “In our younger workforce, there’s already that mentality of fail fast and try again. Part of my job as a leader is to foster those kinds of things in our workforce.”
While he’s extremely proud of Raytheon’s work and the technologies being grown in Tucson, he’s also deeply appreciative of the tremendous support the Southern Arizona community has shown the company. “Being a part of this community gives us an incredible sense of pride. It’s a great place we can all call home.”