‘We are supporting our military and our allies’

Managing design and production of the world’s finest military aircraft is more than a job, explains Shan Cooper, who took over as general manager of Lockheed Martin’s Marietta facility in January.

“We are supporting our military and our allies. People’s lives depend on our work,” she says. “And to me, there is no greater calling.”

Cooper, 43, is the first woman to run the Marietta facility, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The facility employs 8,000 people and operates five aircraft programs — the C-130 Hercules, F-22 Raptor, P-3 Orion, C-5 Galaxy and the F-35 center wing.

A native of Anniston, Ala., Cooper received her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Emory University. Before joining Lockheed Martin, she worked at various Fortune 500 companies, predominantly in the human resources area. She is married and has an adult daughter.

Q: What does the general manager do?

A: I am accountable for ensuring a successful operation. I have four constituents — the customer, the community, the employees and the political delegation. If you want to call me “the integrator” that might be the best way to put it into one word.

Q: What characteristics make a great general manager?

A: First and foremost, you have to be a good listener. You have to be a great communicator; I work on that daily. And I have a passion for what Lockheed Martin does.

Q: Can you speak to that passion?

A: I see us as a company that really is a national asset. We develop aircraft that will serve the war fighter and the country. Keeping focused on why we come to work every day is what keeps me energized.

Q: Is there anything about your job that you don’t like?

A: Not yet, but I’ve only been in it for six months.

Q: What about the political part?

A: That part doesn’t bother me because I am really talking about who we are as a company. That part is easy.

Q: Does being engaged in wars and conflicts affect the company’s workload or is the work pretty steady?

A: It is broader than that. Our customers [U.S. and international militaries] decide their mission and our role is to support their mission. This year for the first time in two decades, our C-130 [Hercules] production has tripled.

Q: Were you in the military?

A: No, but I was surrounded by military. Three of my uncles served in Vietnam and all retired from the Army. My brother is a 20-year Air Force reservist.

Q: Do you like to fly?

A: Yes. I actually had the chance to fly on the C-130J [“Super” Hercules] in March. To be up there on an aircraft we actually build in Marietta was amazing. We were up in the air in seconds. It was such a smooth ride.

Q: How does being a woman influence your job?

A: I haven’t felt that I’ve been treated differently because I am a woman. I make certain that I do my homework and that I really understand the business. Most people can’t argue with that, right?

The Sunday conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at ann.hardie@ymail.com.