Gena LovettVice President of Operations for BoeingDefense, Space & Security, St. Louis

Gena Lovett
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Gena Lovett

AeroBio tries to provide some texture to the names and faces seen in aerospace. Gena Lovett is a high ranking officer of Boeing with whom you might want to become familiar. Included are a few distinctive aspects of her career, little known details of her life and maybe a few hints about her personality:

  • Volunteerism is a characteristic which she received from her parents and continues to be a major part of her life.
  • Education matters to her.
  • gl66She started her career at a Ford Motor Co. plant and quickly worked her way up. Her next move was to Cleveland based ALCOA where she earned a C-level position.
  • Gena LovettAlcoa won the 2013 Catalyst Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Corporate Equality Award, due to Ms. Lovett’s leadership.
  • Also during her ALCOA tenure director of manufacturing Lovett led the successful turnaround of a historically underperforming operation. Under her direction safety improved almost 80 percent, on-time delivery rose 50 percent, productivity grew 45 percent and employee engagement increased 24 percent.
  • Gena LovettAt Boeing she’s deputy leader of the Boeing Operations Leadership Team (BOLT).
  • Words of wisdom for young women professionals:
    • “’Well-behaved women seldom make history.’ That’s a loaded statement because it doesn’t mean go to an organization and cause trouble, but it does mean dare to be that disruptor.”
    • Family means everything.
  • Gena LovettShe’s an alumna of The Ohio State University and her academic credentials include a Masters in International business.
  • Early to rise—alarm goes off @ 5am and she heads to a workout to help “process the stress.”

Gena Lovett

Executive Biography of Gena Lovett

Gena Lovett

Gena C. Lovett
Vice President, Operations
Defense, Space & Security

Gena Lovett is the vice president of Operations for Defense, Space & Security. Her primary responsibilities include production of all fixed-wing tactical aircraft, tankers, transport aircraft, rotorcraft, satellites and weapon systems. In this role, she integrates work across the core Operations and Integrated Quality functions and coordinates with other functions, including Engineering and Environment, Health and Safety.

Lovett serves as deputy leader of the Boeing Operations Leadership Team (BOLT). The BOLT is responsible for encouraging the use of common metrics, systems and processes, as well as the replication of best practices throughout Boeing.

She has more than 20 years of leadership experience in manufacturing and operations. Before joining Boeing, Lovett was chief diversity officer for Alcoa, where she was responsible for cultivating a work environment that encouraged and supported diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organization. Under her leadership, Alcoa won the 2013 Catalyst Award and the Human Rights Campaign’s 2014 Corporate Equality Award.

Prior to this, as Alcoa’s director of manufacturing Lovett led the successful turnaround of a historically underperforming operation. Under her direction safety improved almost 80 percent, on-time delivery rose 50 percent, productivity grew 45 percent and employee engagement increased 24 percent.

Lovett spent the previous 15 years in progressively demanding manufacturing roles with Ford Motor Co. in Cleveland; Dearborn, Mich.; Chicago; Atlanta; and Allen Park, Mich. Her last assignment at Ford was plant manager of Prototype Operations.

She has a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Ohio State University and a master’s in international business from Baker College’s Center for Graduate Studies.

Gena Lovett

How Gena Lovett Became One of Boeing’s Top Female Executives

Gena Lovett

Lovett opens up about being a power woman in manufacturing

by Courtney Connley Posted: May 4, 2016

(Image: Boeing)

While women represent nearly half of the U.S. labor force, they account for just 27% of the manufacturing workforce.

Holding a unique spot in the industry as an executive with more than 20 years of leadership experience, Gena Lovett found her love for manufacturing early in her career at Ford Motor Co. After 15 years with Ford, the Cleveland native then joined Alcoa as director of manufacturing before transitioning into the role of chief diversity officer.

Now, as vice president of operations for Boeing’s Defense, Space and Security business, Lovett has worked her way to the top of an industry where very few women are present. Joining the aerospace company in August 2015, she is responsible for the production of all fixed-wing tactical aircraft, tankers, transport aircraft, rotorcraft, satellites and weapon systems, and is deputy leader of the Boeing Operations Leadership Team (BOLT).

[RELATED: What One Boeing Executive Says She Does to Achieve Work-Life Balance]

Serving as an executive for a $31 billion company with 53,000 employees, the Ohio State alum makes no apologies for her climb to success in a male-dominated industry.

On average, what does a day in the life of Gena Lovett look like?

I wake up at about 5 or 5:15 a.m. I try to get a workout in, but sometimes I fall off. If I don’t get it in in the morning, then I get try to get it in in the evening. I’ve found over the years that the way I process the inevitable stress is to just exercise. I’m usually in the office around 6:30 a.m. depending on what I have going on. But most recently, it’s been about 7:30 a.m. I have a lot of program reviews and because I have so much to learn, I sit in on those reviews so I can better understand our products. Concurrent with that, I’m working on my strategy and meeting with my managers to see what they have going on with their strategy because we are changing. In order to make sure we continue to be this industrial giant and that we go into the second century not resting on our laurels, you have to bring a lot of people along with that change. So I do a lot of listening. I also help to set the strategic direction because that’s what I’ve been hired to do. So a day can be full of reviews, which require you to pay attention, ask questions and take in a lot.

As a female leader, how do you find the balance between showing you care without coming off as too soft or emotional?

When I first came to the business, there were not a lot of female role models but the ones that were there didn’t have pictures of their children or loved ones or anything that would identify them as woman or human or anyone who may have a soft side. I just figured out some time ago that it just takes too much energy to have all these personalities and the truth is it just got very hard to keep up with all that. My family is a very important reason why I do this. So I’m not afraid now of caring too much. But for as many people who you find who say, “Oh she cares,” I think I can be very demanding and tough, so it’s a balance.

What are some of the challenges you faced while climbing the ranks in manufacturing?

The truth is, a lot of times I’ve walked into an environment where there hasn’t been someone who looked like me, and really more female and not necessarily a person of color. So there is this natural tendency to say, “Hey, can she do it?” My credentials speak for themselves. Very often, males next to me are afforded the benefit of the doubt and I have to prove myself. And I don’t say that as though, “Oh woe is Gena.” Just understand what it is and move past it. For me, when you join an organization, you have to understand where those trouble spots are and then raise your hand to be someone who goes to help with those trouble spots. When you do that, you will amass a reputation for someone who is able to deliver.

Looking back on your journey, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I’ve always been a bit of a free spirit, but my introvert caused me to hold back more than I probably would have. I guess my advice would be, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” That’s a loaded statement because it doesn’t mean go to an organization and cause trouble, but it does mean dare to be that disruptor. 

 Gena Lovett

 Q and A with Cleveland native Gena Lovett, VP at Boeing Defense

Gena Lovett

Gena Lovett is a native Clevelander who grew up on the East Side and attended public schools, Captain Arthur Roth Elementary and then Patrick Henry Middle School. She moved to East Cleveland and graduated from Shaw High School.

Lovett pursued a degree at Ohio State University and later attained a master’s in international business from Baker College’s Center for Graduate Studies. She worked her way up from a job at Ford Motor Co.’s Avon Lake plant to director of manufacturing at Alcoa’s Cleveland Works before serving as Alcoa’s chief diversity officer.

In August, the former Solon resident started a new job in St. Louis as vice president of operations for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. She oversees manufacturing at 20 plants around the world. It’s a $31 billion business with 53,000 employees.

People close to her in Cleveland are celebrating her success and what it means particularly for young people, especially young African-Americans, here.

“She’s a young lady I admire greatly, and every time I think about her I think role model,” said former Cuyahoga Community College President Jerry Sue Thornton, who serves on the board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum with Lovett and tapped her to be on the Tri-C Foundation board. “Young people need folks like her because they need to think about the possible. And she brings the possible.”

Lovett’s mom still lives in their East Cleveland home. Her husband, Sant, is joining her in St. Louis. Her son, Saint Jared, 22, just graduated from DePaul University in Chicago.

We asked her to take some time to answer a few questions about her experiences and her career.

Tell us a little bit about your childhood in Cleveland and the experiences that made you who you are today.

I had a great childhood. I grew up in Cleveland with my dad, mom and two sisters. My dad made dentures for a living and my mom worked for 31 years at Ford Motor Co.’s engine plant in Brook Park. Both had a tremendous work ethic and instilled in us the importance of striving for excellence through performance. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well” was one of mom’s constant reminders.

They also treasured education. They were active participants in our school’s parent programs, especially my dad. I vividly remember his volunteer efforts as a member of the Father’s Club and later the Booster’s Club at Shaw High School in support of my participation in the school band as a high stepper.

Volunteerism, mostly through church outreach, was also important to my parents. They were philanthropists -– not in the sense of bestowing large sums of money because they did not have it to give -– but in sharing what they had through giving, kindheartedness, humanity and compassion. This is what has shaped my strong sense of volunteerism and community involvement. I am proud of the work I was able to lead in the Cleveland community during the past eight years.

Education is the key for success. We’ve heard that a number of times. And still, in Cleveland, half of the children do not attain a high school diploma and many who do graduate aren’t ready for college. What advice can you give young students, particularly those struggling to succeed?

As a child, reading at the library opened my mind to a world beyond what was in front of me. My parents kept me focused on my studies. Today, for whatever reason, the responsibility to educate has been, in large part, abdicated to the schools. So it’s more important than ever to ensure the school curriculum is robust.

All across America we must go into the neighborhoods and schools and mentor these young men and women. This is part of what I loved about my time in Cleveland—I partnered with many organizations and business leaders who are passionate about helping our kids.

My advice for young students is to go the extra mile. Libraries remain wonderful sanctuaries for furthering knowledge. Find out what resources your schools offer. Work with your school guidance counselors, as I did. If you have a mentor, be proactive and thoughtful in how you use the time you are given. Own the relationship and be sure to speak up if you’re not getting what you need from the mentoring association.

How do you use yourself as an example or role model for that?

My education unlocked opportunities and gave me confidence to compete. But it still wasn’t easy selecting a career. I first studied chemical engineering, and then I switched to a different curriculum because I thought I wanted to become an attorney. Ironically, the career path I ultimately chose is heavily engineering focused.

In my mentoring relationships and as a parent, I am candid about my less-than- direct path. We need to instill an appreciation for education in the next generation of workers. We need to ensure it is quality education that is accessible and affordable. My business focus is STEM education. Boeing has abundant amounts of talent.

In an ode to “Girl Power,” I have never seen so many wickedly brilliant, accomplished female STEM colleagues! Even so, there is a need to continue nurturing the internal and external pipeline so that we continue to grow and can confidently pass the baton when others move on. As I transition to this new role, I have made this a priority.

At Alcoa, you served as chief diversity officer. But diversity in the top levels of organizations of all types is still scarce. (Even Boeing, whose executive council is predominantly male and white.) Who needs to take the lead in promoting diversity in business leadership, what is the biggest step that needs to be taken, and when can it ever be said that “diversity” has been achieved?

The lack of diversity on corporate boards, in CEO roles and on corporate executive councils is a well-documented issue across America. I visited Iceland recently and learned that Scandinavian countries such as Norway have adopted laws aimed at achieving gender parity by mandating a required percentage of females (40 percent) on corporate boards. A possible solution would be to expand that requirement to include people of color and to make it a law in the United States, but the reality is this likely will not occur in the United States.

This means leadership at the top has to champion diversity and take the necessary actions to place talented leaders in the top jobs. In many cases, the diverse talent is there; it’s the access for this talent to these roles that is not.

I can definitively say that Boeing is walking the talk. As with anything, there is more work to be done and this is recognized. I am a member of the executive council for Boeing Defense, Space & Security and I am not the lone diverse council member. It was gratifying to join a leadership team and see the progress Boeing has already made in regards to diversity. This company is serious about that mission and recognizes the impact diverse leaders can have.

On your LinkedIn page, you have a fan who has endorsed you for your “elegant reserved manner of managing.” Is that a fair description? How would you describe your management style and what shaped it?

I am introverted by nature, so I suppose some people might perceive me as reserved. But the social interactions, speaking engagements and other requirements of my work forced me to overcome my natural tendencies.

Mutual respect is at the heart of my management style. I have found that fundamentally, we all want the same things. I build teams that I can trust, and work at being fair, transparent and a receptive leader. I deliver on my promises to employees, and I make it a point to give my very best to my team each day. I expect the same in return.

Do you ever yell?

Funny you should ask. I yelled as a driver cut me off this morning on I-64E in
St. Louis, and it felt good.

I am a passionate person and I am human, so yes, I have yelled over the course of my lifetime. In business, in my leadership role, I do not. This doesn’t mean I’ve not been angry or that I’ve not had candid, open and honest dialogue that has led to some tough conversations over the course of my career. Sometimes people and situations can take you there.

When leading and influencing, I have found the best way is through effective communication. Yelling is ultimately counterproductive, destroys the ability to effectively engage and is not my management style.

More than other businesses, manufacturing has a legacy of being male dominated. What drew you to it? And did you feel pressure to prove yourself in ways that a male counterpart might not have?

When I pursued what interested me, the earlier confusion in trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up disappeared. My mom encouraged me to take my first manufacturing job with Ford in Avon Lake, where I supervised 55 hourly employees on the engine truck assembly line. I was the only female supervisor in my organization and of course there was pressure to perform. Sometimes it was downright uncomfortable.

I had a strong constitution and a stubbornness, which enabled me to hang in there and when needed to fight back. I also had terrific sponsors and mentors who provided an outlet. My dad used to say to me that if I wanted to “play with the big dogs,” I needed to come off the porch and get into the fray.

I had to learn my craft and prove I could equal or — in many cases — outperform my male counterparts. So that’s what I did. When I left Ford after 15 years, I joined Alcoa as the first female and first person of color to hold the top job at Cleveland Works since its inception in 1917.

For men, showing up for this type of role is usually enough to gain approval. In my case, I need to demonstrate I can execute. The experience and qualifications listed on my resume is enough to get me in the door, but I still have to show I can actually do the job, add value and be a credible resource. There is no victim mentality here at all, it just is what it is, and I do not allow myself to get hung up on it.

Manufacturing has absorbed blows over the years. We don’t have tens of thousands of people making steel in Cleveland any more, for example. What’s your take on the future of manufacturing?

Manufacturing is the lifeblood of the United States. We gave up a lot of our power when we stopped making things. We must continue working on bringing the sexy back to manufacturing, and I have joined this crusade. Just because there aren’t thousands of steelworkers in Cleveland today does not mean the craft is dying or dead.

What we think of traditionally as manufacturing jobs has been redefined. The jobs our parents’ generation had no longer exist. Products are more sophisticated, and the skill set required to make them is different. We have to get people behind the doors of manufacturing so that they are exposed to the many opportunities such a career presents. I was amazed to learn how many people in Cleveland had never heard of Alcoa and that it has produced products in the Harvard Avenue location since 1917!

Some might be surprised to learn that Ohio is Boeing’s largest supplier. In 2014, we worked with more than 300 businesses in the state, and our supplier/vendor purchases totaled $11.4 billion, supporting an estimated 385,000 direct and indirect jobs in Ohio.

I’m sure quality has been paramount in all of the products you’ve had a hand in making. But at Boeing Defense, Space & Security, the products are relied upon by our troops and by the nation. And you are in charge of the people who make those products. How do you put the magnitude of that work in perspective?

It’s both humbling and a privilege. I was in Arizona just a short time ago viewing some of the products we make. When entering the facility and speaking with our shop floor colleagues, it is obvious how much pride they feel and the care they take building the military airplanes and other products that the men and women in our armed forces depend on to stay safe. I also feel that sense of pride. Numerous Boeing employees are veterans, so they have a kinship with those who serve and their families. Quality is paramount to everything we build. When you think about space and such things as satellites, we have one chance to get it exactly right.

You’re working in St. Louis now. I am sure you brag a lot about Cleveland. What do you tell people about your hometown? And what do people say about Cleveland? If they’re naysayers, to change their mind, what one place would you recommend they visit?

I brag a great deal about Cleveland! It is my hometown and will always have my heart. People have teased me, saying Cleveland is not a top destination. I quote publications like Fodor’s, Travel and Leisure and the New York Times, who famously stated that Cleveland is “a comeback fueled by art, culture and King James.” I also add the quality of our people to the dialog.

Choosing one place to visit would be impossible as there is so much to see and do. I’ll cheat a bit and suggest the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, Cleveland’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Tremont area restaurants and the lakefront, which is now full of goodies.

If you had chosen an entirely different career path, what would you be doing right now?

I’d likely be a tenured professor somewhere teaching either creative writing or history. I would also like to become fluent again in French. In my spare time, I’d make beautiful stained glass pieces. I have toyed with pursuing this after I retire. For now, I am very content to have returned to my “sweet spot,” which most definitely is manufacturing. I have found my dream job at Boeing.

If there is an issue you’d like to expound on for Cleveland readers, one that wasn’t asked here, please feel free.

Family means everything. After years of moving around, being able to come home and tap into the tremendous support system was great. My friends have allowed me to connect in a way that has been life changing. They have provided a safe haven from everyday pressures.

Gena Lovett

Gena Lovett Joins Boeing Defense as Vice President of Operations

Will oversee manufacturing, quality and safety for $31 billion unit.

Led one of Alcoa’s largest plants and was chief diversity officer.

Monday, August 3, 2015

LOUIS, Aug. 3, 2015 – Gena Lovett is joining Boeing [NYSE: BA] as vice president of Operations for Boeing Defense, Space & Security (BDS). She has more than 20 years of leadership experience in both operations and manufacturing.

Lovett will be responsible for manufacturing activities at 20 major installations around the world along with the safety, lean manufacturing, quality, and supplier management initiatives that BDS is pursuing.

“Gena brings a deep understanding of advanced manufacturing that will further our efforts to integrate and adapt new technologies to differentiate BDS from our competitors,” said Chris Chadwick, BDS president and CEO. “Based on her past success turning around underperforming operations, I’m confident of her ability to take our already high-performing team to the next level.”

Lovett succeeds Bill Schnettgoecke, who retired after 36 years with Boeing.

She previously served as Alcoa’s director of manufacturing from 2007 to 2011 and most recently as the company’s chief diversity officer. Prior to that, Lovett held numerous leadership positions at Ford Motor Co. during a 15-year career which culminated as plant manager of Prototype Operations.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Defense, Space & Security is one of the world’s largest defense, space and security businesses specializing in innovative and capabilities-driven customer solutions, and the world’s largest and most versatile manufacturer of military aircraft. Headquartered in St. Louis, Defense, Space & Security is a $31 billion business with 53,000 employees worldwide. Follow us on Twitter: @BoeingDefense.

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