May 26, 2014

Pratt succession plans rely on engineers, experience

Photo | Pablo Robles
Photo | Pablo Robles
(Left) Pratt President Paul Adams shows visitors around the company’s engine showroom. (Above) Pratt employees (clockwise from top left) Joseph Sylvestro, VP of manufacturing operations; Mary Anne Cannon, VP of quality, environment, health, and safety; Dave Smith, director of quality, environment, health, and safety; and Jill Albertelli, vice president of global supply chain.
HBJ Photos | Brad Kane

In the five months since Paul Adams took over as president of East Hartford aerospace manufacturer Pratt and Whitney, he said he has encountered exactly zero surprises.

Strong succession planning from Pratt's parent United Technologies Corp. and the company's reliance on engineers for top management positions made Adams' transition from chief operating officer to president smooth and efficient, he said.

"UTC is a very conservative company with very strong planning for its executives," Adams said. The smooth transition "is the result of a long-term talent process."

Pratt's upper management consists of a number of employees who have been groomed in the same manner as Adams to take over key leadership positions within UTC.

The process typically starts with a long-term employee — at Pratt, an engineer more often than not — who is moved into various roles within the company to gain experience in a broad range of departments.

Jill Albertelli, Pratt's global supply chain vice president, started with the company 23 years ago as a manufacturing engineer. First, she worked in military engines, and then spent some time working in the aftermarket division before landing in supply chain management five years ago.

"Supply chain is a little bit of everything," Albertelli said.

Joseph Sylvestro, vice president of Pratt's manufacturing operations, began his UTC career 29 years ago after getting his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Hartford. He started off in commercial engines, spent some time in the aftermarket and quality divisions, and even worked at Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne before it was sold in 2013.

"When you talk executive leaders, the company rotates us around," through different divisions, Sylvestro said. Working in the quality division "gave me good experience to be closer to the customer."

Adams himself bounced around between commercial and military engines divisions before ascending to senior vice president for operations and engineering, COO and finally to president. He started his career as an aerospace engineer working for Williams International in Michigan before joining Pratt in 1999.

"I'm only in my 15th year," Adams said. "I may be the odd one out."

Of the 15 top executives at Pratt, eight have engineering backgrounds. Executive titles held by non-engineers are typically reserved for people with specialty degrees: the chief financial officer has an accounting background, the general counsel has a law degree, and the human resources vice president has a master's degree in HR.

The use of engineers as executives stems from Pratt's need to be extremely product-focused in a very technical field, Adams said.

"You need strong product knowledge," Adams said. "We have historical luck in that once people get into the engine business, they really like to stay."

Much of Pratt's planned revenue and profit growth is based on the introduction of new technology like the PurePower engine line for the commercial airline industry, Adams said. To keep the company at the forefront of the industry, Pratt needs to constantly develop new products for the next generation, which takes many technical minds from top level executives to frontline designers and engineers.

"We are in a very competitive industry," Adams said. "We've got to have a process that looks out into the future."

That innovation comes, too, inside the company to keep operations streamlined and deliver value to customers, Adams said.

Part of that streamlining and innovation includes Pratt's sustainability goals, which seek to reduce emissions and energy use at its facilities while creating a workplace that has zero injuries by 2025. The leader of that effort, Mary Anne Cannon, started at Pratt's West Palm Beach operations in 1989 as an instrumentation engineer.

Cannon — who moved around the company in military engines, repair, quality, and product life cycle management before ascending to her current role — said many of her efforts to achieve Pratt's sustainability goals rely on encouraging employees to come up with their own ideas to reduce injuries and modernize operations.

"Our employees are very innovative. We are a big company of engineers," said Cannon, whose official title is vice president of Pratt quality, environment, health and safety.

Dave Smith, who took over one of Cannon's former positions as director of global environmental health and safety, is one of the rare members of Pratt's upper management not to have an engineering pedigree. He started with the company in 2010 with an environmental science background.

Despite not being an engineer, however, Smith said he doesn't feel left out of the club; he's already been promoted once since joining Pratt as a senior manager in environmental health and safety.

"There are a lot of engineers around, so you can just ask them if you have a question," Smith said.

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