Growth of a Leader
Cheryl Whitis runs the IT operation at the world's largest missile maker
Cheryl Whitis was a junior in high school when she discovered her passion for computer science. Even in that pre-dot-com era of compilers, punch cards and large mainframes, she recognized what an opportunity there was in the technology field.
She earned a scholarship to college and studied data processing, which she believed was the wave of the future.
“It was really creating something where nothing existed before,” Whitis said. “There were no limits.”
Today, as chief information officer and vice president of Raytheon Missile Systems, Whitis is building a culture of innovation. She and her team deliver core IT services and run the infrastructure used by 15,000 RMS employees across the globe.
“We touch every employee in one way or another,” Whitis said. “We are the glue that brings it all together.”
Since her dad was in the Army, the young Whitis naturally gravitated toward the defense industry. She wrote the program that U.S. Customs and Border Protection still uses for its aircraft maintenance and logistics tracking systems. “I take pride in knowing the products I work on protect men like my dad,” she said.
At Raytheon, Whitis led strategic initiatives that have saved money, improved performance and facilitated the integration of acquisitions. She was named one of Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT leaders of the year.
The role of Whitis’ IT group has grown over the years. It now provides a wide variety of services, from high-performance simulation capabilities to new business pipeline tools, including factory floor automation; helping engineers implement programs and agile engineering techniques; advanced analytical tools; and, most recently, providing the cybersecurity infrastructure for numerous programs and products.
“By providing the necessary tooling and technology, we enable international growth — a critical component of our long-term strategy as a company,” Whitis said.
Whitis manages a growing assortment of continually evolving challenges, from global expansion to cyber threats.
“My largest focus right now is staying ahead of the advanced persistent threat on cybersecurity,” Whitis said. “Our strongest defense is making our employees aware of our cybersecurity strategy and how to best conduct business in the safest environment possible.”
As Raytheon's international business expands, the need for a mobile workforce is also rapidly growing.
“We have to get more comfortable with people working remotely,” Whitis said. “I’m trying to push the boundaries of how we can make our environments more secure as well as conducive for collaboration and productivity.”
For the next generation of IT employees, Raytheon provides a challenging and rewarding atmosphere.
"We're defense-strength IT — definitely not your average IT business environment," Whitis said. “And we are always challenging our people to remain educated and trained, to always be on the leading edge. It’s just part of our culture and DNA.”
Another focus that is increasingly important as the company expands around the world: diversity and inclusion, efforts that are critical to sustained success and the ability to attract new talent.
“We need to nurture the people we meet along the journey,” Whitis said. “Appreciation and respect for others help build rich networks you can count on and that can count on you.”
As someone who has helped paved the way for women in IT leadership, Whitis has a message for those who believe they must conform to a certain image to be part of upper management: "Stay true to yourself and make sure you love the work you do."