To learn and to lead
Laura McGill runs engineering for Raytheon's missile-making business
Growing up in Seattle, Laura McGill spent breezy afternoons at airfields and airshows, fueling a passion for aeronautics. Later, that enthusiasm matured into a professional focus on aeronautical engineering that, along with her innate curiosity, commitment to education and knack for leadership, led to her current role as vice president of engineering for Raytheon Missile Systems.
McGill and her staff oversee the activities of more than 7,500 engineers working on hundreds of high-tech weapons systems for more than 50 countries, including the U.S. government.
The U.S. call for greater affordability in defense products has led to shifts in the competitive environment. And there’s another shift underway; a subtle, yet profound generational transition. McGill’s engineering workforce is crossing the point where millennials outnumber baby boomers.
The challenge of leading a multi-generational workforce, according to McGill, is to “best apply the knowledge and expertise of each generation to create the most effective organization I can, while supporting each employee to develop to their potential.”
Even without the need to manage all that change, McGill’s job is formidable.
“We work on some of the world’s toughest engineering challenges,” she said. “My focus is on balance. I need to balance day-to-day execution and performance on complex missile programs with our investments in technology and career development.”
McGill began to develop the necessary self-assurance and resiliency from the very beginning of her career. "Some people fear failure so much, that it constrains them from making decisions and from moving forward, but each challenge provides great opportunities to learn and dealing with failure builds confidence,” she said. “Confidence also comes from being prepared.”
McGill has developed leadership skills to meet the specific challenges of both the job and being a woman in a male-dominated field. “Being a female leader can create challenges,” she said. ”You need to be comfortable being able to command and direct.”
Throughout her career, McGill has practiced a sort of ad hoc mentoring to help her understand problems and overcome obstacles.
“I never had a dedicated mentor,” McGill said, “but because of Raytheon’s open culture, I could talk to anyone to get their perspective on an issue I was wrestling with. I always felt I could take the best practices from any leader and apply them in my work.”
McGill’s passion and optimism drive her forward. In 2019, she was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering. Election to the NAE is among the highest professional distinctions for engineers.
“I love what I do,” she said. “It’s important work, and it’s an amazing opportunity to lead an exceptionally talented team.”