Chris Bogdan spent the first third of his military career as an Air Force test pilot and most of the remaining two decades running programs. He’s best known for taking charge of the over-budget F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, talking tough about defense firms, and holding them accountable for their performance.
These days, the retired 3-star is senior vice president of aerospace business at Booz Allen Hamilton, where he and fellow executives are trying to change the public perception of their company as largely a consulting firm. On Wednesday, Bogdan chatted with me about some of the technology programs he now oversees.
For example, he’s leading Booz Allen’s attempt to beat Raytheon and BAE Systems and win an Air Force contract to build ground data stations for its next-generation missile warning satellites.
“We don't build rockets and satellites and missiles and hardware like that,” Bogdan said Wednesday. “So we feel like we have a chip on our shoulder, but nonetheless we're going toe to toe with these bigger OEMs because we think we have the right technologies and the right vision for what systems like this need to be.”
Booz Allen’s strategic shift began about eight years ago, Bogdan said. The company invested hundreds of millions of dollars in technology areas like cyber, machine intelligence, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and directed energy for weapons and communications.
“We want to become a company that has much more technical breadth and depth and we want to combine our management and consulting experience and understanding how to listen to our clients and understanding how to...solve the problems that our clients have,” he said.
Don’t expect this to be the last time you see Booz Allen competing for military space work.
“When other big space projects come out, we're probably not going to bid to build satellites, we are not going to bid to build rocket launchers, but I will guarantee you there's a part of that that includes the data ground systems, the command-and-control systems, the cyber security piece of the satellites and the supporting systems, all the machine intelligence, and artificial intelligence, the networks that are going to command and control those mesh satellites — all of that stuff,” he said. “Booz Allen wants to be a major OEM provider of solutions in that space and we think we're well positioned to do that. Although we've got more work to do, because the biggest thing we have to overcome is our branding — that folks have seen us as a consulting firm.”
But by combining its new tech endeavors with its consulting and management experience, Bogdan said, the company is well positioned to help clients make the organizational changes that come along with using new technology.
“We like to present ourselves today to our clients and to folks as someone who can help you do both transform your organization and integrate the technologies that you need that will underpin that transformation and make you a better performing organization,” he said.
The company’s strong pursuit of the ground system for the new missile warning satellites, combined with recent wins for cybersecurity work for the Treasury Department and other federal agencies, “is starting to put us in a more favorable light when it comes to a technology firm that actually can provide solutions and products,” Bogdan said.
“But it's a journey, it's not going to happen overnight and we have to prove ourselves,” he said. The only way to prove ourselves is by performing and building those things and fielding those things and backing that up then with the marketing and the story behind it that we're a different company.”
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