KINGSPORT - BAE Systems' work in Kingsport is an integral part of the company's overall mission to support American war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, says the company's new president and chief executive officer.
"It's right smack dab in the sweet spot of the mission," said Walter P. Havenstein. "A lot of people think of BAE Systems as an aerospace company, but we're primarily a defense company, and certainly the work we do at Holston is in support of that objective."
BAE Systems is the operating contractor for Holston Army Ammunition Plant, a 6,000-acre munitions facility in Kingsport. The site, which dates back to World War II, produces explosives for the U.S. military.
Havenstein traveled here late last week to meet with employees and tour the plant's operations. It was his first trip to the region.
"I came to thank the folks here, our co-workers who do magnificent work for the Army and the other services," Havenstein said. "The fact of the matter is, our young people are depending on the folks here and throughout our company every day, and I want to let them know that I'm grateful for what they do. That's why I'm here."
Havenstein took over in January as president and CEO of BAE Systems Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of BAE Systems plc, a $28 billion global business.
In his new job, Havenstein oversees 45,000 employees at sites in the United States, United Kingdom, Israel and South Africa. He also serves as chief operating officer and a member of the board of directors of the parent company.
On Thursday evening, Havenstein met with local BAE officials at Ridgefields Country Club. On Friday, he got his first tour of Holston Army Ammunition Plant.
"It is certainly one of the largest physical sites that we manage, and so its place here in the community is important. It's certainly worth my time to come here and see how they're doing in the community," Havenstein said.
He said it's important for the company to be involved with the community. In Kingsport, BAE Systems supports various organizations such as serving as the corporate sponsor of SHOUT!, a leadership program for area high school sophomores and juniors.
Such programs that focus on young people are near and dear to Havenstein's heart. He serves on the board of directors of an effort called FIRST, which works to inspire youth in middle and high school to get involved in science and technology.
"It is what I believe is the best hope we have of culturally shifting the center of our nation from basketball, football and soccer to regaining the momentum we need to have in science and technology in the latter half of this century," Havenstein said.
"We will have failed miserably if we haven't prepared our youngsters to lead this country. And whether we like it or not, our country's economic survival is not predicated on the success of the National Football League or the PGA tour. And our national security is certainly not resting on it. It is going to rest on the innovation of our young people."
He said BAE Systems is interested in partnering with other industries and local governments to help encourage young people in science and technology. He said BAE encourages its young engineers to teach other young people through mentoring relationships.
"We've been successful in doing that in parts of the business, and I want to extend that across the enterprise," Havenstein said.
"If we can regain the momentum our parents gave us in the space race, if we can re-establish that as part of the fabric of our country, our generation will have done something good," said Havenstein.