Top engineer built her career on teamwork
May 29, 2013
- Martin encourages employees to grow deep by developing a foundation of technical excellence.
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 29, 2013) -- When it comes to success, Patti Martin sees it as a team effort.
Throughout her 30 years at the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, Martin has been involved with many engineering teams that have worked to develop, design and prototype aviation and missile systems that have been game changers on the battlefield.
When she was recently inducted as a Distinguished Engineering Fellow at the University of Alabama, she said she was a bit uncomfortable receiving the prestigious honor.
"It was awkward for me because this is an individual award, and I haven't done anything in my career that hasn't been accomplished as part of a team," she said.
"Everybody likes recognition and I was honored to receive this award. But, for me, in this community, we have so many good engineers who work their whole lives trying to do the right thing and to make a contribution. To have somebody recognize your body of work, at the level of this award, is overwhelming for me, but it's also satisfying to know I've made a difference. I'm incredibly proud to be an Army civilian, and I'm so honored and privileged to support our Soldiers. It doesn't get any better than that."
A 1983 University of Alabama chemical engineering graduate, Martin is now among about 400 to have received the Distinguished Engineering Fellow out of 27,000 engineering alumni who have graduated from Alabama in the past 25 years.
Team Redstone's Pam McCue, who served 30 years with the Missile and Space Intelligence Agency, also was honored among the 2013 class of inductees.
The award recognized Martin for her "leadership and expertise in the fields of systems and specialty engineering and rapid response prototyping," for her work as a systems engineer for missile simulation tests and as the first program manager for the Prototype Integration Facility, and for her work in managing an annual business portfolio of more than $900 million to develop aviation and missile products that are "producible, reliable, sustainable and of high quality."
"Alabama's College of Engineering really gave me such a great foundation. Many of the principles I learned there I still use every day," she said. "While I no longer do hard core engineering, that foundation led to the success I've had in my career."
Since 2006, Martin has served in the Senior Executive Service as the director of AMRDEC's Engineering Directorate. Yet, in the past year, she has made some personal decisions that have caused her to step down from her position in preparation for her retirement on July 3.
Martin, her husband and their teenage twins live in Madison, and she is hoping to have more time to spend with her two teenagers before they go away to college and with her parents, who live in Decatur.
It was an Austin High School (Decatur) chemistry teacher who first steered Martin toward an engineering career. With his background in the chemical industry, his use of lab work and chemistry experiments in the classroom grabbed Martin's interest.
"I loved chemistry. I wasn't a big math fan. But I had a great love for science," she said. "Chemistry became my niche."
With an older brother who also majored in chemical engineering, and parents who both worked at Redstone Arsenal, Martin's course was set for Alabama's engineering school and an engineering position at Redstone.
Although she had her heart set on working in a composite lab or a chemistry lab at what was then known as the Army Missile Laboratory (later AMRDEC), she was instead hired to work in the organization's systems simulation hardware-in-the-loop facility.
"I was hired by a guy I hadn't met in the interview process, in an area that I hadn't seen and doing work that I didn't think I was interested in," Martin said. "It turned out to be a phenomenal job and my first boss -- Ron Davis -- is a mentor to me to this day. When I got there, he asked me to give it six months. I stayed for one and a half years."
As a systems engineer for missile simulation testing, Martin worked with nationally and internationally recognized Army engineers and scientists to conduct hardware-in-the-loop tests to determine missile performance against simulated environments and countermeasures.
"It was a great way to learn details of missile design, performance and test," she said.
She not only enjoyed the job, but also met her future husband while working in the simulations lab. But opportunity came knocking, and Martin answered the call.
"My dad always told me to never turn down an interview," she said. "Even if you are not interested, it's a good way to make new contacts and to learn about new opportunities."
The interview led Martin, in 1985, into the fields of systems and production engineering, and eventually into management. She remained in AMRDEC's Production Engineering Division for 17 years and, in 2000, she was named chief of production engineering, responsible for conducting life-cycle production engineering, systems engineering and acquisition management for aviation, missile and unmanned systems.
"One of the great things with working for the Army is you get to work on lots of different projects," she said.
In 2002, Martin was selected as the first program manager for AMRDEC's Prototype Integration Facility, a unique government-owned, government-operated organization with a mission to rapidly develop and deliver technical solutions to meet critical Army requirements.
"At the PIF, we developed a unique culture and streamlined processes, and built strong relationships within the Army community and industry so that we could deliver high quality products to Soldiers in days or months instead of the typical years that it takes to get through Army acquisition," she said.
"We broke through traditional bureaucratic processes and established project-specific government and industry teams to do the job. The immediacy of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed us to really develop a rapid response capability. Over the last 10 years, we have been able to deliver more than 1,000 PIF products in support of theater operations."
Martin joined the ranks of the Senior Executive Service in 2006 as AMRDEC's director of the Engineering Directorate.
"I couldn't have asked for a better job. I've loved the mission and the people are fantastic," she said. "The directorate's employees are dedicated to providing the best products to our Soldiers, to being a superior work force, and to being an invaluable customer partner. Throughout the organization, there is exceptional leadership and an exceptional value system."
The Engineering Directorate includes 900 employees with functional expertise in systems engineering, quality, manufacturing technology, production engineering, reliability, industrial base, obsolescence, PIF, test and logistics engineering. As its director, Martin managed an annual business portfolio of more than $900 million, and was also responsible for ensuring all aviation and missile products were safe, suitable and supportable prior to fielding to Soldiers.
Martin especially enjoyed working with the Engineering Directorate's "Board of Directors" in developing its strategic path.
"Army organizations do not tend to develop strategic plans and execute those plans at lower levels of the organization. But we took it seriously at the Engineering Directorate," she said. "We wanted a strategic plan that wouldn't sit on a shelf, but that would be a living and breathing strategy we used to move our organization forward. We want our team to be technically superior and to have the Engineering Directorate known as the expert in our mission areas."
And, with that strategic plan in place, Martin and the Engineering Directorate's employees had a clear vision of how the organization continues to add value for its customers.
"This has all been a natural progression for me," she said. "As the director, I focused on the strategic path and how to handle all the potential issues of the future so that we can be successful even in a downturn.
"We have more customers coming to us today than ever before. There is a lot of diversity in our work and we have a great team of people who all do what's in the best interest of the warfighter. They are here for the mission."
She encourages employees to grow deep by developing a foundation of technical excellence; grow wide by becoming familiar with other Engineering Directorate divisions and AMRDEC directorates, and the expertise they offer; build trust with customers; and build value with stakeholders, both with the Army, throughout the Department of Defense and with international partners.
"We need to grow employee knowledge across the directorate and across the center," Martin said. "The more you know, the better you can work collaboratively and the better you can serve the customer."
In July 2012, Martin publicly announced her plans to retire and, in January 2013, she stepped down as director. Currently, she serves as a strategic advisor to the new director of the Engineering Directorate, James Lackey, until her official retirement in July.
Throughout her career, Martin has mentored AMRDEC employees and worked to encourage young people to pursue careers in engineering and the sciences. As an example, she has led Coffee with the Director sessions with the organization's newer employees to share her management philosophy.
"I tell them 'You can do anything you want to do, but there are things you have to do to get there.' Often, people will focus on their own training and development, but there's much more than that required to advance," she said.
You have to know what the Army is looking for in leaders, and, from my point of view, leadership is not always the same as authority. I believe every employee can be a leader. A leader influences others. No matter what the job, you should strive to be a positive influence. A good leader has knowledge; the right attitude and passion for the job; a commitment to the mission, to the team, to the organization and to the Soldiers; and the ability to make good, sound decisions."
Advancement and promotions, she said, go to those employees who make themselves more valuable throughout their careers.
"It's not enough to be good at your job. You've got to show how you can operate at the next level," Martin said.
While engineers start with a love of science and math, they expand their career opportunities and value to the organization by being problem solvers, using their knowledge and talent to make a difference, thinking logically about the details and the big picture, and mastering communications and team building skills.
Over the years, Martin has seen the globalization of engineering and the industrial base.
She has seen a larger emphasis on international relationships, and a more holistic approach to the development, manufacturing and sustainment of weapon systems.
"Today, we aren't seeing a lot of new products. Instead, we are seeing an increase in the number of modifications and in engineering's role in sustainment," she said. "We are focused on reducing costs, improving quality and enhancing our teaming approach with industry. We want to continue to give Soldiers the best technology and capabilities despite the constraints of today. This requires more effective collaboration across our organizations, customers, other government agencies and industry.
"I've spent my whole career with AMRDEC, to include working in three different directorates: the System Simulation and Development Directorate, the Aviation Engineering Directorate and the Engineering Directorate. This organization has so many different capabilities. People are amazed at how much this center can do and what is accomplishes every day. And the technical expertise just keeps growing and getting better."
Besides the Distinguished Engineering Fellowship from her alma mater, Martin will leave AMRDEC with a host of awards to her credit, including the Presidential Rank Award (Meritorious), Office of the Secretary of Defense Civilian Service Award, eight Army Greatest Invention Team Awards, National Defense Industry Association Leadership Excellence Award and Army Materiel Command Top 10 Civilians Award. A 1998 master's degree graduate from the University of Alabama-Huntsville, she has also received that university's Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award.
"At the end of the day, all you've got is your name and your credibility," she said. "I hope when people hear my name they will think of a person who focused on achieving mission excellence and who worked with our team, customers, the community and industry to get the best technology and the best products to our Soldiers."
AMRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.