Croswell Speaks at U.S. Air Force Academy National Character and Leadership Symposium

Friday, February 26, 2016

Bennett Croswell, president, Military Engines, Pratt & Whitney, was among the featured speakers at the U.S. Air Force Academy National Character and Leadership Symposium on Feb. 26.

Full Text Remarks, as Prepared for Delivery

Thanks very much for that introduction. It is an honor to be here today.

I'd like to thank ...

  • Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the superintendent of the Academy;
  • Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost, dean of Faculty;
  • • and Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, the commandant

... for the invitation to address you, and for the chance to interact with the next generation of Air Force leaders.

I'm Bennett Croswell, president of Pratt & Whitney Military Engines. I started at Pratt & Whitney in 1979 after getting a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee.

Ever since then, in one way or another, the Air Force has been a part of my daily working life for close to four decades, whether it's been working on the engine programs for the F-22 and the F-35, or learning firsthand from leaders I consider to be some of the Air Force's very best.

Following very successful careers in the Air Force, a few of them joined Pratt & Whitney - Gen. Fig Newton, Gen. Bill Begert, Gen. Howie Chandler, and currently, Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller.

I've learned so much about leadership by working side-by-side with these Academy graduates, and from many other Air Force leaders as well.

As you might suspect, Pratt & Whitney's culture has been and continues to be influenced by the Air Force. Like the Air Force, we look for leaders in our organization from top to bottom.

The legendary Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay said, "I'm firmly convinced that leaders are not born; they're educated, trained, and made, as in every other profession."

In my case, I've certainly found that to be true.

I began my career at Pratt & Whitney as a performance engineer. My first assignment was in West Palm Beach, Florida, working at the bottom of the engineering totem pole, but I was happy. West Palm Beach is a pretty good place to live coming out of college.

And I felt very lucky to be a part of Pratt & Whitney. It was an exciting time for the company. We were building the F100 engines for the F-16 and F-15, and I was working on technology programs that would lead to the F119 engine that powers the F-22 Raptor.

I was in awe of the fact I had the opportunity to work on such cutting-edge technology … much less getting paid to do it.

I decided early on that I would treat each job, project, or assignment as a new opportunity to grow, not only in my discipline as an engineer, but also as a leader.

Over the course of my career, I had the good fortune to work for demanding leaders who expected the best out of everyone on the team—including themselves.

I may not have believed it was good fortune at the time, but I later came to appreciate that they got me to work harder and to achieve more than I thought I could.

I don't think they were interested in whether I liked them or not – that wasn't necessarily their top priority – because they had a mission to execute.

That's what leaders do.

Air Force doctrine says leadership is the "art of influencing and directing people to accomplish a mission."

As an engineer, I'm convinced it's not just art. I think that there's a little science to it also, but it's a solid definition.

Considering there is probably no better laboratory for developing leaders than here at the Air Force Academy, I hardly expect that I can impart any words of wisdom that you haven't already learned from your classmates and your instructors.

Nevertheless, I've been asked to share my thoughts on my philosophy of leadership, or at least on some leadership principles that I've tried to follow.

I hope that my perspective will be helpful to you as you develop the attributes necessary to serve and lead others throughout your Air Force careers, and throughout your lives.

There are many characteristics that define the mark of a true leader, and here are five attributes that I submit that true leaders need to live by …

  • • By far the number one requirement is integrity.
  • • Take accountability – never bend or hide the truth.
  • • Set a bold vision.
  • • Build good teams that get the job done.
  • • Be passionate, and show that by your words and actions.

You might be less interested in my theories of leadership and lessons from the business world, and maybe more interested in learning about Pratt & Whitney's amazing fighter engines, but I'll try to find a happy medium in our time together today …

Integrity First

The very first of the Air Force's three core values is "Integrity First."

Integrity can't be the second or third value. It just doesn't work that way.

It's first because integrity is fundamental to everything a leader does, and a leader has to model integrity in everything they say and do.

In our industry and in our profession, strict adherence to laws and regulations is a given. Following the law is a matter of integrity, and integrity is our license for doing business.

We are in the business of developing the most technologically sophisticated turbomachinery and jet engines on the planet. And because of that, we face a special responsibility to protect that technology so the United States can maintain our edge and lead in gas turbine propulsion.

We faced a crisis as a company a few years back, which stemmed from a breakdown in following the letter of the export law to a 'T'.

A division of Pratt & Whitney builds engines for the civil, general aviation market - small business jets, turboprops, regional aircraft, and helicopters.

With more than 48,000 of these small engines in operation around the world, the company has a sterling reputation as a world leader in the design, manufacture, and service of dependable aircraft engines.

Unfortunately, that well-earned reputation lost some of its luster, due to a single incident – a breakdown in compliance with export law.

The company exported software used in civilian helicopters to China, but because that same technology also made its way to be used in China's first attack military helicopter, the Z-10, the company violated the law.

A very select group of people who should have known better didn't follow the law, and the government didn't appreciate that they weren't immediately forthcoming about what occurred. Those individuals didn't follow the standards that we hold ourselves to, and that the government demands of us.

As a result, our company pled guilty in U.S. federal district court and paid $75 million in fines.

That single incident delivered a hit to our hard-earned credibility and integrity, and that's expensive far beyond dollar figures represented by the fine.

To the company's credit, our employees and all levels of leadership worked quickly to address the problem, and we instituted companywide controls to prevent this kind of mistake from happening again.

It required changes to our training and to our business processes, and a recalibration of our mindset and our compliance culture, too. It wasn't easy, but it was absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, the U.S. Justice Department has said that the considerable investment, training, and changes made by our company were genuine, and that we have demonstrated our commitment to export and trade compliance.

Even though the origin of this incident didn't start with me or my team, we certainly felt the impact and aftereffects, and we had to work together to make sure the entire company got back on a straight course.

I'm sharing this story with you because I think it perfectly illustrates the importance of integrity. Integrity has to be the bedrock principle that guides individual leaders and organizations.

No matter where you are on the leadership totem pole, whether in the Air Force or in business, you make decisions on a daily basis that impact your personal and organizational integrity.

Character, reputation, credibility, and trust are measured by small and simple decisions that that add up over time. It's important to do what you say you will do, to follow regs and orders, and to do it day after day after day.

Now, as hard as we may try, we all make mistakes. But there is a big difference between making a little mistake, and knowingly or purposely breaking the law, disobeying lawful orders, and so on.

You don't get many opportunities in life – or in business – to earn back the value, credibility, and trust in you might have built over time.

And if you're a leader or in a position of command, you simply can't ignore inappropriate behavior or cover up for anything or anyone that would jeopardize your personal integrity, or the integrity of your organization.

The legendary Hap Arnold said "function of command requires continuous alertness and willingness to accept changed conditions."

That single incident I shared with you occurred because leaders weren't alert. They let their guard down. That ended up affecting the integrity account for the company and everyone in it, and definitely changed the conditions for doing business with our customers.

Again, I'm proud to say we all stepped up our vigilance, and UTC and Pratt & Whitney regained our position as industry leaders in export compliance and security, but that was a painful lesson to learn.

Take Accountability – Never Bend or Hide The Truth

Let me change gears for a moment and celebrate an example of truly brave leadership that comes not from the Chairman's Suite, but the shop floor.

A few years back on our F135 engine program, we were facing an end of the month deadline late one afternoon.

On top of that it was the end of a financial quarter, and Wall Street likes to see engine sales tally up on the ledger when the company releases its earnings.

The F-35 program, meanwhile, was under enormous pressure to get moving.

And, of course, our Lockheed Martin partners down in Fort Worth were waiting to get their hands on new engines as part of the assembly process of F-35 aircraft.

In the midst of this, one of our assembly mechanics noticed that a tiny seal, a little rubber ring, was missing from a tool he had used earlier.

When he discovered this, the engine he'd been working on was already gone from the shop.

It had been taken to our testing facility and had run just fine in what we call an "acceptance test" that we do just before we hand the engine over.

But that mechanic knew he had to say something.

At that moment, he knew he had to lead all of us, and I'm sure it wasn't easy.

His mistake was about to cost the company some money and a whole lot of grief.

But he also knew he shouldn't try to fix one mistake with another one.

He was worried that the seal was in the engine somewhere, so he had to speak up. This was the moment he had to be the leader.

He told his supervisor, and we brought the engine back and tore it down – disassembling the engine piece by piece until we found the fragments of the seal in an oil reservoir.

The fix was a simple one and the customer eventually got a truly 'ready to fly' engine, but it delayed engine delivery by a couple of weeks.

But here's the important thing to know about that story – our company leadership didn't punish that mechanic. Instead, we celebrated his professionalism.

Even my boss man, the president of Pratt & Whitney, singled out his actions to all of our employees.

We weren't at all happy that we were late, but the mechanic was right to raise his hand when he saw something out of place.

Maybe no one would have ever known about that seal.

It might have just worked itself out with no one the wiser. But that mechanic couldn't accept the risk. Pratt & Whitney couldn't accept that risk, and the pilot who flies the F-35 shouldn't have to accept that risk, either.

As a leader, you have to be able to admit mistakes, but it is even more important to accept the honest mistakes of people on your team if you want to foster integrity, and to develop their initiative and courage to speak up.

Set a Bold Vision

Another important leadership principle I've come to appreciate is the need for a bold vision. Leadership isn't about sitting still, it's about moving forward and getting people excited and eager to follow you … to do something spectacular!

You can't do that with a milquetoast sort of vision – you've got to be bold!

The IOC Challenge

Let me give you a recent example of that type of bold vision and how it rallied an enterprise to do something remarkable.

Only three years ago, Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, then serving as the U.S. Marine Corps deputy commandant for Aviation, set an ambitious goal for his service to be the first to declare Initial Operating Capability with the Pratt & Whitney-powered F-35B.

And he set this vision even though the B-variant is the most technologically challenging of the three JSF aircraft.

He sent a memo to the assistant secretary of the Navy announcing that the Marines intended to accomplish that goal in July of 2015. In doing so, he drew a line in the sand, and in essence told the entire JSF program to, "Be ready."

To appreciate just how bold and audacious of a goal this was, it's important to understand what was required to achieve IOC.

At a minimum, the Marine Corps was required to have 10 F-35Bs ready to execute close air support, offensive and defensive counter air, be able to fly in all corners of the flight envelope, and be deployment ready on day one.

On top of that, this first squadron needed to come with all of its spare engines and tooling, trained personnel, and be able to use the complex Autonomic Logistics Integration System (ALIS), which is a weapon system unto itself for the maintainers charged with keeping the F-35 mission ready.

From Pratt & Whitney's perspective, we were still in the days of system development and design, and working on a number of improvements to the F135 engine to make it even more reliable and affordable.

As you probably know, the complexity of a fifth generation fighter engine like the F135 is tremendous. The engine contains thousands of parts; far more parts than any other system found in the rest of the airframe.

Its airfoils and turbine blades require special coatings that allow the engine to operate at extremely hot temperatures – several hundred degrees beyond the melting point of the metal components inside the engine.

The STOVL variant's three bearing swivel module at the back end of the engine, together with the roll posts and liftsystem at the center of the aircraft, allows the F-35 to hover and land vertically, producing nearly as much thrust as it can in full afterburner.

Certainly for Pratt & Whitney, the STOVL engine really is at the apex of modern manufacturing and technology.

Even as advanced as the engine already was, we had to complete 12 additional engineering design changes that would allow the aircraft to meet the required combat capability.

Once we made these design changes, we then also had to retrofit 27 engines and establish a fully functioning F135 engine depot with our partners at Tinker Air Force Base to meet the Marine Corps' deadline.

Skeptics said that the kinds of engineering changes and retrofits we would have to make to the F135 engine could take more than five years, not the two years that the Marine Corps demanded.

True leadership requires that you set big, hairy, audacious goals – I had a boss who called them BHAGs – and then you hold people accountable to make them happen.

The Marines gave us a very bold goal, and I'm proud to say that our team was able to step up to the challenge and meet it.

USMC IOC was a huge accomplishment for the Lightning II and really set the program on a positive vector that it maintains today.

It's probably no surprise to you, but another tremendous leader, Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh, has also laid out a goal for the first F-35A squadron from Hill Air Force Base to reach initial operational capability between August and December of this year.

I like that goal, and Pratt & Whitney embraces the challenge to be ready for it, too.

Build Good Teams That Get The Job Done

Now, let me tell you about one of the most difficult and humbling chapters in my career, and as the leader of Pratt & Whitney's Military Engines business.

Two years ago, on June 23, 2014, an F-35A from Eglin Air Force Base experienced a major engine malfunction nearly at the point of takeoff.

As the pilot was accelerating, he heard a loud bang and suddenly saw flames at the rear of the aircraft, and no, those flames weren't coming from the afterburner.

Thankfully, the pilot quickly and safely got out of the aircraft. After the base firefighters arrived on the scene moments later and did their job, the aircraft was towed away and locked up in a hangar.

Because the Air Force immediately kicked in to high gear with safety and accident investigations – which is what is supposed to happened in a scenario like this – no one had access to the jet or the engine, and it wasn't immediately clear what had happened, or why it happened.

The only information that we had are the details that I just described to you.

To make matters worse, this happened only a few weeks away from the F-35's international debut at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK.

Both the United Kingdom and the Marine Corps were planning to send their F-35s to the world's greatest airshow, but now those plans were in limbo.

I can tell you, it didn't help my peace of mind to learn that there were banners all over London that were already hung, saying "The F-35 is here!"

The F-35, and by extension, Pratt & Whitney, were going to be the toast of the town, but with two weeks to go until the airshow, headlines were now saying, "Will the F-35 show up or not?"

Timing is everything, as they say.

But here's the thing … even with all of this drama going on, and with the eyes of the world on the F-35 program, and with F-35 critics having a field day, I had complete confidence that my team was up for the task to find out what happened, why it happened, and that we would have a fix in place or at the very least, find procedures that would allow us to fly the aircraft safely.

As soon as we got an opportunity to look at the engine, only a few days after the incident, we were able to determine what had happened, and by the Fourth of July, the Pratt & Whitney team had worked around the clock with the Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, the Air Force, and the other Services to develop a solution to the problem.

We discovered that a stationary vane (called a stator) in the fan section of the engine rubbed a little too much against a material that formed an air seal on the third fan rotor. The friction caused excessive heating, which caused cracks that led to a failure of the fan.

We have a proud history of building fighter engines, but this was something that we hadn't seen before, and to be totally honest, it's the kind of thing that you can only discover in flight test.

The team developed two fixes – an inflight rub-in procedure that would gradually "break in" the material that created the seal, or pre-trenching the material on the stator, which would create the same effect.

In the meantime, we developed a simple inspection that would allow maintainers to see if engines in the field had experienced a hard rub between the stator and the rotor. This inspection would allow the fleet to get back to flying, but with certain G-loading restrictions for the time being.

Again, timing is everything, and as it turned out, the F-35 didn't make it to Farnborough that year.

The inspection I just mentioned would have enabled the aircraft to fly to Farnborough, but in the category of "Things that happen to me but don't happen to other people," on the very day the decision was made to allow the jets to fly over the pond, the UK Defence Minister was appointed to be the new Foreign Minister.

The new Defence Minister simply had too much on his plate that day to agree to have the F-35 fly over. So the decision was made not to have the F-35 perform at the air show.

Despite that outcome, and thanks to great leadership on the F-35 program, we found the fix, we've corrected the issue, and we've moved on.

The thing about advancing the latest technologies is that you have to be prepared to push the boundaries of design, and that might mean that you break things along the way. If you don't, you're never going to innovate or make something better, and you'll have to be satisfied with maintaining the status quo.

I suppose it's probably the difference between Motorola being satisfied with developing a flip phone, or Apple doing something better like innovating the latest iPhone.

At Pratt & Whitney, we just happen to innovate the world's most powerful fighter engines, and we believe they are a generation ahead of anything else that's out there.

You know, I still have bad memories about being on stage in the UK, explaining what happened to hundreds of reporters grilling us about the F-35 being a no show at Farnborough.

But I'll tell you what … I think a good leader surrounds himself with a good team that gets the job done, and lets the chips fall where they may.

I'll stand by my team any day of the week. I'm proud of them. They do a phenomenal job. And when you find yourself leading a team of your own, I hope you'll do the same thing.

And in case you haven't heard, the F-35 will be flying over to the UK this summer, and this time the Air Force is on the schedule, too, and the world will see just how amazing the people behind the Joint Strike Fighter actually are.

Be Passionate: The Frank Gillette Story

Finally, I truly believe that a leader has to be passionate about what she or he is doing.

If you don't support the mission 100 percent, and if you don't have fire in your belly to be the very best, then you aren't passionate, and in my book, you aren't a leader.

I'd like to share with you the story of Frank Gillette. You may not have heard of Frank before, but he is a truly passionate leader, and someone that I think every cadet here should know about.

Frank was one of the founding fathers of Pratt & Whitney's YF119 program. He was the leader in charge of the team that developed the F119 engine that eventually came to power the F-22 Raptor.

If you've had a chance to see the F-22 in flight, then you know just how amazing the aircraft is.

The F-22 looks like it defies the laws of physics.

It performs maneuvers in ways that don't look like they are aerodynamically possible.

It can go into a vertical climb, stop accelerating, go into a tail slide, drop the nose back down to level flight, swivel 180° and turn on a dime, without stalling the engine, and then accelerate away!

Its thrust vectoring and supermaneuverability are capabilities that strike fear into our adversaries, and make pilots drool.

That simply wouldn't be possible without Frank.

If you earn the opportunity to strap into an F-22, then you will personally owe Frank a debt of gratitude for making one of the best engines the Air Force has ever flown.

Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to put Frank on the spot to be recognized, since he is here with us today … would you please stand for a moment, Frank?

Thanks, Frank.

Frank knows a whole lot about what makes airplanes go fast and maneuver the way they do. That's a given.

But one of the underappreciated aspects of Frank's work is the effort he put into making our engines maintainable … easy to fix. He holds several patents in this department, including several on the F119 engine.

This isn't the kind of thing that gets the headlines. But, when the Air Force competed the contract for the F-22, maintainability of the engine was something they wanted very much.

Frank knew that we not only had to build a fast engine, we had to build one that was easy to take care of.

Frank's commitment to making the F-22 easy to maintain is what has made the difference in much of our success over the last few decades.

It's a little thing if you think about it, but it's extremely important to the engine maintainer. It saves time and it saves money, it prevents mistakes and it saves lives.

It seems sort of unremarkable now, but when Frank was developing the F119 years ago, this wasn't something that people thought about.

Before, we all focused on engine performance, not on how easy it was to maintain the engine.

Frank's commitment to this was a lonely one for a while, but he passionately believed in his mission, and he inspired his team to be passionate about it as well.

They ended up designing an engine whose components could be fully disassembled using only six hand tools, where dozens were needed before.

And those components were all situated on the engine where they were easy to reach and you didn't have to remove one thing to get to another.

They ergonomically designed the engine and placed components so that the engine could be worked on by a full-sized man or a small woman.

Fasteners were reengineered so they would remain attached to the engine so no one would ever forget to replace a screw or bolt.

They made an audible sound when tightened so maintainers would know they were locked down in place.

Connections were color coded to avoid mix-ups.

In those days, we didn't have CAD drawings and the Internet like we do now, so Frank personally reviewed and attached his signature of approval for the hand drawings for every F119 part to make sure that everything was done just right, and it was.

Frank even made a full-size mockup of the engine and took it on the road, traveling around to bases to show it to maintainers and get their input.

After Frank and his team felt they had the performance and maintainability characteristics just right, it was time to make a final presentation to Air Force leadership.

It was like a Cecil B. DeMille Hollywood production … they literally opened the curtain to reveal Frank dressed in "MOP" gear – the chem/bio protective suits that cover you from head to toe – to demonstrate how easily the engine could be maintained, even in the most challenging deployment conditions.

That performance got him a standing ovation from the Air Force and it probably helped us win the competition to build the engine.

Frank was truly a passionate and visionary leader, and someone that Pratt & Whitney and the Air Force should be proud of.

That's why today I'm pleased to announce that the USAFA Endowment has created a research position at the United States Air Force Academy – the "Frank Gillette Propulsion Researcher" – to support cadet-centered propulsion research in the Department of Aeronautics.

Frank has had a major role in designing and developing almost every engine that powers U.S. Air Force frontline fighter aircraft, including the thrust vectoring, supercruising power plant of the F-22 Raptor, so it is entirely fitting to create this position in his name, and Pratt & Whitney is proud to sponsor this effort.

I'd personally like to thank …

  • • Retired Maj. Gen. Mark Volcheff, the new USAFA Endowment CEO,
  • • his predecessor retired Gen. Stephen Lorenz,
  • • Jennifer Bateman, USAFA vice president of Development,
  • • and Col. Neal Barlow

… for their tireless work to make this researcher endowment a reality.


As I wrap up, I hope that you can integrate these leadership principles into your personal leadership philosophy.

I tried to share a few examples from my leadership experience to illustrate how these principles applied to me, but I know that they are equally important – probably even more important to you – as you go on to serve as officers and leaders in the Air Force.

I know it is one of your core values and that you know this very well, but you'll never go wrong if you remember to always put integrity first.

Remember, even the smallest of decisions you make are consequential.

The decisions you make every day add up. These decisions measure your personal integrity, and the integrity of the organization you represent.

Always take personal accountability, and never bend or hide the truth, no matter what.

It's easy enough to remember when you are responsible for the big things, but be accountable for the small things, too – small things like the missing seal. No detail is too small when it comes to personal accountability.

Set a bold vision. Or, in other words, do hard things.

Expect the very best out of your team, and give them ambitious goals to aim for.

Whether that means developing a new weapon system, or setting your sights on becoming the best in your chosen profession, you can't get it done with milquetoast goals.

You've got to stretch yourself and your team if you hope to accomplish anything remarkable.

Build good teams that get the job done. Surround yourself with excellence. You want the best people around you. You don't want a wingman who you can't rely upon.

When you're a leader, you will have confidence in your ability to get the job done if you know that the people who support you are the absolute best at what they are supposed to do. Find those people and help them to thrive in your organization.

Lastly, be passionate like my friend Frank, and show that passion by your words and actions.

Frank is one of the most passionate leaders I've ever known, and thanks in no small part to his passion, the Air Force is flying one of the most capable combat aircraft the world has ever known.

That accomplishment is due in no small measure to passionate people like Frank who strived to do the very best for themselves and for the people that rely upon them. Be passionate.

Thanks again for inviting me here today. It has been a real pleasure to visit and speak with you. Thank you very much.