Site Visit to Huntington Ingalls Industries

8/17/17: Great site visit with Chris Kastner, Dwayne Blake and Christie Thomas. Highlights included learning that Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) is the largest private employer in Virginia. They have 3rd, 4th and even 5th generation shipyard workers who are still part of an organization that acts and talks like a family. Chris and Dwayne shared with great pride about their apprenticeship training programs. Every year in both Newport News and Pascagoula, Mississippi, HII trains thousands for well compensated (far above "living wage") jobs in the shipyards. This training includes both the technical skills and leadership focus as "some will come out as VP's in the company." Chris Kastner emphasized that these apprentices don't need to pay a penny and they can leave (HII) just after graduation. There is no contract that requires they stay on the job.

Modern military shipbuilding is nuclear powered and you quickly sense how seriously HII takes this responsibility. These men and women are responsible for the safety of servicemen on their ships, employees in their shipyards and the community around them.

When I brought up the fact that HII is behind the curve on sustainability reporting, Chris acknowledged that other companies allocated more resources to this effort. As a mid-sized player, he said they just didn't see adding additional reporting capability as a mission critical effort at this time. The cynic in me says that a company doesn't want to share data that makes them look bad. We hope to see improvements in this area and plan to engage in more specific areas of concern as our relationship develops.

When I spoke to Chris Kastner about a recent fine paid for overbilling the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, he shared that too much of the record keeping was being done with pen and paper and HII has updated these processes to computer based systems. Chris shared that "a number of bad apples have been removed." Even though these infractions took place in Mississippi, Chris acknowledged that the Newport News team also took a step back to consider how they too could slip. They now start all executive meetings with a discussion on ethics. The bigger issue is brand reputation and this takes much longer to repair. 

Matt Illian