Planes and Trains

Alumnae in motion

By Mary J. Loftus

Shan Cooper posing in front of a plane on the factory floor

As the first female head of Lockheed Martin’s Marietta plant, Cooper oversees construction of the C-130 Hercules—the plane that flew the last flight out of Saigon, the craft most often used for relief and rescue missions, and the mainstay of the operation for forty years.

Kay Hinton

Reaching for the Sky: Shan Cooper 89C 95MBA, General Manager, Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin in Marietta is the birthplace of some of the most recognizable planes in the world: the C-130 Hercules turboprop transport, the C-5 Galaxy jet transport, and the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, among other military aircraft.

The massive, 3.8-million-square-foot B-1 building, which covers the size of seventy-six football fields laid end to end, is humming with activity on this Tuesday in early May. The plant is as clean and bright as a hospital, its assembly lines lit by mile after mile of compact fluorescent bulbs.

Assemblers in safety harnesses walk across planes’ wings like aeronautical trapeze artists. Rolls Royce engines stand at the ready, waiting to be installed. Every few days, a heavy “rain shower” falls from sprinkler heads mounted on workstands over the finished planes to test for leaks. Three-wheeled bikes with baskets, famous in the sprawling plant as the easiest way to travel, seem strangely whimsical, like Willy Wonka might ride by in a hard hat.

But of course high-tech aircraft assembly is serious business—a tiny piece of debris or a lost tool could disrupt the highly sensitive calibrations and safety checks, and possibly cost the life of a pilot or crew member.

“I love being on the production floor, hanging out with the employees, seeing their attention to detail, and showing customers around,” says Shan Cooper 89C 95MBA, vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and the first female general manager of the Marietta facility. “The other day I was doing a walkabout with a general from the national guard, who came by from next door [Dobbins Air Reserve Base]. These are the folks who are using our aircraft, and we get immediate feedback from them.”

If Lockheed Martin in Marietta is like a small town—with its own interstate exit, more than eight thousand employees, emergency medical services and a fire station, even a magazine—then Cooper is its mayor, overseeing all operations on site.

The plant just celebrated its sixtieth anniversary. Originally operated by Bell Aircraft during WWII, Lockheed moved in at the government’s request in 1951 to refurbish B-29s for the Korean War. C-130 assembly arrived in 1954 and has been located in Marietta since. (The plant even has an eccentric billionaire story: Howard Hughes kept four JetStar executive transports fueled and under guard there, ready to take off on a moment’s notice, until they were sold after his death.)

Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company was formed in 1995 with the $10 billion merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta, which sold the construction materials portion of its business to focus on aerospace, defense, and global security. Lockheed Martin is now one of the world’s largest defense contractors, with close to three-fourths of the company’s revenues coming from military sales.

Cooper is proud of the company’s role in “preserving freedom and democracy.” The daughter of a pastor from Anniston, Alabama, she’s from a military family—her uncles and brother have all served. “My brother has been an air force reservist for twenty years, and served in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Uzbekistan and Pakistan. I’m so proud of him,” she says. “And he’s proud of what I do. He says whenever he saw a C-130 coming in, he knew he was going to get to go home.”

The company supplies aircraft not just to the American military but to countries the world over, with C-130s (and the latest incarnation, C-130Js) being the most in demand. A row of flags hangs along the C-130 assembly line representing each country that has purchased a Hercules. The latest C-130s to roll off the assembly line will be part of the Qatar Emiri Air Force, according to the fresh lettering on their sides.

It has been calculated that there’s a Hercules airborne somewhere in the world every minute of every day. They last forever, can land on ice and snow, fly into forest fires and hurricanes, can track icebergs and provide disaster relief. A Hercules flew the last flight out of Saigon before the city fell to the North Vietnamese in 1975. “Tim Nguyen was one of the 452 people on that flight, and he vowed to come work for the people who built that plane,” says Jeff Rhodes of Lockheed Martin’s Code One magazine. “He still works here, as an aircraft defensive systems engineer.”

As a defense contractor, Lockheed Martin is not without its detractors. Activists in England (where Lockheed Martin was contracted to conduct the national census) called on protestors to “swamp the US arms giant with a Twitter storm,” and, closer to home, residents of Burlington, Vermont, recently protested a proposed partnership on clean energy projects, saying the company was trying to “greenwash” its image.

But Cooper says she and other Lockheed Martin employees never forget their mission.

“I saw a video recently, Angel Flight, that was a powerful reminder,” she says. “A songwriter [Radney Foster] was singing about our C-130 aircraft that carries fallen warriors home. It gives me goose bumps to talk about it. It’s why we do what we do, to ensure the safety of the men and women who make the sacrifice to go serve.”

A self-described “little country girl from Anniston,” Cooper says she got a sense of the larger world during her time at Emory as a double major in religion and biology. “You would see Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, walking around campus. Emory opened my eyes.”

In fact, it was Emory’s Office of Executive Education at Goizueta, where she worked while getting her MBA, that set Cooper on her career path. “Lockheed was one of our clients, and I thought, ‘These folks are passionate about what they do.’ ”

Cooper was hired by Lockheed Martin in 2002 as senior manager of diversity workforce management before becoming vice president of Diversity and Equal Opportunity Programs in 2004. She served as vice president of human resources for the company’s Information Systems and Global Solutions in Maryland before her promotion to general manager in January 2011.

“I have the utmost love and respect for Shantella Carr Cooper,” says Connie Fisher, former director of executive education at Emory, whom Cooper considers her mentor. “She’s a natural leader with a lot of integrity and is very sincere. She’s a straight talker but is also an expert at reading people and getting her message across in the way they will best hear it.”

Cooper, whose husband, Eddie, is a lawyer in Marietta, and daughter, Chantel, just completed law school at Florida State University, also takes the time to mentor young girls in the community and support Lockheed Martin’s numerous charitable events.

She has received several national honors, including the Women of Color in Technology Corporate Responsibility Award, the YWCA Tribute to Women of Achievement, and Diversity MBA Magazine’s 2009 Top 100 Under 50 Executives. And she was recently named No. 24 among the top 100 business leaders in the US by Uptown Professional magazine.

Cooper says she’s anything but a “stay-in-the-corner-office” type of executive.

Beyond her frequent visits to the production floor, she has ridden in a C-130 and pronounces it a “smooth ride and an awesome aircraft.”

And she once took the controls of a C-5 to land it—in the professional simulator Lockheed Martin keeps on site.

“I didn’t crash,” she says proudly.

Cindy Sanborn posing with a CSX train

With both parents working at CSX in Jacksonville, Sanborn became fascinated by railroading at a young age. Now, she’s head of operations, overseeing 21,000 miles of track up and down the East Coast.

Evan Hampton/Special

Making the trains run on time: Cindy Sanborn 87C, Vice President, CSX Railroad

Train operations at three of the four railroads on the Monopoly board are the responsibility of CSX Transportation Vice President Cindy Sanborn 87C.

Well, parts of them at least. The long history of railroading reads like a laundry list of mergers and acquisitions, which has continued to this day.

“B&O [Baltimore and Ohio Railroad] is now CSX, as is a little bit of Pennsylvania, and a little Reading,” says Sanborn, the first female chief transportation officer at CSX.

She works in the company’s riverfront office in Jacksonville, in what was once the headquarters of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (now part of CSX as well.)

Just off the grand marble lobby by the elevators hangs the original of Francis Blackwell Mayer’s oil painting The Founders of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, depicting the history of the nation’s first common carrier, built in 1828.

“Railroads definitely have a sense of history and romance,” says Sanborn. “I find them fascinating.”

CSX Transportation now owns twenty-one thousand miles of track in twenty-three states and Canada, stretching from Miami to Montreal, and runs about 1,200 trains a day.

“Both of my parents worked here—my dad was an attorney for CSX and my mom was an administrative assistant—so I was somewhat immersed as a kid, and I thought it was kind of cool,” says Sanborn.

Her father, like many of the railroad’s executives, would travel by train in the business car fleet, and Sanborn would sometimes accompany him, watching the scenery fly by. “You could look out the windows, but you went where the train took you,” she says.

Sanborn found that comforting, but a bit disconcerting; she wanted to be the one deciding where the train went. And now, she is.

After graduating from Emory with a dual degree in economics and math and computer science, she joined CSX as a transportation analyst.

During the next twenty years, she moved nine times, from North Carolina to Florida to Pennsylvania to Maryland, taking jobs from assistant train master to manager of locomotive distribution to division manager to regional vice president, before being named vice president in 2009.

“I did my time, moving around, working nights and weekends, working around the network,” she says. Sanborn can operate the trains as well, having earned her locomotive engineer’s certification.

As chief transportation officer, she is responsible for the operations of CSX’s entire transportation network, overseeing everything from delivery schedules to safety concerns.

Named a “Trendsetter in Transportation” by Florida Trend Magazine in 2000 and a “Woman Worth Watching” by Profiles in Diversity Journal in 2010, Sanborn says her philosophy is to lead by treating people “as people, not vassals.”

“We’re a blue collar industry, and I work with about fourteen unions. You don’t read much about labor-management strife in the railroad industry,” she says. “It’s not that it’s happy-happy, joy-joy all the time; we have our differences. But you get the most out of your employees when they feel engaged, supported, and safe.”

“Cindy is a veteran railroader who has demonstrated strong leadership and delivered throughout her career at CSX,” says Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David Brown, who often rides the business cars with Sanborn as the company’s executives visit sites around the CSX network.

Sanborn is the one who takes the call in a crisis. She was involved in the true events upon which the 2010 movie Unstoppable (starring Denzel Washington) was based, in which a chase crew coupled onto a runaway freight train, managing to stop it before it potentially derailed.

She disagrees emphatically with the movie’s depiction of some events, finding them to be exaggerated in true Hollywood fashion. “In reality, we would pay any price and go to any length to protect the public and our employees,” Sanborn says. “Safety is absolutely core to us, core to our DNA. For a movie to portray us as anything else is troubling to me.”

Sanborn, who also has an MBA from the University of Miami, says her background in economics and complex systems helps her every day in finding creative solutions and improving measures of safety and efficiency.

“Railroading is a very robust and challenging business,” she says. “While we were cutting back a decade ago, we’re now hiring and expanding, so there’s a lot of excitement. As fuel prices go up, trains become more attractive as an economic decision.”

CSX is now “99.9 percent” freight transport and delivery, although passenger train operators like Amtrak pay to use the company’s tracks.

“Coal is king again in terms of tonnage, but we transport almost anything—metals, paper, chemicals, autos, construction materials, lumber, fertilizer, ethanol, consumables like orange juice, beer, and vegetables . . . really, a hodgepodge of merchandise,” Sanborn says. “We like to say if it’s in your life, it’s probably on our trains.”

Railroads are both green and sustainable, says Sanborn. “We can transport one ton of freight five hundred miles on a gallon of fuel. One train replaces 280 trucks,” she says. “We take a great deal of congestion off the interstates.”

CSX tracks also play host to specialty trains, such as Ringling Brothers’ red and blue trains, Tropicana’s bright orange trains, and the Santa train, which delivers gifts to needy children in the Appalachian mountains. “And we definitely have our fans—people who love to watch the trains go by,” she says. “The Folkston Funnel in Georgia, where two busy lines come together, is known far and wide among railroaders and attracts visitors from all over the world.”

CSX even sponsors summer concert series and Trees for Tracks service days, as well as other community projects.

While Sanborn admits that she often flies for business, she enjoys traveling in the company’s business cars—which includes reconditioned coaches from the 1920s to 1950s—like her father before her.

“We use them for inspection trips and customer entertaining,” Sanborn says. “The purpose is to be close to our people.”

While riding on a recent inspection train, she passed by Emory’s Depot (now the Mediterranean restaurant Zaya at Dooley’s Den)—a spot that she remembers well as a student.

“I took a photo of it on my cell phone to send to a friend as we went by,” she says, holding up the screen shot as proof. “It was really a coming-full-circle moment.”

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