Norman R. Augustine isn’t just one of the most successful CEOs in Maryland history, he’s not just an engineer who served as undersecretary of the U.S. Army or rose through the ranks to head Martin Marietta and then oversee its “merger of equals” to become Lockheed Martin, the nation’s largest defense contractor. It’s not even that he’s something of a philosopher-chief-executive-officer, having written multiple books, most notably “Augustine’s Laws,” which contain such nuggets as the shrewd observation that World War II was won in about half the time it takes to develop a modern military weapons system.
No, what makes Mr. Augustine truly extraordinary is his curiosity and drive to find answers to questions that he might never even have contemplated before. Since retiring as chairman and CEO of Bethesda-based Lockheed in 1997, he has become the go-to man when governments need solutions to difficult problems. It works something like this: The folks in Rockville or Annapolis or in Washington put together a fact-finding commission to explore such questions as, how can Maryland be made more attractive to business? Or what’s the future of the U.S. space program? Or how about: What should be the U.S. role in Antarctica? Or maybe after 50 years, where should the nation’s interstate highway program be headed?
Those are all commissions that Mr. Augustine has headed and just a handful of the three dozen he has served on over the last two decades. The diversity of issues is staggering. One day he may be looking into U.S. global competitiveness, the next month he’s figuring out how an 82-year-old Roman Catholic nun broke into a nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., including getting past a “shoot-to-kill zone.” He’ll be the first to tell you — he wasn’t an expert on nuns or nuclear security. But when it comes to figuring out how things work (or don’t work), there are few people in this country more trusted to come up with the correct answers.
“They’ve been patient with me, and I’ve had fun learning new things,” the 82-year-old Denver native and Princeton University graduate observes. “I certainly haven’t spent my retirement as I expected.”
Did we mention that the man who was commanded a workforce of 120,000 is modest and self-deprecating? His wry treatises on business and management aren’t some dry-as-dust exercises in pompous self-congratulation, they are mostly a series of humorous aphorisms that poke gentle fun at the foibles of running an organization — and often at the mistakes leaders make. A few examples: “It’s easy to get a loan unless you need it.” “It costs a lot to build bad products.” Or this often quoted one: “The optimum committee has no members.”
“For those who have had the privilege to personally work with Norm,” says Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin’s current CEO, “in any endeavor, they soon learn that he is also a man with a wonderful sense of humor and personal warmth, who takes a genuine interest in the people around him.”
Mr. Augustine’s management philosophy can be distilled to a few sentences. He believes in running a business ethically, treating customers fairly and respecting all people. “People tell me, you forgot to mention profit. I tell them if you do those things profit takes care of itself,” he says. He’s also a big believer in hiring good people, telling them what to do and then leaving the alone. “You have to trust people. I was good at finding good people,” he adds.
William E. “Brit” Kirwan, chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, where Mr. Augustine has served on the governing board of regents for a decade, regards him as the “most deserving person I know” for any hall of fame honor. It’s not just his intelligence or his integrity but his willingness to help — which is probably why he’s served on all those commissions (and a lot of unpaid boards) and to this day has never held a golf club in his hand.
“It’s hard to think of anyone who has had such a broad impact on helping our nation and state address difficult issues,” Mr. Kirwan says. “He just has so many personal qualities suited for that role. He immediately gains people’s confidence.”
As for Maryland’s own business future, Mr. Augustine sees bright prospects. Just as his commission looking into Maryland’s business climate and economic development potential detailed two years ago, he thinks the state’s economy has much going for it, from its proximity to the federal government and Baltimore’s “great harbor” to its well-educated workforce. Now if it would just do more to reduce or streamline regulations. “What I heard the most complaints about from business owners is regulations,” he notes. “It’s like weeding a garden, you have to pull them out one at a time, and that’s a challenge.”
Which leaves just enough space for the busy Mr. Augustine’s favorite from his long list of clever observations: “Motivation will almost always beat mere talent.” To which we would add: “And someone with both is absolutely indispensable.”