Linda Gooden’s first act as chair of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents was to apologize. It was November 2018, and the board had taken blistering criticism for its vote to retain University of Maryland football coach D.J. Durkin following the heatstroke death of 19-year-old offensive lineman Jordan McNair and reports of abusive behavior by Coach Durkin’s staff. At the same time, Wallace Loh, the College Park president, announced his retirement.
Critics said the regents got it all wrong, that they were prioritizing football over university standards while undercutting Dr. Loh, who wanted Coach Durkin fired. In the midst of that storm, the chairman of the board stepped down. Ms. Gooden, a board member since 2009 and its treasurer, stepped up.
“While the board’s decision was far from unanimous, and many members voted a different way, everyone on the board now understands that the board’s personnel recommendations were wrong,” Ms. Gooden said at the time. “For that, we apologize to the McNair family, the University of Maryland, College Park community, and to the citizens of our state.”
After the dust settled, Coach Durkin was gone and a new football coach had been named. Dr. Dr. Loh stayed on as president until 2020, when Ms. Gooden and the regents name Darryll Pines the university’s 34th president. Two years later, the university reached a financial settlement with the McNair family.
“Linda is extremely intelligent,” says fellow regent Gary Attman, the president and CEO of FutureCare Health. “But what is truly impressive is her emotional intelligence. She understands what motivates people and has a good ear for what will resonate with our constituents. We had suffered a loss of support because of [the Durkin vote]. The first thing Linda said as our chair was that we made a mistake, and she apologized. That kind of frank recognition and communication is emblematic of her tenure.”
At the time she became chair, Ms. Gooden had retired after a long career as one of the top executives at Lockheed Martin and had served on several corporate boards. Hailed as one of the nation’s top women in technology, she’s been a mentor to college students and aspiring engineers.
Those who’ve worked with Ms. Gooden say she’s an amazing leader, who brings rich experience from the corporate world. She knows how to listen carefully, to ask good questions, and to create partnerships in higher education.
The woman who led Lockheed Martin’s information technology sector to $10 billion in sales, and who now oversees a university system with a $6.2 billion budget, started out in the Ohio steel town of Youngstown with a desire to be a math teacher. She went to Youngstown State University in the early 1970s, one of only two female students majoring in math. One day, while waiting in line to speak to her dean, something caught Ms. Gooden’s eye.
“They were rolling in a new computer, an IBM mainframe, a big 360,” she says. “And there was a room full of guys working on it, all in nice white coats, and they had it blinking, with reels turning, and I thought, ‘Hmmm, that’s pretty interesting.’ So I asked the dean, ‘How do I work on that?’ And he said, ‘You want a degree in computers.’”
In that moment Ms. Gooden saw her future. She became the rare woman — and Black woman — in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) long before anyone called it that.
She earned degrees in computer technology, interned at General Motors and, as the world of computers started to grow, learned how to write software, picking up jobs at General Dynamics and Martin Marietta as an aerospace software engineer. For several years, she worked on missile systems. She then embarked on a long career with Lockheed Martin, the capstone being her creation of the company’s Information Systems and Global Solutions sector. She took the aerospace giant into IT services for government agencies.
“I had an idea,” she says, “that, with all of the capability at Lockheed Martin and our brand recognition we could actually build an information line of business within the corporation.” Ms. Gooden believed that, by offering IT services, government agencies would see that Lockheed offered them “something different than planes and things that go boom.”
The first IT contract was for $8 million with the Social Security Administration. Ms. Gooden’s idea eventually grew into a $10 billion line of business for Lockheed, operating in all 50 states and 19 countries with 40,000 employees. Lockheed has since refocused on its aerospace and defense business, sending its thriving IT division to another company in a $4.6 billion deal in 2016. Its IT efforts became a vital business that other aerospace companies soon emulated.
And for that, Ms. Gooden is “an absolute legend,” says Tyrone Taborn, publisher of US Black Engineer & Information Technology magazine. Her idea, he says, was daring and innovative. “No one was even looking at this [sector] until Linda did,” Mr. Taborn notes. “She transformed the landscape. She had the sophistication and tenacity needed to muster support for her idea.”
Linda R. Gooden
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Current residence: Riva, Maryland
Education: B.S. in computer technology, Youngstown State University; B.S. in business administration, M.B.A., UMUC
Career highlights: Retired as the executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Information Systems & Global Solutions; founder and president, Lockheed Martin Information Technology
Civic and charitable activities: Chair, University System of Maryland Board of Regents; audit chair, American Heart Association
Family: Husband, Laird Lott