Game Changer: Jake Jacobson, Vice President, Business & Corporate Development at Babcock Canada.
In continuing our series on Game Changers, meet Jake Jacobson, Vice President, Business & Corporate Development at Babcock Canada. Jake has spent the last two and a half years of his illustrious career with Babcock Canada and has 45 years under his belt in the defence & security industry. Of those years, almost three decades were spent with the Navy; and the rest with Lockheed Martin in the UK and Canada, General Dynamics Canada and DND.
1. How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?
In addition to time at sea and on the waterfront, much of my time in the Navy was spent contributing to or managing major programs: naval engineering, above water weapons, underwater warfare, ship repair, and shipbuilding. It was a natural transition to move to industry to contribute to the management of maritime helicopter programs, and then further shipbuilding, underwater warfare, and advance air and naval programs. It was a perhaps unusual but also natural transition to move back to DND to oversee National Procurement, help wherever I could with respect to Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, and support the development of the Canada First Defence Strategy and the major growth in programs that came with the policy. Joining Babcock has given me an opportunity to again focus on the challenges of sustaining complex platforms and systems, and to expand my horizons further from the defence domains (air, land, and sea) to the adjacent commercial domains.
2. What is your role today?
My role at Babcock Canada can best be summed up as helping the company to develop as a Canadian business: leading an experienced and talented team in exploring how Babcock can make a difference in the defence and commercial domains here in Canada, and helping the company develop corporately, as a growing business. As many of our colleagues would attest: shrinking a business is hard, but growing a business is much harder.
3. What was your most challenging moment?
Tough question, as there have been several throughout my career that would vie for that title: “successful” missile trials on the pre-TRUMP IROQUOIS Class that were really a failure; driving to 100% completion of all sea trials in one month post ship refit; performing the 24-hour straight analysis that changed the course of the subsequent TRUMP program; defending the East Coast Combat Engineering organization from well-meaning but misguided efficiency cuts; leading the East Coast drive to get our ships off to the first Gulf War; having to say goodbye to 100 great people from the West Coast FMF, and re-organizing it for greater operational effectiveness; supporting the then Defence Procurement Agency, the Royal Navy and its Fleet Air Arm in getting the Royal Navy’s Merlin ASW helicopters ready on time to join the Ark Royal for deployment to the Gulf; building and then saying a sad goodbye to a great capture team assembled for Canada’s Maritime Helicopter program; building a cross-industry solution to the first Joint Support Ship program; working with truly dedicated, innovative leaders to re-build the Materiel Group’s engineering and procurement personnel and training base, respond to the Manley Report’s call for medium-lift helos and high-performance UAVs for Afghanistan, developing the initial thoughts on new approaches to shipbuilding and economic leverage of defence procurement, and developing the rationale for growth and prioritization of our always-short National Procurement budget; and, most recently, helping Babcock as a very willing student-of-Canada to understand how Canada is different, and the many ways in which it can make a positive difference.
4. What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our readers, tell us that story?
Most often, we all work very hard to meet deadlines or achieve a particular result. This is a story of when working even harder was not going to achieve the result. Rather, it became a situation where it became apparent that the goal could not be achieved, and the program needed to take a radical change of direction as a result.
The situation is one I referred to in my answer to my most challenging moment(s): “performing the 24-hour straight analysis that changed the course of the subsequent TRUMP program”. As I look back on what happened that weekend, it illustrates to me a time when less curiosity and less rigour would have realized a no-doubt perfectly acceptable short-term outcome, but one which would have resulted in a misspent billion dollars, and a false sense of a key naval capability.
As the Navy’s and DND’s lead for the above water warfare solution for the Tribal Update & Modernization Program (TRUMP), I went into the office on a quiet Saturday to spend a couple of hours working out how the complement of the conventional “Standard” missiles each ship should have to defend itself and accompanying ships from the expected threat. Fortunately fortified by a bag of bagels I happened to pick up en route, the couple of hours stretched to several, and then to overnight as I found I had to first develop (in the days before PCs and electronic spreadsheets) the probabilistic models, test them, and then work through the multiple engagement examples.
My “aha!” moment came when I realized that the answer to how many missiles each ship should have was zero. The answer, which had taken an uninterrupted 24-hour sprint to reach, was “nil” because the planned system configuration would simply never be fast enough to deal with a modern threat.
Many briefings later, the industry, Navy and DND leadership took the courageous step to re-cast the program into what the much larger but operationally successful program that it became: the first-ever deployment outside of the USN of the vertical launch Standard missile.
5. What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
Knowing how hard the folks in the CAF and DND strive to sustain the platforms and major systems that they have worked and fought to acquire, the one thing that has me most fired up today is looking through a different lens at how the CAF and DND can realize even greater improvements in the sustainability, affordability and, importantly, predictability of their equipment.
6. What is the best advice you received?
“Be yourself.” (This advice was given to me by father, a man of few words, following a disastrous evening out as a 16-year old buzz-cut military cadet trying to “fit in” to an early-70s dance scene!). The advice instantly resonated with me, and has guided me through my life: always work to be the best you can be, stretch and try things out, but always remain true to the person you are.
7. What is a habit that contributes to your success?
Listening: I enjoy people, and whenever possible I surround myself with people who are smarter, better experienced, and more capable than I am. And then I listen to what they have to say. The combination of better information and varied, diverse perspectives always leads to a better outcome.
8. What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
I have not found a reliable pattern of where innovation can be found, but I have found that not just many but most individuals: a) want to do a good job; and b) are naturally motivated to be creative in what and how they accomplish their objectives. Young or old, new or experienced, partly or highly educated: it doesn’t matter. What matters, to a degree, is if they have curiosity and drive, but mostly what matters is if they sense encouragement to be innovative. Create an environment that welcomes the exploration of ideas and acts on innovation, and innovation will come.
Questions about Babcock Canada.
1. How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
I joined Babcock in 2013 because I like what they did: in industry sector after industry sector, in the defence and commercial domains from marine to vehicle fleets to aeronautics, communications and training, they have taken an approach of aligning completely and genuinely with the customer’s operations mission and the customer’s cost or affordability needs. It has meant bringing new perspectives, empowered people, solid engineering, smart technology use, purpose-build infrastructure and cross-domain know-how to bear on solving the challenges of sustaining complex and mission-critical platforms and major systems.
2. What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in our industry sector?
The biggest impediment to innovation is not a lack of money or talent: it’s personal. People have to feel empowered to bring forward their ideas – big and small. Innovation is sometimes felt to be synonymous with a big idea. Sometimes it is, but most innovation is small and progressive, and in its collective impact makes a difference every bit as important as the occasional big idea.
3. How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
Innovation becomes ingrained when, through leadership and openness at all levels, it becomes a natural behaviour and an integral part of the organization’s culture. It becomes optimized when it is supported by structure: routines, processes, and deliberate opportunities for deeper reflection.
4. What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
The grand name for the technological revolution that we’re now beginning to see gather steam (using an old metaphor for a new phenomenon) is the “Internet of Things”. We may not see the market that pundits are predicting (fridges that check on whether our milk has expired), but we will see the progressive application of sensors, networks, and data analytics to understand the status of our complex assets, predict failures, and recommend when an intervention (maintenance or repair) is needed.
The business models that will drive changes in our industry are joint ventures: the program-optimized joining of much larger corporate capabilities in a team vs. prime-sub/boss-subordinate environment.
The other trend that will continue to drive changes in our industry sectors – defence and commercial – is the combination of always-growing organizational ambition, always-short resources, and the realization that organizations need to focus on their core. And that core is defined not by what they can do, or even what they can do well, but what they and only they can do.
5. What is your parting piece of advice?
Enjoy what you do – or change what you do. Life is too short to do otherwise.