Game Changer: Mike Lewis, Director, Raytheon ELCAN
Mike Lewis is Director, Raytheon ELCAN and one of our Game Changers for October/November. Mr. Lewis is interested in solving problems that no one else can and thanks Raytheon for giving him the opportunity to do just that. He loves Canada and the fact that he gets to put his physics background to use each and every day in the aerospace industry. Mike is an authentic team player who attributes much of his success to a well-balanced combination of relentless drive and patience. He details for us how Raytheon ELCAN is changing the game in the industry and what technologies, business strategies and trends are playing the biggest factor.
1. How did you start out in the industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?
My professional career has always been with Raytheon Technologies. I have a physics background – solving problems that no one else knows how to solve has always interested me. Raytheon has offered me a lot of opportunities from program management to business development and now leading the site.
Raytheon Technologies is a technology leader and industry leader in the aerospace and defense sector. We get to walk the halls and push against physics in Canada and more importantly in Midland. Raytheon ELCAN is a technology leader supporting the country that I love.
2. What is your role at your organization today?
I am the director for Raytheon ELCAN, a company with more than 160 years’ experience delivering high precision optical systems. I am ultimately accountable for the strategic vision to grow the site, execution to deliver quality products to our customers as well as the financial performance.
I see my primary responsibility as ensuring each of our 500+ employees have a safe, successful, happy work environment and feel empowered to be the best they can in their roles.
3. What was your most challenging moment?
Especially over the last two-and-a-half years, we have realized that many things are outside of our control. I am looking to leverage the challenges we have faced with situations like losing a competition, the impact of the global economy or COVID curveballs to empower and motivate my team to evaluate the situation, find a learning and rally to find solutions to our customers’ most difficult challenges.
4. What was your A-HA moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our readers?
My A-HA moment came when I was very new in the program manager role. One of my first programs was critical and it was in the worst state: the customer was not happy with us, we were late, over budget and had cost and technical challenges.
My first action was to put the program on hold. I had to make some tough decisions and have some tough conversations. Most importantly, I had to enable and empower my team to remove barriers.
The A-HA moment for me was when I realized that in order to overcome a seemingly insurmountable challenge, I had to adopt an open, collaborative, “in- it-together” approach. The solution included the Raytheon ELCAN team and our customer. We created a true partnership that is still strong today. This now defines how I solve big challenges
A member of my leadership team summed it up perfectly – we win and lose as a team.
5. What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
My team – all day – that’s easy!
My favourite day of the whole year happened a couple of weeks ago – our Employee Appreciation BBQ. Any time I have the opportunity to interface with individuals, teams or the whole site, I get fueled. It’s our people that drive our mission and solve our customers’ toughest challenges. We have an incredible workforce.
6. The best advice you’ve received.
Be authentic. Just be you. Connect with people and allow them to connect with you.
Whether it is with customers, employees or suppliers, values and trust are important to everyone. You can’t achieve these unless you’re authentic.
7. What is a habit that contributes to your success?
I am relentless. It’s subtle – people don’t realize it at first – but I will not stop until we have achieved our goals.
Along with this, it may be counter-intuitive, but patience. You need to drive to a goal and get results, but changing culture or achieving a long-term plan will not happen overnight. You need to have patience to play the long game.
What if you’re wrong?
It’s okay to be wrong – probably the only thing I’m certain of is that I will be wrong. We’ll all be wrong at some point. Without taking calculated risks you limit success.
Continuous improvement is not just about processes. If you really embrace this mentality, you actually don’t care if you’re wrong. You will learn and then try again. Just take another step. What drives success is not stopping but adjusting, improving and taking that next step.
8. What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?
To me, innovation is when you think of a child learning and how they approach a problem. They don’t know the rules or constraints – their imagination is limitless. If we think like this as adults, anything is possible.
Questions about the ORGANIZATION
1. How is Raytheon ELCAN changing the game within the industry?
We are removing the constraints from our customers and employees and expanding the solution space we’re working in. We are thinking outside of the proverbial box and challenging their thinking in a different way.
Our marketing tag line is that we think differently to help customers see better and farther in any domain and against any challenge.
As an example, we had a customer who needed us to achieve a better lens surface. We changed the conversation from the surface of the lens to discussing system performance. By suggesting using a different material, we were able to achieve the surface finish they needed. This solution was lower cost and more producible.
Another customer faced a challenge with an infrared countermeasure. Initially they thought the problem was the geometry of the dome. We solved the problem by retaining the dome differently in the system.
In both cases, it was constrained thinking that limited the options. We removed those constraints and delivered solutions that helped our customer win.
2. What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
For Raytheon ELCAN, as an optical innovation centre in Canada, the recapitalization of our country’s military will be largest driver. The implementation of Strong. Secure. Engaged., Canada’s defence strategy, along with the most recent announcement about NORAD modernization will drive the technological advancements for decades to come, not just the next two years.
This is an exciting time to be part of one of the world’s largest aerospace and defence companies, Raytheon Technologies. This gives us the power of reach-back into the United States for proven, trusted solutions and the runway to develop new technologies and capabilities to support our Canadian customer and our allies.
3. Tell me about your vision for ELCAN.
My vision for our team is that by further empowering our people we will deliver for our customers in new and better ways. This isn’t just a design, solving an engineering challenge or delivering a product. I envision a true engineering partnership with our customer where they bring us a problem and we develop solutions. We will solve the problems they don’t even know they have.
4. What do you want employees to know about you?
I care about them and their opinions matter.
I want each person to be connected to the company.
I am excited.
I am listening.
I am overwhelmingly confident that we will deliver for our customers and on our mission because of our people, passion, knowledge and experience.
5. What do you want customers to know about you?
I want our customers to know that I am here to support them and am confident in my team’s capability and passion to deliver.
I don’t want them to constrain their thinking about how we can help solve problems for them. We welcome their challenges (cost, schedule, design). We are asking our customers to let us help them drive their success; to create a true partnership.
6. What do you want customers to know about ELCAN?
The basic stuff – we are vertically integrated, design and manufacture high precision optical assemblies across markets.
Raytheon ELCAN is more than just a supplier – we are a strategic partner that’s here to help our customers solve their biggest challenges.
Our core competencies align directly with the Key Industrial Capabilities Canada needs. We offer an additional competitive advantage to our customers because we are Canadian. Raytheon ELCAN is actively working to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with Canadian and international companies to leverage the power of the Canadian Industrial and Technological Benefits policy.
7. What is unique about ELCAN?
We often talk about the ELCAN secret sauce. To me, this is the combination of the employee knowledge base and individual pride and ownership.
Whatever role our employees have, the knowledge base is exceptional. Our operators understand what is happening inside the machine; they aren’t just pushing a button. Our opticians and thin film coating technicians complete a four-year, provincially certified apprenticeship program so they understand the entire process from one end to the other. Our designers and operations engineers work iteratively with production to ensure designs that are delivered to the floor are manufacturable.
Secondly, it is our connectedness. We are a corporate entity in a small town – we are a community. It is like we are a family business. Our employees care and have pride in the results. ELCAN is just different – we each care about the job as well as the person sitting beside us.
We look for that untapped potential in our employees. We support and empower our team to create greatness. The power of our people is what drives the success of our organization.
8. What is your parting piece of advice?
Don’t limit yourself.
Look beyond – explore the potential and possible – and create something new.