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Game Changer: Ugo Paniconi, General Manager, MAS, L3Harris Technologies

After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 1987, Ugo Paniconi joined Honeywell Aerospace where he was responsible for providing engineering and technical support to a group of 50 technicians. “This responsibility was rewarding as it entailed working closely with unionized personnel that had unique skills in repairing a variety of aircraft instruments and electronic systems,” said Paniconi. 

A significant part of his job was to lead in the modernization of the Repair and Overhaul (R&O) instrument shop and introducing productivity improvements to reduce repair cycle times and costs. This was the start of Paniconi’s journey in the aerospace world where he learned the value of creating a positive work environment based on respect and trust. “This climate led to a higher level of engagement from employees in meeting new improvement targets on turn-around time and cost reductions while instilling a culture of continuous improvement,” he added.

A little while later, he decided to take on an increased level of responsibilities and challenges in the field of In-Service Support (ISS) and joined the Military Aircraft Division of Bombardier Aerospace in 1989. Here he was responsible for planning and executing aircraft upgrade projects, engineering studies, and technical investigations on various Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft such as the CT-114 (Tutor), the CT-133 (Silverstar), and the CF-18 (Hornet).  

In 2003, L3 Technologies acquired the Military Aircraft Division of Bombardier and named the division MAS. Between 2003 and 2019, Paniconi managed a number of ISS programs and was appointed as Director of Specialty Aircraft Services in 2005 and then Director of Programs in 2017.  “My primary focus was leading the implementation of effective and efficient delivery of ISS solutions and services for a variety of fleets, including Canada’s CF-18, CC-150 Polaris fleet, CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter, CT-114 Tutor aircraft, and Depot Level Maintenance services for the U.S. Navy F/18 aircraft,” he said.

Ugo Paniconi was selected as a Game Changer for the June/July issue of Vanguard. Here is his full interview. 

What is your role at your organization today?

On July 1, 2019, L3 Technologies and Harris announced the creation of L3Harris Technologies. Following this merger, I was appointed as General Manager of MAS in Mirabel, Quebec, Canada. Today, this organization employs over 1,100 people at 12 sites across Canada. My role is to ensure that we deliver execution excellence and continue to grow as Canada’s leading In-Service Support (ISS) integrator providing innovative and integrated solutions that span the full spectrum of ISS. 

What was your most challenging moment?

One of my most challenging work situations encountered was dealing with the (COVID-19) crisis. This pandemic directly impacted the lives of everyone in ways we never anticipated. The pandemic has changed the way we do business and how we interact with each other. Being part of the Defence sector, our business immediately qualified as an essential service by our government. Therefore, this crisis demanded that a series of safety and preventative measures be rapidly implemented across the entire organization. With effective guidance and support from L3Harris’ corporate team, the necessary measures crucial to the safety of our employees were put into place at each site. Since the situation was dynamic and constantly evolving in the early weeks of the pandemic, our challenge was to stay in front of this and to remain alert and flexible in adapting our response daily. 

From a leadership perspective, communication messages focused on uniting our employees in being vigilant by adhering to the safety measures and appealing to all employees to act in a respectful and responsible manner. Actions were also taken to accommodate flexibility in ‘work from home’ arrangements, shift schedules, and in ensuring that our work sites maintained a rigorous level of safety for employees who could not work from home due to the nature of their work. 

I am very proud of how employees across the L3Harris organization responded to these challenges with a high level of dedication and commitment to meet critical mission needs of our customers. Many of our customers have expressed words of appreciation on our responsiveness and flexibility, as well as our focus to execute our work in a safe and responsible manner.

What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?

I learned very early in my career, and still believe today, that delivering excellence comes from building a community of leaders across the organization, at all levels. The importance of connecting with employees, being attentive to their needs, and building a positive work climate of trust and respect is key. 

At L3Harris, building a high-performance culture across the organization demands that leaders actively promote and encourage inclusiveness, diversity, respect of ideas and opinions, and provide timely feedback and recognition on results and behaviours. 

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

A brick wall is sometimes just a test of our perseverance. History has taught us many lessons on not giving up after a failure or setback. I am inspired when I see leaders getting back up on their feet and rallying a team with a renewed focus and approach to persevere with a ‘can do’ attitude to achieve goals that initially seemed impossible.  

What is the best advice you received?

Never take your employees for granted. Employees come to work every day with a genuine intent and desire to contribute – they want to feel valued and recognized for what they accomplish. A simple thank-you gesture takes a few seconds but can go a long way in building morale and engagement. 

What is a habit that contributes to your success?

There are days where a plan or situation will go off the rails. This is part of business. When this happens, I believe it is more important than ever to be positive and to rally employees in a constructive and respectful manner. A failure is sometimes the catalyst needed to achieve an important breakthrough – to learn from what went wrong and break from past approaches. I believe that giving a team latitude to generate new and innovative approaches helps foster ownership within the team in driving towards desired results. 

What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?

L3Harris embodies a true commitment to innovation and continuous improvement as an agile global aerospace and defense company focused on delivering end-to-end solutions that meet customers’ mission-critical needs. Driving for excellence and accelerating innovation are key strategic priorities. L3Harris invests an industry-leading 4 per cent of its revenue in Internal Research and Development (IRAD). About 20,000 of our employees – representing 40 per cent of our workforce – are scientists or engineers. This really defines who we are as a company. 

How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?

L3Harris in Mirabel has been a long-time leader in the Aircraft In-Service Support (ISS) sector in Canada, supporting many of the Air Force’s major fleets, both at home and abroad, and we have successfully leveraged this capability into international contracts, thus creating more high-value jobs for Canadians.  A great example is our CF-18 ISS contract, where our innovation with life extension solutions, including robotic modifications and integrated data environments, and proven performance has won contracts with the Australians, Swiss, Finns and, significantly, the U.S. as a depot for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18s.  This has hopefully demonstrated to other Canadian-based services companies that it is possible to have success internationally with the right mix of innovation and execution.

L3Harris is also in the process of bringing our advanced and proven ISS solutions, tools, and processes to the naval sector to help the Navy leapfrog ahead a generation as it prepares to recapitalize much of its fleet.  

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?

Historically, Time and Materials-based contracts with no incentive for innovation and low profits can undermine investment and present challenges for organizations. These contracts over time can affect competitiveness, thus affect growth and Canadian jobs.  

Government leadership deserves credit as they are trying to implement a performance-based contract philosophy through the Sustainment Initiative and Sustainment Business Case Analysis (SCBA) framework.  L3Harris is looking forward to the opportunity to implement this progressive approach on more of our fleets so that the customer can benefit from innovation-driven customer savings. The SBCA framework will clearly demonstrate success to the customer in the four pillars: Performance, Flexibility, Value for Money, and Economic Benefits.

Another significant challenge is a gap in the new Value Proposition and Industrial Technological Benefits (VP/ITB) policy that does not offer multipliers for internal R&D investment.  Given the importance of VP/ITB in winning business in Canada today, and the resulting commitments companies have to accept, a change to this policy would certainly go a long way towards incentivizing more internal investment, thus resulting in a Canadian defence industry that is more innovative, competitive and successful.

Finally, a long-term challenge for Canadian ISS companies is having access to the necessary intellectual property (IP) to not only support Canada’s weapon systems at home but also to allow the development of innovative and engineered solutions that can then be exported to create valuable Canadian jobs.  When spending billions of dollars on new fleets, the government must negotiate the necessary IP access rights before contract award to protect the Canadian industry, Canada’s sovereignty, and lay the foundation for future growth and success.

How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?

At L3Harris, innovation and continuous improvement is directly tied to our strategic growth plan. There are significant potential synergies in expertise, innovation, technologies, and resources that are being leveraged across all L3Harris business segments to strengthen our competitive advantage and enable our growth strategy and performance success. 

The innovation culture and continuous improvement mindset at L3Harris is actively promoted across the organization through the program known as ‘e3’. The e3 is a business operating system for continuous improvement designed to win customer loyalty through a deep commitment to achieve “excellence, everywhere, every day.” This focus on innovation and continuous improvement has been engrained in the workplace whether it be for cost savings, quality improvement, or overall performance.

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years? 

I would have answered this question differently a few months ago. The reality is that we cannot ignore the inevitable downstream impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As difficult as it is to predict, this will certainly be the predominant shaping force in the near future. This will most likely affect markets (both in Canada and abroad), budgets, schedules, work regimes, as well as social interactions. Cultures best positioned to deal effectively with change and uncertainty will have the greatest chance to succeed in these unprecedented times.

Technology will continue to play a major role for success, particularly for product companies, but even services-focused companies will have to invest and determine how best to innovate by introducing new technology into their business.  I believe L3Harris has been successful in doing this in the past and is well-positioned for the future.  Technology themes such as artificial intelligence, cyber assurance, robotics, integrated data environments, and advanced manufacturing, to name but a few, will feature prominently in the years to come.

Despite the unpredictable impacts that may transpire from the ongoing pandemic, L3Harris will remain true to the principles that are central to our success: flawless execution, customer focus, strategic partnerships, and commitment to innovation and continuous improvement.

What is your parting piece of advice?

The employees are the foundation of any business. Be genuine with the employees and make time to connect with them by listening and validating what the underlying concerns are. The best way to do this is to put yourself in their shoes when discussing issues. An important part of leadership is about building confidence and trust with the employees, across all levels.  In my opinion, building a strong community of leaders across the organization, with a high level of transparency, trust, and collaboration are key tenets for continued success.    

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