People - April 2007

Business gets good when his customers are hurting
By Chris Richter

For General Dynamics Inc., the 21st century and its conflicts have been good for business. And Mike Mulligan, president of the defense contractor’s Charlotte-based Armament and Technical Products division, sees no immediate slowdown. “Given the war and the pounding everything is taking, there’s going to be a lot of demand for refit of equipment and replacing things that have been worn out.”

Mulligan, 44, came to the Queen City last July as vice president of operations, then was promoted in November when Linda Hudson left to run another defense contractor. The division’s 2,300 employees make Gatling guns, shoulder-fired rockets, armor for Bradley tanks, shelters and external fuel tanks for aircraft — stuff that’s getting a workout in Iraq and Afghanistan — at eight plants. The one in Charlotte makes chemical- and biological-detection systems. The division’s parent, based in Falls Church, Va., reported about $24.1 billion in revenue for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31, up about 15% from the year before. Net income was $1.9 billion, up 27%.

A first-generation American — his parents came from Ireland — he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1985 from what’s now the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He then got a job with the engineering department of Groton, Conn.-based Electric Boat, another General Dynamics division. There he worked on the development of the Seawolf class of attack submarines, designed to counter Soviet submarines. It was a big job for a new graduate, but he worked closely with electrical engineers, naval architects and others. “The nervousness went away because you saw you got access to a bunch of really good people and you had the customer involved pretty early on.”

Mulligan, who earned a master’s in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1988, also worked on the Virginia-class submarine. That’s when he moved to management. In 2002, he became site manager for a project at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where Electric Boat is converting ballistic-missile subs to carry cruise missiles and Navy SEAL teams. He took a year off in 2005 to get his MBA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then moved to the ATP division when he returned to work.

With Democrats controlling Congress, dwindling support for the Iraq war and a looming presidential election, the division’s long-term view is fuzzier. That’s the nature of what Mulligan acknowledges is a cyclical business. “What I’m really focused on is trying to make sure that if things change, we’re not surprised by it and we have the company structured so that we can provide new products that meet the new requirements.”