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In Focus: Matthew O'Brien

Oct 01, 2009

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The Smith School’s executive education programs give executives in the workplace access to thought leadership from the superstars of Smith labs and classrooms.

Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O’Brien has had something of a stellar career. O’Brien is vice president of Business Operations and CFO for Sandia National Laboratories. He manages its supply chain operations as well. 

Sandia, a US Department of Energy facility, is one of three national laboratories that contributes to national security, supports the national nuclear weapons complex, and engages in a variety of engineering and technology activities for US government and industry. Sandia has an annual revenue of $2.3 billion.

O’Brien has had a long career with Lockheed Martin, the management and operating contractor for Sandia. He began his career at Martin Marietta working on Titan launch vehicles and satellites in the early 1980’s. Martin Marietta later merged with GE Aerospace and then Lockheed to become Lockheed Martin. O’Brien has been with the company through every transition. “It’s like having 10 careers all within the same corporation,” he says.

Last summer O’Brien participated in the Executive Leadership Strategies Program (ELSP), a custom executive education program created for Lockheed Martin by the Smith School. It was a fantastic experience, he says. It brought together theory and practice in a way that was relevant and meaningful.

O’Brien found the session on planning for the future, taught by Gerald Suarez, associate dean of external strategy and executive education fellow, particularly useful. “Putting in place deliberate strategies that will help shape the future you hope for is so hard to do, but Gerald laid out a great taxonomy for understanding how to accomplish it,” says O’Brien.

“The week after that class I began our annual Finance and Business Operations strategic planning at Sandia, and I found that having spent the time in class really framed what the agenda for that meeting should look like,” says O’Brien.

Suarez uses a tool called “The Implications Wheel,” which shows people how to think in a non-linear fashion. O’Brien was so impressed with the presentation and the Implications Wheel that he is planning to bring Suarez out to New Mexico to present directly to his team. O’Brien expects these tools and strategies will be very useful as he deals with his unique workforce — a group of men and women who are highly educated in scientific and business fields and who don’t always think in a linear fashion.

The second week of the course consisted of assessments designed to provide a basis for individual coaching sessions. “Without even talking with me, my coach was very perceptive in terms of interpreting and providing a description of how I’d work best. I thought she must be clairvoyant,” O’Brien says.

Interacting with Smith faculty was a highlight of the course. “You sometimes hear that academia can be out of touch with the reality of the business world…this was not the case with the Smith School. They were really valuable to talk to.” 

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business 

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, MS in business, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.