Meet the Chief: Maria Hedden, Chief Operating Officer

As part of our ongoing series, “Meet the Chief”, Signals took the opportunity to sit down with Comtech’s Chief Operating Officer Maria Hedden to talk about her role, how she thinks about the challenges ahead of her, and what excited her most about the future of the company.

Maria Hedden joined Comtech at the end of March 2022, bringing over 20 years of executive P&L management experience, with a focus on improving business performance. Maria has hit the ground running, having already spent a significant amount of time (and, accumulating a lot of air miles) to truly learn the existing operational model in place at Comtech when she joined, and importantly, imagining where it could go. In under a year, Maria has made major operational improvements that are an embodiment of the One Comtech strategy: making sure everyone at the company shares a common set of tools and processes to improve and optimize everything they do, every day.

Our first questions for Maria were about the business operational improvements she’s already made, which she refers to as “The Comtech Way”:

To learn the business, Maria jumped right in by visiting sites and talking to people. She was on a mission to learn their key drivers, talents, and sentiments about the company and thoroughly understand the processes and procedures – and how well they were working – from those on the front line.

“The first thing that stood out to me was how invested and passionate our workforce is,” said Maria. “Regardless of department or seniority level, everyone deeply understands the positive impact they are making for our customers. It motivates them and they take pride in being a part of something important.”

Another thing Maria noticed right away was that although all of Comtech’s employees had so much in common, each business unit worked too autonomously. This autonomy limited the amount of knowledge sharing across the businesses and opportunities to pursue programs together.

“Quickly, my goal became to bring our business units together. There is a lot of energy around the ability to collaborate across different entities, which provides growth paths for people and more opportunities for our business to expand – and more ways for new ideas to gain traction. So, I decided, let’s collectively harmonize the business with best practices consistent through each business unit.”

Through this observation, Maria knew she needed to establish a “Comtech Way” of doing things and has been working to define what this means to every employee at every business on a daily basis, and in turn, how to make these new tools accessible.  Maria is equally focused on making a major impact in optimizing the company’s supply chain, engineering operations, manufacturing, and therefore, the profit of the business. One example of this: the changes she has implemented as they relate to strategic sourcing. “Business units used to handle their sourcing needs independently,” explains Maria. “Like many other industries, our satellite and space business experienced supply chain shortages and their sourcing group proved very creative approaches during an extremely challenging time and did a phenomenal job finding new sources and finding parts through different leads. So, how can we take this kind of internal expertise and make sure it benefits the entire organization? Communication and collaboration, all with the ultimate goal of becoming One Comtech.”

In a short time, Maria has helped facilitate huge improvements to Comtech’s approach to business operations at a high level. But, she’s just getting started. In our next series of questions, Maria elaborated on some of the current challenges in her role:

“Our customers’ connectivity needs are rapidly evolving. To meet them, Comtech is working tirelessly to lead the convergence of satellite and terrestrial infrastructure.” Maria is confident in Comtech’s ability to be at the heart of this convergence and is forward-thinking about solving the future problems they may face as an organization. “As we merge satellite and terrestrial communications, we are anticipating that companies will want to close the network and control the IP,” shares Maria. “We are actively considering how we position ourselves to be a part of that closed market. Our top priority is ensuring as our solution offerings change, customers understand our partnership as a best-value relationship. A huge component of this is putting a ton of resources into Comtech’s innovation lab.” You can learn more about our Innovation Lab here.

Comtech is also very aware of the modern-day challenges imposed on businesses due to inflation. “We know our customers are feeling the impact of inflation. As inflation continues to rise, Comtech is trying to find innovative ways to add value to customers that offset some of the costs incurred due to inflation. This includes adding more features and abilities, free of charge,” shares Maria. “One Comtech is not just about the employees within the four walls of our offices and manufacturing plants. Our customer is a part of One Comtech too, and it’s our responsibility to be their trusted partner in communication.” This approach has helped dramatically improve Comtech’s relationships with its customers, leading to new business contracts and the extension of existing business relationships.

Another challenge Maria is actively working to improve is thinking on a global scale. Recently, Maria was a part of Comtech’s C-Suite roadshow, touring each of their facilities in the US and overseas. “The roadshow was instrumental in improving our visibility, and our commitment, to continuing to build on the relationships we’ve begun building,” said Maria. “We have a lot to gain from focusing entities on multiple countries, and I want to ensure we are thinking on a global scale, trying to open new markets and develop new products based on what our people in other parts of the world are doing.”

Finally, we inquired about what Maria sees as the road ahead for One Comtech:

While Maria has made great strides in her initial months at Comtech, she knows the best is yet to come. As we approach 2023, she identifies Comtech employees as the foundation for propelling the company to success.

“One of my goals for One Comtech is to leverage and empower a diverse workforce,” says Maria. “Leveraging these differences in background, experiences, and way of thinking, driving collaboration to achieve a streamlined One Comtech that will make Comtech as strong, creative, and innovative as possible.” Maria is always considering what Comtech can do from an internal R&D perspective, and is working closely with Jennie Reilly, Comtech’s Chief People Officer, leveraging Jennie’s People First strategy to recruit and retain the “best and brightest” talent. “Getting the right people in place and uniting everyone under a One Comtech culture is how we achieve what we need.” Maria shares. “We have an incredible team of leaders who are accountable, willing to think outside the box, value teamwork, are solution-focused; creating an empowered team environment to drive rapid growth.” When looking for new hires that add value to One Comtech, Maria is seeking people who “are not afraid of a challenge and get excited about making a difference.”

Finally, Maria attributes much of her success as a woman and the ability to achieve tremendous career growth and success in the male-dominated engineering industry to her executive mentors. As a result of the impact these “phenomenal” mentors and sponsors had on Maria, she is committed to giving back by mentoring and sponsoring other women to help them with their own goals.  She will be working with Jennie as part of Comtech’s People Strategy to implement mentoring opportunities. 

“People are at the core of One Comtech, and as we continue to grow and scale our business, they make it all possible. We have people with extraordinary talent and experience everywhere in this organization, and once we get them talking, helping, and collaborating with each other, we’re going to unlock a lot of potential.”