First woman to lead Newport News Shipbuilding looks back on her first 90 days on the job

First woman to lead Newport News Shipbuilding looks back on her first 90 days on the job

Robert McCabe – Jennifer Boykin’s career at Newport News Shipbuilding began 30 years ago, when she joined its nuclear-engineering division. Today, she is its 20th president, the first woman in that position. She oversees the only shipyard in the country that builds aircraft carriers and one of just two that build submarines.

On July 1, she succeeded Matt Mulherin as president of Newport News Shipbuilding and executive vice president of parent company Huntington Ingalls Industries.

On the same day she completed her first 90 days on the job, Boykin spoke with The Pilot about her career, her impressions after a few months in her new job and her plans for the future.

Could you talk a little bit about yourself, about where you grew up, your family, early interests, anything in your early history that could have foreshadowed what you’re doing today?

“I grew up in St. Louis, middle of five kids, big family. My father was an engineer with McDonnell Douglas, which is now Boeing, but at the time McDonnell Douglas was the big St. Louis company. My mother – always a very strong influence – had her own business, in public relations and media. When I graduated from high school, I got a nomination to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. So I left St. Louis just before my 18th birthday and entered as a plebe in the ninth class that had women at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, to study engineering.”

I know your father was an engineer, but were you interested in that kind of thing?

“I was. I was a math and science kid. I did excel in math – I liked math, and my math teachers were always my favorite teachers. I graduated from high school in 1982. We didn’t call it STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) back then, but there was a strong interest in trying to help guide all students, particularly young women and young minority students, towards the STEM fields. I knew I wanted to be an engineer because my father was an engineer.”

You’re the first woman president of the largest shipbuilding company in the nation. What’s it like to oversee what historically has been kind of a male-dominated culture?

“Recently, I celebrated my 30-year anniversary here, believe it or not. It’s a predominantly male industry, I would say, but I do feel like our leadership team has, for as long as I can remember, really encouraged and provided opportunities for everyone. I don’t particularly feel like I’m coming in and overseeing something that was male-dominated, because I’ve grown up here.”

Do you think that because you are a woman, you will be able to bring some things to the job that maybe your predecessors could not?

“I am – my team knows this about me – very much a strength-based leader. I absolutely believe that each individual brings different strengths, so each leader brings different strengths.”