Energetic. Focused. Intense. These are a few of the words that come to mind when thinking of Roger Krone. Since earning a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from Tech in 1978, Krone has been rocketing up the ranks in the aerospace industry. He started as a junior aircraft designer toiling at a drawing board, and now he’s president of Network and Space Systems at Boeing, managing 16,000 employees in 38 states and 11 countries. He’s also a husband, father, licensed commercial pilot and a competitive runner.
When Krone isn’t jetting to the divisions he oversees or leading development of next-generation spaceflight systems and satellites, he is a Six Sigma green belt, a certified public accountant, an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society, a board member of the United Launch Alliance, a board member of the Greater Washington chapter of the Urban League and a member of the Georgia Tech Advisory Board.
Here, we take a look at a week in the always-moving life of Roger Krone. Below is Brett Weldele’s depiction of a life in the week of Roger Krone, and read on for Van Jensen’s Q&A with the man in motion.
Did you always have an interest in aviation and aerospace?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to design and build and fly airplanes. We would go over to my grandparents’ house for dinner every Sunday night, and my grandfather was bouncing me on his knee when I was 3 or 4, and he said, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And I said, “I want to be an aerospace engineer.”
Where did that interest come from?
My dad was in World War II. He was a bombardier on a B-29 and came back to Cincinnati and went to law school at night on the GI Bill. On the weekends he had to study. He threw everyone in the station wagon, and we’d go to the local airport and he would study. My mom and my brothers and I would watch the airplanes do touch-and-goes. Between that and Sputnik and the space race, I just had this love affair with aviation.
You can imagine what my room looked like growing up. I ran a thread from the door to the window and we hung little plastic rocket and airplane models. I had posters of airplanes and jet fighters.
What brought you to Georgia Tech?
I wanted to go to one of the top aerospace engineering programs in the country, and Tech clearly met that requirement. Home was wonderful, but I wanted to get some distance. The valedictorian of the high school class the year before mine went to Georgia Tech, so that’s how it got on my radar screen.
When did you become involved with the Yellow Jacket Flying Club?
I showed up on campus in 1974 and threw down my footlocker in the dorm and went to the Student Center and joined the flying club, probably before I even registered for classes. I was an officer, involved in leadership all four years.
How have you stayed involved with the club?
A lot of my recent charitable giving has been to modernize the fleet. If you’re training, it’s nice to have a couple of airplanes that are almost exactly alike. That way, scheduling is less difficult.
When I was in the club, we had a mixed bag of Cessnas and Grummans and various aircraft. If you went out and your aircraft was down for maintenance, you weren’t able to fly.
We’ve been able to improve the fleet in partnership with student government. We’ve been able to standardize with [Cessna] 172 trainers. They have a standard paint scheme and a standard interior and standard radios and navigation equipment.
Where did your career start after graduation?
I went to General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas, in the advanced design department. I started on the drawing board. They issued me pencils and paper and a 10-foot drawing board and a drawing machine, and I started doing design work. I went from the junior designer to a senior designer.
How did you get into management?
When I got out of Tech, I thought one person could design an airplane. [But] if you’re going to design the next jet fighter or commercial airliner, it’s about a team. It’s as much of a management challenge as it is a technical challenge.
I was much more interested in helping to lead and manage the project than I was in getting a PhD in computational fluid dynamics.
Along the way you picked up an MBA and a CPA license. How did those come about?
I woke up one day and realized I was working with budgets and marketing and finance, and I had no formal training. I went out of my way not to take courses in marketing when I was at Georgia Tech. And suddenly I realized maybe I needed to know more about marketing and product positioning and placement.
I went from program management into marketing. I had to go international to sell aircraft. I spent some time as a CIO. I spent some time in finance.
It was always really interesting work, a chance to contribute something that satisfied my intellectual curiosity. I never turned down a hard job. My best assignments were the hardest ones.
What’s an example of that?
In early 2000, I was a CFO for the aircraft division, and the boss came into my office and said, “The general manager in Philadelphia just turned in his resignation. We need someone to go run the helicopter division.”
The operation wasn’t working very well. We weren’t making any money. We had major development programs that were in trouble. But it was a terrific experience. I think you learn more in a turnaround situation than you do with something that’s performing well.
Why is that?
When you’re losing money and the customer has issues and you have technical challenges, you come to work really early, really excited about the challenges. You get to build a team and drive change and make a difference.
How did you come into your current role?
In 2006, Boeing reorganized. I knew we were going to end up with three divisions: airplanes, space and networks, and support and services. My new boss called me in and said, “We want you to run the network and space operation.” I looked at him and went, “What!?” I spent most of my career on the fly-through-air side. I said, “Wow, OK, this is going to be another learning experience.”
The engineering principles are the same, and the disciplines and critical thinking and intellectual curiosity apply across the industry. But to apply that in an area where I hadn’t spent 25 years was great, because I came in with some fresh thinking. And I got to learn.
The terrific thing about my career is I’ve never stopped learning.
What did you learn?
The things you have to do if you’re going to fly into space are different from what you’re going to do if you’re flying in the atmosphere. You can’t take the space shuttle, land it at the nearest airport, park it and change a battery. There is no gas station in a 200-plus-mile orbit above the Earth.
What’s your management philosophy?
Tech fueled my desire to understand how things work from a technical standpoint. That has served me really well in my management role. I’ve got a series of reports and graphs to keep tabs on things, but what I’ve done is set up a regular schedule of meetings and reviews. I fly out to places like Houston, where we’ve got the program to design a new commercial capsule for low-earth orbit. And I sit in on a design review with the team along with my staff, and we do a program review. We go through all aspects of what it takes to design a new space capsule. I sit at the end of the table and satisfy my curiosity on the engineering side. And at the same time I think about how it fits into the business, how to allocate resources and create value for our customers and shareholders.
You’ve got to work on something that matters. For me, I’m passionate about aerospace. You also have to leverage the world around you. This means celebrating the team, not the individual. And it’s important to know who your partners are. The foundation for all of this is personal integrity—to trust and be trusted.
How do you feel about the end of the space shuttle era?
When people talk about the space shuttle, they think about the orbiter, and that was a Boeing product. The history and the passion for that program runs very deep at Boeing.
There’s always some sadness when you go through a transition, but for us there’s excitement about new development in the human spaceflight program. We have the heavy lift NASA program to support planetary missions, called Space Launch System. We have an opportunity to play in a more commercial space role.
You’re a runner as well, right?
[A group of Boeing employees] did the Army Ten-Miler, the Air Force Half Marathon and we did the Marine Corps Marathon this year.
When did you start running?
Seventh grade. I weighed about 90 pounds, and all my friends were playing football, and someone said, “There’s something called cross country.” I had no idea what that was. You just start running. Here I am, 45 years later, and I haven’t stopped.
What’s great about running is you can take a pair of shoes and some gym shorts and a T-shirt, and they don’t take up much room in your luggage. I’ve run in probably 50 countries. When I land, I like to immediately go for a long run. It helps to reset the body clock. If you’ve run 10 miles in the morning, you have no trouble falling asleep at the end of the day.
How did you come to be so involved with Georgia Tech as an alumnus?
I was among the last classes that graduated from the North Avenue Trade School. We had drownproofing. We had labs on Saturdays. It was, “Look to your right, look to your left.” It was hard. We built things, we broke things. You were expected to be able to turn a wrench and do a computer simulation.
That fit well with me. The harder the course, the more fun it was. But it was all a means to an end to get out and begin designing airplanes.
For the first five to 10 years, I lost touch with Georgia Tech. I was focused on me and my career. But then the preparation Tech provided me started to pay dividends, and I started to be more successful in my career. I came to realize how valuable Tech was.
I continued to get promoted and have greater responsibility, and I felt this need to contribute back and get back on campus, to reconnect with some of the people who reached out in my four years and taught me lessons I didn’t understand at the time.
It’s about giving my time, coming back to give presentations to the Student Alumni Association or to the aerospace program. And then eventually I had the chance to sit on the Georgia Tech Advisory Board.
What has been the highlight of that experience?
I think GTAB helped to transition [President G. P.] Bud [Peterson] into the Tech community. One of the things he wanted to do was to build a strategic plan and use it as a blueprint for what he wanted to accomplish in his tenure. And we helped with that.
You keep so busy. Does that frenetic lifestyle stem from your personality?
I keep tabs on everything. Everybody around me knows it. I walk into the room, and everybody’s heartbeat quickens. The more projects we have going on, the more stuff we’re trying to do, the better. This means running the business faster than the competition. This means closing the design cycle faster than the next person. This means having the next great idea.
How do you relax on the weekend?
I go down in the basement and I get my saw out and I cut up pieces of wood and I nail them together and I build things. I put in a low voltage stereo system in the house and fix the air conditioner and putz around with airplanes.