Beyond the Classroom : Five Questions with Louise Francesconi
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Eller College National Board of Advisors member and retired Raytheon Missile Systems president Louise Francesconi shares insight
Louise L. Francesconi stepped down from her role as president of Raytheon Missile Systems and vice president of Raytheon Company in July 2008 and retired in September. Francesconi has generously shared her time with the Eller College, and serves on the College’s National Board of Advisors. In fall, she joined the College as executive-in-residence.
Eller College: You’ve made your mark in a male-dominated industry. What do you think accounts for the great success you’ve had at Raytheon?
LLF: I have had the great privilege of running Raytheon Missile Systems, and it’s a role I came to without a technical background. I started in the finance department of the organization 33 years ago, and I was always someone who was interested in learning everything about the industry that I could. My business background was a great asset, but this is a highly technical field: I had to learn. I read and studied, I took formal classes in topics like propulsion. It was also important for me to understand what other people do so that I could give them the information they need. And finally, it was important to be willing to ask questions. So many people are afraid to reveal when they don’t know something. I found it was very freeing within the organization; it created a culture of learning.
Eller College: What was the biggest surprise you encountered when you became president?
LLF: ‘Surprise’ isn’t quite the right word for it, but I’m a very accountable person, and the responsibility for 12,000 families was something I felt very deeply. I’d long since prepared for the business aspect, but feeling that personal accountability was something new.
Eller College: What obstacles do you see to attracting new companies to Southern Arizona?
LLF: I think Tucson needs to work on its infrastructure — highways, education, health care. Projections ten years into the future indicate a shortage of high-tech workers. This industry is very competitive, and to attract companies who will bring in these workers, Tucson needs to be affordable, with a high quality of life. It’s tough to attract these companies now, and it’s only going to get tougher.
Eller College: What are you most proud of when you consider your time at Raytheon?
LLF: One of the most exciting things has been the satellite shoot-down in February 2008 — it was a way to bridge defense technology into a civilian role. I think that most Americans, when they heard this story, understood that it was about safety. This is technology that is traditionally used for military applications being applied for the social good: we successfully deployed it to protect people from the damaged U.S. spy satellite carrying toxic fuel that was expected to crash into Earth.
Eller College: Tell us about the interactions you’ve had with the Eller College during your time at Raytheon.
LLF: I’ve always stayed close to the Eller College and its leadership and have always been willing to come and talk with students. I’m excited about being an executive-in-residence and looking forward to getting involved through guest lecturing and mentoring — particularly of women — plus staying connected to youth and the issues that are important to them.