When D. Michael Bennett starts talking about technology, expect to be both inspired and enlightened. He’s excited not just about new and emerging tools and applications, but also about brainstorming new uses for existing technologies and how new developments can create productive, lucrative opportunities for businesses and professionals. It’s why in the late 1990s, Bennett abandoned a career in law.
Bennett now leads the development and implementation of its information technology policy, security, and execution as BAE Systems’ chief information officer, managing operations across the U.S. as well as in India, Sweden, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. He previously worked as vice president, contracts, procurement, pricing and facilities at the global defense and securities company based in the United Kingdom. Closer to home, the Charlotte, North Carolina, native uses his position to champion the need for youth and African Americans of all ages to be more open to technology as a creative and diverse pathway to career success.
You loved being a lawyer. What made you shift gears?
In the late 1980s, as the Internet was developing, I was doing a lot of technology law, learning about software and new applications from a legal standpoint. I was also involved in a lot of mergers and acquisitions and procurement work, and those things really piqued my interest in running a business. Law was very narrow. I wanted to move from general counsel into general management. Later, BAE offered me the opportunity to run its cyber security business.
African Americans have been slow to step up to the technological plate, to our own detriment.
It’s true, and I understand it. Becoming CIO never occurred to me. When our CEO Linda Hudson first approached me with it, I said, “I’m not an engineer, I’m not a technologist, I’m a business guy.” She said, “That’s exactly what we need.” My job is about figuring out how to develop IT to help drive the business. Most companies look at IT as an enabler, maybe a costly one. The most successful companies look at IT not just as an enabler, but as a driver to offer you a competitive advantage in the marketplace. If you use technology properly, it gives you that. That’s what I’m focused on every day here at BAE, and it’s incredibly exciting to realize how technology can enable your company to move forward, not just operationally, but cost-effectively.
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