How does Annabel Flores work to defeat a broken STEM pipeline while solving our country’s biggest aerospace and defense challenges? She uses a voice the MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program instilled in her.
Flores ’99, MBA ’03, SM ’03 is deputy president of land and air defense at Raytheon, an RTX company and prominent aerospace and defense firm. Flores’s life features, in her words, “a ton of meetings.” Each day is different, with a ceaseless balance between solving near-term tactical problems and completing long-term strategic tasks. Specifically, “we focus on designing, producing, delivering, and sustaining end-to-end capabilities to deter, defend, and defeat a wide range of threats that are critical to the defense of our country and partner nations,” she says.
Flores is in her 17th job at the company, by her count. Her career history at Raytheon includes managing the strategic direction and operation of a diverse portfolio of electronic warfare products. “We deliver a full spectrum of land warfare sensors, helping our customers create layered and integrated air and missile defense. Our customers are predominantly the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and international land and air defense forces,” she explains.
Flores could easily go hoarse after so many meetings and presentations. But her experience in the MIT LGO program strengthened her voice. Knowing she became successful by learning to communicate, she sees value in presentation skills for leadership.
Today, Flores builds rapport with her teams in her own style because leadership “is not just about dollars and cents. It takes time and work to make it effective,” she asserts. The time spent communicating with people pushes progress on organizational goals, ensures clarity, and empowers enthusiastic ownership of the journey through all levels of the team.
Flores recalls the safe space LGO provided for developing her public speaking skills. She’s thankful for the unique and specific feedback received from that core group of people that wanted the best for her. Without that advice, Flores believes, “I may not have advanced to where I am today. They’re the ones that started me down this path.”
Pencil skirts to briefcase
As a child, Flores knew she wanted this life. “In third grade my mom bought me pencil skirts and matching shirts, but, man, I wanted a briefcase,” she remembers. A planner from the beginning, she decided she wanted to be an engineer sometime around seventh grade. “I had early dreams of getting into corporate America because that’s where they wore suits,” Flores recalled.
Growing up in Texas, Flores dreamed of heading east to her dream school to do what women are sometimes told is impossible — become an engineer. Upon beginning her collegiate career at MIT, she saw firsthand what was possible by looking around her own mechanical engineering class, a class that was 42 percent female.
Flores was in good company in undergraduate, but it was her time in the LGO program that instilled confidence in the engineer. After she graduated from MIT, Flores was determined to continue her plan with the doors opened by her mechanical engineering class. Her thesis’s focus was effective product development and speed-to-market. Her advisor pointed her toward the dual-degree MBA/MS LGO program, whose focus included product development.
Acceptance, she reminisced, “felt like going back home.” LGO presented an opportunity to consider the broader picture of product development and how to be an effective leader in that space. For example, the program was helping Flores build soft skills: team composition, change management, and motivating others. “I leverage these more in my career today than I would have expected,” said Flores.
Flores finally got her briefcase at Raytheon, an LGO industry partner, nearly 25 years ago. She started as an engineer, then realized she wanted to do more. On the way to her current executive role, Flores sought programs with growth opportunities. This was based on guidance from her LGO mentors at MIT. They charted the path to senior leadership: earn a breadth of experience from exposure to different customers, technologies, and problems.
From engineer to executive
One of the benefits available to Raytheon employees is the flexibility to take on different roles. Flores, taking full advantage, moved from engineering to business development, a change from developing technologies and products to a strict focus on customers.
She later took on another role in program leadership. When asked about the change, Flores admitted she “missed some of the engineering.” This new role involved both working with engineers to develop products and engaging directly with customers to ensure their needs were met. This perfect mix meant she could use her problem-solving skills and be a business leader, directing teams and making decisions.
Now that she has the experience to offer mentorship and career guidance, Flores aligns her role at work with the opportunity to mentor people of diverse backgrounds as a senior advisor to LGO’s Underrepresented Minority Alumni Group. This alumni affinity group raises awareness of this dual-degree program and how it can help accelerate careers.
Flores has also partnered with National Academy Foundation (NAF) to build STEM training academies in high schools in Puerto Rico, Washington D.C., Texas, and Compton, California. She’s helping to design the curriculum, support teacher training, and bringing kids to Raytheon’s campus for mentorship and training opportunities.
“It is an honor to have Annabel and RTX support NAF, a national education nonprofit, which works to ensure high school students are future-ready, as we embark on this new chapter in establishing our footprint in Compton, CA,” said Elizabeth Perez, NAF chief partnership officer. “Along with our dedicated RTX volunteers, Annabel is committed to NAF’s work-based learning efforts, which are invaluable to preparing the next generation of leaders, through hands-on activities, mentorships, and more. These experiences yield powerful connections and help students to develop the necessary skills to succeed and take their next steps after high school — no matter where their paths may lead.”
Building a STEM pipeline
At Raytheon, “we provide community support through efforts such as food scarcity programs, supporting people who leave the military through career fairs, jobs, and community-related activities, and building a STEM pipeline,” Flores says, beaming. Such projects reflect a desire to serve the public in a way that remains authentic to the company’s identity, and to Flores’s personal goals to further educational opportunities.
Flores wants kids to move from elementary school through college interested in and committed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs. Raytheon commits to kids’ futures by providing high school internships, fulfilling Flores’s desire to give young people the kinds of opportunities she had in the MIT Leaders for Global Operations program.
The alumni connections she has now are still willing to share leadership lessons. “This type of positive environment is not easy to find,” Flores notes. Laura Bogusch SM ’03, an LGO classmate of Flores who is now vice president at Boeing, says, “One of the best things to come from my Leaders for Manufacturing [LGO] experience was the connections with the women in our class. It is rare to have a group of friends who are able to relate to both me and my career in this way.”
Further emphasizing the program’s value beyond graduation, Flores remarks, “I’m in the same place for them. I never felt competitiveness. Once you strip that one-upness it changes everything, which is the enduring strength of what LGO has built. Watching [alumni] do amazing things makes you want to do amazing things. They shape the art of what’s possible.”