Lori Harper: Running a Tight Ship

Lori Harper: Running a Tight Ship

Lori Harper is vice president, supply chain management at Ingalls Shipbuilding, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII), Pascagoula, Miss. HII was spun off from Northrop Grumman Corp. in 2011. Harper has served in this position since 2012.

Responsibilities: Sourcing, procurement, receiving, warehousing, inventory, distribution, cost control, and analytics.

Experience: Subcontract management specialist, material site manager—Gulfport operations, subcontracts section manager—DDX Program, manager—supply chain compliance, director—LHD 8 program material, director—LPD 17 program material, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

Education: B.S., business administration, Southwestern Oklahoma State University, 1993; MBA, organization and operations management, William Carey College, 1997.

Recent Honor: Named one of the Top 10 Business Women of 2015 by Mississippi Business Journal.

The main challenges I face in my work at Ingalls Shipbuilding are probably the same ones faced by professionals in my role throughout the world: how to add value to your enterprise. Ingalls Shipbuilding builds war ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. Our most important goal is to give our war fighters the products they need. And we’re continually seeking to deliver those products more affordably.

Ingalls Shipbuilding procures materials and components mainly from suppliers in the United States. We transport this product via ocean, air, rail, and truck to our manufacturing facility in Pascagoula.

One current project I find exciting is an effort to improve material tracking. Tracking raw materials and loose parts in a ship yard is hard because there’s so much steel in the environment. That metal interferes with radio signals, making it difficult to implement a radio frequency identification system, as you would in a warehouse. I can’t give details on the solution we’re developing, but if it’s successful, I believe it will be a game changer.

A highlight of my career has been my work to support the construction and delivery of one of our amphibious assault ships, LHD 8. Not only did I take part in procuring materials, but I practically lived on the ship for almost two years. I attended daily meetings there, and went out on the sea trials. We usually spent 16 or 17 hours daily on board. It was incredibly rewarding.

Because this project was so important, we implemented some unusual strategies. For example, we stationed a supply chain tiger team at the waterfront to provide immediate support. Some of our suppliers established operations on site. When you’re testing a ship, inevitably some components will not function exactly as needed. So it’s critical to have suppliers there to help with repairs and provide parts.

Throughout my career, I’ve had to learn to adjust, think on my feet, and figure out solutions to unexpected challenges. One early lesson in dealing with the unexpected was when I served as the Mississippi lead on the construction of a petrochemical plant.

I was the only woman on site for several months. In all the planning we did for that greenfield project, no one thought about providing a women’s restroom trailer. We ended up ordering a single-person unit for my use.

That’s just an example of the things you have to consider as women start taking on leadership roles where we haven’t in the past. Being one of the first is a challenge, but it’s also a phenomenal opportunity to learn from others, and for the men I work with to learn from me. I also enjoy being able to open doors for other women.

The Big Questions

What one characteristic do you believe every leader should possess?

To be an effective leader, you have to be willing to go against the flow when necessary. It takes courage to speak up professionally and respectfully, and then to act on it.

If you could go back to school for fun and personal enrichment, what would you study?

I’d love to learn a foreign language—probably Spanish. I would also like to study horticulture.

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Life will throw some challenges at you, but you will be OK. Just keep getting back up.

What is your passion in life?

My passion is helping people—in my community, and in my professional and personal environment. I’m on the executive board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, and I’m the executive sponsor for an employee resource group at Ingalls called Women in Shipbuilding Enterprise.

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