Finding More

How One Employee Found Mentors and a Career Compass at Northrop Grumman

By Kenneth Kesner

Ask Chris about his work and he won’t tell you much. He recently became a Northrop Grumman program manager for restricted programs in Palmdale, California, handling Contractor Logistics Support — primarily global operations and sustainment activities — for customers he can’t name.

But ask him how he got here, how he feels about his job and team, and Chris is an open book. He’s proud to tell the story of a local teenager who was adrift and unable to even imagine the life he lives now.

career compass

“Not in a million years,” said Chris, who recently celebrated his 36th birthday. “I’m very grateful.”

College wasn’t in Chris’ plan after high school. He didn’t really have a plan.

The years had been tough growing up in California City, California, a small town just outside the Mojave Desert, about 30 miles north of Edwards Air Force Base. His dad wasn’t in the picture and Chris’s mom worked hard, but the family didn’t have much.

So, after graduation Chris went looking for full-time work near home. He didn’t have anything particular in mind, but as far back as he can remember he’s loved airplanes — not surprising, growing up with jets from Edwards in your backyard and your sky.

“Aviation becomes part of your life, whether you want it to or not,” he said.

In June 2006, Chris got a job as a tool crib attendant at Scaled Composites, a pioneer in the use of advanced materials for aircraft. He was 19. A year later, the company became a subsidiary of Northrop Grumman.

“I handed out tools. That’s what I did, day after day — kept track of tools,” he said. Over time, Chris began to crave more responsibility, a more hands-on job, and his managers provided the opportunity. He became a composite fabricator and structures mechanic, and again, Chris soon discovered he wanted more. He found mentors willing to help him explore career paths.

“You want to emulate the good managers. They’ve helped me grow, and I would love to do the same for my folks.”

— Chris, Program Manager

Through the years, he was an area lead, then shop lead, and worked in logistics support analysis and configuration management.

He also married his high-school sweetheart, Amber. When they were expecting their first child, he began college studies. Today they have three kids.

“I want to do everything I can to improve the quality of life for my family,” Chris said. “And to be a good example, to show them hard work pays off.”

With support from his mentors and managers, as well as from Northrop Grumman’s Educational Assistance program, he took advantage of online classes and put in a lot of effort over some long days. Chris balanced work and family while earning associate and bachelor’s degrees, and a master’s degree in Management and Leadership from Purdue University.

“It was a struggle. But if you want more, you’re going to have to invest more in yourself,” he said. “I want to make it as high up in the company as I can, and I want to do it in the right way.”

Chris is openly thankful for the opportunities with Northrop Grumman over the years, and the lessons learned from colleagues. “You want to emulate the good managers. They’ve helped me grow, and I would love to do the same for my folks,” he said.

He loves his work, the important mission they perform at Edwards Air Force Base. But even more, Chris loves what he’s been part of with Northrop Grumman, watching his programs and jobs flourish in the area he has always called home.

“I love being able to build something, watch it grow, see people perform,” Chris said. “I still learn something new every day.”

woman in blue clean suit

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