Like any good mentor, Calvin Wong aspires to lift up his protégés and help them be their best. But Calvin’s protégés aren’t junior engineers, he mentors small businesses.
Calvin, a senior systems engineer, is part of Northrop Grumman’s small business Mentor Protégé Program (MPP). Whereas in the typical mentor-protégé relationship, an experienced professional lends advice and perhaps training to a colleague looking to advance, in the MPP, the mentoring company—in this case, Northrop Grumman—offers manufacturing equipment and guidance on how to earn security clearances to small businesses.
“With the MPP, we’re giving back to the wider business community,” Calvin said.
The MPP was developed by the Department of Defense in the early 1990s to help small businesses expand their footprint in the defense industrial base. All large contractors participate, but Northrop Grumman has excelled. Every year, the DoD recognizes top MPP performers with its Nunn-Perry Awards, and Northrop Grumman and its protégés have won 25 awards—more than any other company. According to Shelby Morimoto, a member of Northrop Grumman’s small business outreach team, the MPP grants larger companies access to the speed and agility of the smaller ones, and small businesses can gain resources and knowledge that helps them grow.
“It’s not only great for primes like Northrop, but it also benefits our protégés,” Morimoto said. “I think being able to team up together to help support our warfighters and keep people safe is really awesome.”
“It’s a perfect partnership,” echoed Clency Lee Yow, CEO of Custom Microwave, Inc. (CMI), the company Calvin mentors. “We all continuously work together.”
Companies who enter into an MPP relationship with Northrop Grumman are already contracted partners. CMI, for example, manufactures antennae and has been a part of a number of Northrop Grumman programs for more than 20 years. While a human mentor may offer advice, make introductions, and act as a sounding board, a company mentor like Northrop Grumman can provide protégés with new equipment and training, access to patented technologies, and help with staffing.
“It’s helping them plan forward,” said Chris Harris, a Northrop Grumman aeronautics engineer and MPP mentor. “Talking to them about things they need to invest in, what should be on their radar, skills, and supplier management.”
Both Chris and Calvin were invited into the program due to their career experience with business, engineering and customer engagement.
Chris mentors Alabama-based Griffon Aerospace, which designs and manufactures unmanned targets. The MPP is focused on making Griffon a more capable composite supplier and helping them acquire new skills like explosives handling. Northrop Grumman provided Griffon Aerospace with an autoclave, a machine used to carry out industrial and scientific processes requiring elevated temperature and pressure, and is training their employees in its use.
“Having Griffon stand up some security improvements so we can use them before we get to a larger government proposal definitely gives us a speed and cost advantage because we can get it done ahead of time,” he said.
Dawson Vincent, a program manager at Griffon Aerospace, has an especially unique perspective on the relationship. He was a Northrop Grumman engineer in the mid-2000s before joining Griffon. He said Northrop Grumman has always acted like a teammate and respects what Griffon brings to the table.
“We are another set of eyes, and we’re looking at things from a different direction,” Dawson said. “We’re looking at things like, ‘Get ‘er done.’ The maker attitude.”
In addition to helping Northrop Grumman be more agile and enhancing the footprint of small businesses, the MPP has a partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Serving Institutions to find interns who can help facilitate those relationships. Many of those students go on to work for Northrop Grumman full time.
“It’s a pipeline for us as well,” said Chris. Mentorship takes all forms, and in an idea mentor/protégé relationship, both sides learn and grow. With the MPP, Northrop Grumman is gaining the agility of smaller companies, while seeding smaller businesses for future growth.
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