Shawn Cheadle – Lockheed Martin Space
To the skeptics—not to mention the cynics—Space Force may have seemed a George Lucas-esque fantasy when the White House, earlier this year, commissioned a sixth branch of the armed forces within the Air Force that, if need be, could take the fight to higher and higher altitudes.
But nothing sounded too pie-in-the-sky to the companies that might have the expertise to build such a system. Among them, Lockheed Martin, which for years has had its own space division along with a general counsel who makes a sound case for its value, even if it might never be called upon to settle an international conflict.
“This is a breeding ground for unbelievable advancements in technology,” the affable Shawn Cheadle recently tells Vanguard from his Denver office.
Enjoy satellite communications, Cheadle rhetorically asks. GPS? These are benefits wrung out of space technology. Same goes for cable TV, which stems from an earlier version of satellite. And if you’ve been sleeping soundly, Cheadle reminds that NASA can be thanked for technology that’s gone into some of the most comfortable mattresses.
So the sky is indeed the limit when it comes to the national security and civilian benefits of space-based research and development that Cheadle reminds would not go far if not for federal spending.
“Recognize it for the investment it is,” he says of the tax dollars funding these innovations. “This is an unbelievable business we’re in, and one that’s changing the world.”
Sealing the deals
Lockheed Martin had a productive 2018, scoring over $10 billion in two contracts with credit due Cheadle, who spent the better part of five months poring over the devil-ridden details.
“The most intensive legal aspects I’ve had to arm wrestle with,” he says of efforts vindicated with a $2.9 billion contract for three strategic missile-warning satellites known as OPIR and a $7.2 billion deal for 22 jam-resistant GPS III satellites. “As mundane as the legal work can be—going through regulations and minutiae—it can be so rewarding.”
He notes that Lockheed Martin files more patents than any aerospace competitor. Well that patent gap might well widen as a couple of heavyweight competitors, Boeing and Northrup Grumman, have pulled out of the bidding for some blue-chip projects to concentrate on competing with Lockheed Martin elsewhere.
“In the end, it’s a lot of fun to pull together all the variables—IP rights, the risk-management, the liabilities—and watch that rocket launch with the satellite atop,” he says.
While his technological background is limited, Cheadle has picked up more than just a working knowledge of aerospace, having been general counsel of the Lockheed Martin Military Space division since the summer of 2012.
The previous five years entailed separate stints as general counsel of the company’s divisions for surveillance and navigation, and missile-defense systems. That impressive resume notwithstanding, no one could expect him to be a know-it-all in such a complex industry.
“I was told that being in-house meant knowing everything an inch deep and trying to be an expert in a few areas,” Cheadle says. “I’ve found that to be true most days. But it gets you out of your main swim lane, forcing you to shift across the spectrum of legal issues, and that can be fun.”
There’s employment law, OSHA regulations, environmental rules and even having to negotiate zoning easements with a municipality. But aptitude in so many areas ensures Cheadle a seat at the brass’ table and opportunities to weigh in on business matters that he relishes as much as the legal side. He’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, though the younger Cheadle couldn’t have imagined using it to this extent. Time was when he envisioned himself as a sports agent.
In a league of his own
A pretty fair linebacker who also played some tight end in college, Cheadle might have immersed himself in sports law had the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law offered more than one class in the subject.
Having written technical copy for Cougar Components Corp. while attending law school, Cheadle would work there full time in other capacities following his 1994 graduation, ascending to general counsel, secretary and regional vice president. When the company was acquired by Teledyne Technologies Inc. in 2005, he’d remain as counsel and assistant secretary for two more years, all the while in the Denver area even as his legal operations shifted to Santa Monica.
By then he had earned a reputation for governmental contract expertise. He was also forging what would prove to be a valuable relationship with the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), a Washington, D.C., network serving the interests of in-house lawyers worldwide.
Perhaps influenced by some role-model coaches during his jock days, Cheadle would mentor other lawyers while serving nine years as a director of ACC Colorado, his extracurricular activities extending into supporting diversity initiatives for the legal profession at large.
Through ACC’s networking opportunities, he’d garner the attention of Lockheed Martin, coming aboard in 2007 with his wife, the accomplished author and lawyer Lora Plank, and their two sons, now of college age.
“When I’m not with my family, I’m fly fishing the world,” the 52-year-old Cheadle says.
Could be the trout in streams worldwide can be thankful for Lockheed Martin’s dominance in all matters space-and military-related. There’s certain to be many more contracts for Cheadle to pore over, more compliance issues to resolve and maybe even a local planning board to beckon to allow a zoning change.
Cheadle won’t complain, even if it lessens his time with fly rod in hand.
“It’s been my good fortune to be in-house as long as I have,” he says. “It’s been an incredible experience and keeps my fires burning, especially since it’s for national defense—and the spinoffs.”
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