Listen to your customers

4/27/2016 Susan Mumm, Media Specialist

The advice AE 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award winner Jim Mocarski has for students: Listen to your customers.

Written by Susan Mumm, Media Specialist

Jim Mocarski
Jim Mocarski
Jim Mocarski
Jim Mocarski, winner of the 2016 Aerospace Engineering at Illinois Distinguished Alumni Award, started as a freshman at the University of Illinois in the Psychology Department based upon the recommendation of his roommate’s sister to “pick a major so you get an advisor.” Shortly thereafter, based upon the advice of that advisor, he transferred to engineering. Mocarski earned his BS in aeronautical and astronautical engineering in 1989.

After graduation, Mocarski started his career at Northrop Grumman in the B2 bomber flight simulation organization. During his 27-year career, he led organizations across the company in product development, business planning and analysis, and program management. He earned a reputation for being a customer-focused innovator with a unique ability to build and lead high performance teams.

Most recently, he served as Vice President of the Airborne Tactical Sensors business unit. He was responsible for operations and the growth of a $300 million business unit comprised of an international portfolio of programs that combines electronic warfare (EW), survivability, situational awareness and targeting capabilities across fighter platforms.
Mocarski also has earned a master’s degree in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Southern California, and has completed the General Manager Program at Harvard Business School.

Active in a variety of community activities, he serves on the leadership committee for the DuPage County March of Dimes March for Babies (chairman 2012). He serves on the Aerospace Engineering at Illinois Alumni Board. While at Northrop Grumman, he represented the company as enterprise lead executive for the U of I, and was the executive sponsor for the Woman’s Initiative for Networking to Success, an employee-led group committed to the advancement of women in the workplace. He remains active in the Harvard Business School alumni association as well.

Mocarski is currently pursuing entrepreneurial business opportunities that feed his passion for innovation and helping people and organizations reach their full potential.

He is married with three children and lives in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Q: Of the achievements throughout your career, please elaborate on the ones that have given you the most satisfaction and why?

MOCARSKI: Whether it is launching a new product line, turning around a troubled program or implementing a new strategy to grow a business, the most satisfying achievements are those in which you know that you and your team made a difference. One program that stands out is a competitive win of a US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) urgent operational requirement for the infrared countermeasures (IRCM) system for the MH-53 helicopter. In less than three weeks, we submitted our proposal, and were awarded the contract. The system completed its development and integration and was operational in less than six months. I chose this program not because of the light speed in which it was awarded and executed, but because it taught me the meaning of what we do in the defense business and how important that mission is to me and the people that I work with. USSOCOM, with our system, would be among the first to deploy to the first Gulf War, and they trusted us with the responsibility of making sure their warriors were protected from an infrared missile attack. A program of this significance, scale and complexity can only be successful if the entire team is connected by that common mission. Some of my best friendships were built while working on this program.

Q: What have been the most useful lessons you have taken from your time as an AE student, and who helped you to learn them?

MOCARSKI: Enjoy life and have fun. It’s hard to say there is any time in your life more fun than college. I think as students, it comes more naturally. The most successful organizations of which I’ve been part were successful because they were a fun place to be. The most successful people I know are fun to be around.

Q: What have been the most useful lessons you have learned during your career?

MOCARSKI: Listen to your customers … your job is to translate the abstraction of their needs to useful, value creating products and services.

Q: Who have been your inspirations, particularly in AE?

MOCARSKI: The warfighters I have been privileged to work with. There is nothing more inspirational than the selflessness of the women and men and their families who serve our county. There is nothing more meaningful than when they express their gratitude for our support and for the equipment we provide.

Q: What advice can you offer current students?

MOCARSKI: I’ve always been a fan of a motivational speaker named Zig Ziglar who said, “You can get anything you want out of life, as long as you help enough other people get what they want.” Each of the stories in my career has someone in it that made a difference to me. My career took off when I made it my goal to be included as a positive influence in as many other people’s stories as possible. This is the essence of leadership.

Q: Do you have any comments on or predictions for the future of your industry?

MOCARSKI: Systems will continue to become more complex and more interdependent. The same is true for the relationships between companies and customers that are necessary to deliver them. Companies that create relationships that not only align their mutual interests but are deep enough to weather the inevitable storms will disrupt traditional prime – sub relationships. The most successful companies will create strategic partnerships where the innovations of one company increase the value of the products and services of their partners and vice versa. In effect, they will leverage each other’s balance sheets.

Q: Are there any other comments that you would like to make or insight you would care to share?

MOCARSKI: A very wise friend taught me that “interesting work with people you like to be around” is what matters in the long run. One of the best ways to assure this is to find a business where your customer’s mission resonates with you personally. When you are surrounded by colleagues united by that common mission there is nothing you can’t accomplish together.

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This story was published April 27, 2016.