Research has shown that game-changing leaders are heavily engaged in their companies’ actual practices of talent management. David Albritton, president of GM Defense LLC, said that’s the approach he used to build a team from the ground up.
GM Defense was formed in October 2017 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors focusing on providing automotive technologies and services to the global aerospace, defense and security industries. "It’s pretty exciting times," he told HR Dive Feb. 14 during the annual Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference in Washington, D.C. "If you think about autonomous vehicles, electrical vehicles, mobility solutions, innovative vehicles, cybersecurity — there’s a wide range of capabilities that we have in commercial space at GM that I try to position in the government space."
Albritton began his current role at the company in December 2018. The Navy veteran said when forming his leadership team, he tapped talent from his network with experience in the industry. As the company continues to grow, he said diversity and inclusion will remain a priority.
"In my career, I looked left and looked right, and there were not a lot of people who looked like me," Albritton said. "I truly believe when you have people from different backgrounds who look differently and have different experiences, you have a better outcome. I don’t just say that because I’m a corporate guy; I believe it because I’ve been a part of that."
Albritton began at General Motors in 2015 as executive director of product development and international communications. Prior to joining the company, he had a long tenure in the defense industry including serving as vice president and chief communications officer at Exelis Inc., a global aerospace, defense and information solutions company, sold to Harris Corp in 2015. He also served in leadership roles at ITT Defense & Information Solutions and Raytheon.
Albritton and his team are based in D.C., and serve as the "customer-facing interface to the Pentagon and Capitol Hill," he said, covering areas including government relations, business development, growth and strategy. The majority of staff that supports the day-to-day functions of GM Defense are based in Michigan. He said he maintains a leadership approach that’s inclusive of his staff’s ideas.
"In my staff meetings, it’s not me as the president dictating where we’re going," Albritton explained. "I give strategic direction, but I allow people on the team to offer their thoughts." He tries to empower everyone on the team, regardless of title, to voice their opinion, he said.
"I had an HR friend tell me years ago, ‘Titles are free,’" Albritton said. "At the end of the day, we as a team are going to win."
Preparing for a leadership role
Before starting his role as president of GM Defense, Albritton said he consulted with current and past chief executive officers for advice.
"One of my favorite people on this earth is my former chief executive officer at Exelis, a three-star Army lieutenant general — David Melcher — who’s still a great friend," he said. "When I learned I got this job, he was the first person I talked to."
Albritton said when Melcher began his tenure at Exelis, he was a retiring Army lieutenant general. "I still get counsel from him on how he did it," Albritton said.
Mentoring, career advice and upskilling have all contributed to his career, he said. When he became chief communications officer at Exelis in 2011, his duties included corporate communications for the finance department. Albritton said he needed a refresher on accounting and economics as many years had gone by since he earned his degrees. So, Albritton enrolled at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and took a semester-long course that was taught in one week.
"I can’t let my ego get in the way," he said. "When I have a gap, I’ve gotta fill that gap. That’s what I preach to young professionals, too. You’re not going to know everything. Figure out what you don’t know, and then go and try to fill those gaps."