Huntsville’s high-tech explosion has done wonders for the state of Alabama.
While this continuing economic boon gets much fanfare when new project announcements, groundbreakings and ribbon ceremonies happen, the many individuals who serve as the backbone of north Alabama’s technology sector often get overlooked.
Cindy Griner, vice president of the Engineering Services and Solutions Division at Dynetics, is one of these people that garners little outside attention but is, in fact, a giant of the industry.
A 36-year veteran of Dynetics, Griner also serves as the president of Dynetics’ wholly owned subsidiary, Aviation and Missile Solutions. Her division is responsible for electro-optical/infrared and acoustic sensor systems; lethal mechanisms; platform integration; Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) ground programming and trainers; and CMMI Level 3 computer applications.
She oversees major contract activities, with a primary focus on engineering services and development activities for the U.S. military and defense community. This is a big money business, where the stakes of getting it wrong are the highest – we are, after all, talking about modern, highly complicated national defense mechanisms here.
While Griner is now one of the most powerful and influential members of Huntsville’s high-tech industry, her journey to get there was not easy. As she explained, this was not an industry when she got started that was particularly friendly to women.
“In the 80’s when I began work, there were only two women on the technical staff of my company,” Griner told Yellowhammer News. “I was very young and admittedly ‘green.’ There was largely the perception that women are not technical, are too emotional, and don’t think strategically.”
“Women were sometimes overtly harassed,” she said, adding that sexual harassment training was not yet a norm.
However, joining Dynetics in 1982, she found a culture where she could strive on her merit – and a mentor that supported her along the way.
“I had the tremendous benefit of working for Tom Baumbach in an ethical company founded on excellence,” Griner explained. “Tom was very open-minded and encouraging. He never looked at my limitations, he looked at my potential. He mentored and believed in me and helped me to believe in myself.”
This is not to say there were not unique challenges of being a woman in a traditionally male field.
Griner outlined, “The ‘challenges’ of questioned credibility, men assuming I was hired because I was female, and the occasional overt harassment sparked a defiance and strength that fueled my desire to achieve. I worked harder, double checked my work, went above and beyond in my preparation largely to prove to both myself and those who would believe otherwise that I brought real value to my employer and my customers.”
She advised that with every challenge came an opportunity to overcome that obstacle.
Griner mentioned her educational attainment as a way to address some doubts, both internal and external. She earned her master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1992.
“At the urging of my mentor, I became a life-long learner. I continued my technical education, obtaining my MSEE, which added to both my credibility and my confidence,” Griner said.
She also offered some wisdom, gleaned from personal experience, on being able to take a step back and gain perspective.
“Over time I learned self-awareness,” Griner noted. “I learned to use my strengths, but just as importantly, to rely on others for their strengths.”
She added, “I occasionally experienced setbacks, but over time I learned perspective and I learned perseverance. Better days will come. No one stays on the peak. We all experience peaks and valleys; the valleys give you the perspective to recognize the sweetness of the peaks. For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.”
And for Griner, the peaks have indeed been sweet. She has supported a number of huge customers and programs during her tenure with Dynetics, including most recently the U.S. Army Futures Command; Aviation and Missile Center in UAS interoperability; architectures; MBSE, prototyping and integration of emerging technologies; and AO/PO trainer development for Army Air Force programs such as Shadow, Gray Eagle, Hunter, Reaper and Global Hawk.
She named the the Javelin missile system and Army UAS program development as perhaps her crowning jewel, the projects she is most proud of.
In a true sign of leadership, Griner also explained how what makes her proud has evolved over time.
“Early in my career it was about what ‘I’ did… in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom… systems that I personally supported in development and training have been used to make our soldiers and airmen safer and more effective. In fact I have a GI Joe in my office that was one of the first 50 produced in honor of one of those programs,” she advised.
More recently, Griner’s duties and responsibilities have grown to become more about her Dynetics family.
This included her leading the 2011 Dynetics ESOP Transaction.
“I worked with a small employee committee to transition Dynetics to 100% Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) ensuring our employees reap the benefits of their dedication and excellence,” Griner highlighted.
“This was a huge undertaking that gave me the rare opportunity to work closely with outstanding female professionals from nationally recognized law and retirement firms on something that would make a huge impact on our company and our employees,” she added. “A few years later, I led the design and implementation of an internal market for our ESOP, creating increased investment opportunity for employees and underpinning the health of the ESOP.”
Just as she had the support of a key mentor, Griner now takes tremendous pride in being a mentor to others. That is one of the defining aspects of leadership, she said, as well as the most rewarding part of her career journey.
Griner shared, “On 1 January of 2017, I was named the president of a Dynetics wholly owned subsidiary and later that same year, I was named a Dynetics vice president. While the titles are very nice and sometimes help open doors for strategic conversations, at this point, my proudest and most humbling moments are witnessing the accomplishments of others, especially those I’ve mentored – in FY18, five employees in my organization won annual corporate awards for engineering and business excellence, product innovation, customer service, ethics or safety which are typically only given to one employee each year.”
A mentor through-and-through, Griner also offered some inspirational words of advice to all the girls who want to be a leader in their own right one day.
“Work hard on yourself FIRST; become credible, and always keep learning. Don’t be afraid. ASK QUESTIONS,” Griner emphasized.
She named finding “good mentors and role models” as a key to success.
“Great leaders are generally good communicators,” Griner said. “Girls have a natural advantage here. From birth, girl babies spend more time studying the people that are holding them, looking into their eyes and learning their emotions. Girls see things that boys don’t see.”
She named four core components of being a strong communicator.
I. Listen, not just for a pause to talk, but for true understanding (If you are “writing your speech” while someone else talks, you are not truly listening).
II. Realize when you’re talking to others, especially leaders, that they are listening for the point, not the experience.
III. Ask questions, don’t be afraid of looking uninformed/uneducated, sometimes asking questions shows what you really do know.
IV. Breathe….. Try to think about everything from an objective perspective, not from your emotional side. Give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that it’s NOT PERSONAL when they disagree with your view. Perhaps they know things you don’t.
Even though she works in a sector focused on cutting-edge technology (literally robots), Griner concluded her thoughts by stressing how crucial it is to see and understand others as the individual human beings they all are.
“Look outside yourself, if you are going to LEAD, someone has to follow. If you want people to follow you, you have to care about them and appreciate them,” Griner said. “Not just whether they do something that serves you and your bottom line, but are they fulfilled, are they healthy, do they have obstacles that you can remove to help them succeed, how can you help them grow in their career and life.”
“Say THANK YOU to your subordinates, co-workers, bosses, customers and creator. None of us do this alone. If you think you do, you are delusional,” she continued.
And, through it all, “BE OPTIMISTIC,” she concluded.
That she has certainly been, and the results are there for all to see.
Yellowhammer News is proud to name Cindy Griner a 2019 Woman of Impact.
The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.