She led company’s spinoff and built financial team
Barbara Niland faced a big challenge when shipbuilding giant Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) became an independent, publicly traded company in 2011. As CFO of Northrop Grumman Corp.’s shipbuilding division, she led HII’s spinoff from the Fairfax County-based defense contractor at a time when her own position in the new company was uncertain.
As the spinoff process evolved, her leadership made her the natural choice to become HII’s chief financial officer. “She worked very diligently and with a lot of energy,” says Mike Petters, HII’s president and CEO.
In transitioning to a new role in the company that soon would join the Fortune 500, Niland had to figure out what she didn’t know about the public side of the industry. “It was like being in school again and doing research,” she says. “I think it helped coming from a business unit. I was able to take advantage of [that] experience.”
One of her first tasks was building a corporate financial team from scratch. An introvert, Niland says the process took her out of her comfort zone. “It took some getting used to, but now I’m enjoying that part of it,” she says.
Petters notes that, when a new ship leaves the dock, its first crew sets the standard for the vessel. He believes that Niland has helped set that standard at HII. “We have taken on the challenge of building the right crew,” he says. “Barbara did that with great insight, grace and flare.”
As corporate vice president for business management and CFO at HII, Niland has direct responsibility for the company’s revenues, which totaled more than $6.7 billion in 2012. In addition to reporting to the board of directors and the audit committee, she plays a critical role in the company’s corporate strategy, which now includes non-shipbuilding projects and manufacturing to support the energy industry.
Niland is seen as a tactical problem solver. “She is very good at taking a really tough issue beyond the emotion of the issue,” Petters says. “She gets to the problem and starts trying to solve it.”
At work she is active in employee development and often mentors employees on an informal basis. “She is a role model for the women of this organization, and she takes that job very seriously,” Petters says. “She reaches out to advise, mentor or coach them along the way.”
A member of the Board of Trustees of the Christopher Newport University Luter School of Business, Niland also mentors students. “One of the things I enjoy doing is getting to meet the next generation who will have this job one day,” she says. “I learn as much from them as they learn from me.”
While she appreciates receiving a Virginia CFO Award, Niland sees herself as part of a winning team, not an individual standout. “What we do to build ships gives me so much passion, and that passion comes from being one of 37,000 employees that make Huntington Ingalls what it is,” she says. “I happen to be the CFO, but it takes everybody to make it a great company.”