Coffman, Vance D. 1944–

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Vance D. Coffman

Chairman, Lockheed Martin

Nationality: American.

Born: April 3, 1944, in Kinross, Kansas.

Education: Iowa State University, BS, 1967; Stanford University, PhD, 1973.

Family: Son of a farmer and a schoolteacher (names unknown); married Arlene (maiden name unknown); children: two.

Career: Lockheed Corporation, 19671985, guidance and control systems analyst in Space Systems Division; 19851987, vice president; 19871988, corporate vice president and assistant general manager of Space Systems Division; 19881992, president of Space Systems Division; 19921995, corporate executive vice president; Lockheed Martin, 19951996, president of Space and Missiles; 1996, executive vice president and director of Space and Missiles; 19961997, president and COO; 19971998, CEO; 19982004, chairman and CEO; 2004, chairman.

Awards: Professional Progress in Engineering Award, Iowa State University, 1989; Fellow, American Astronautical Society, 1991; Fellow, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1996; Distinguished Achievement Citation, Iowa State University, 1999; John J. Bergen Industry Award, New York Council of the Navy League, 2000; Chester W. Nimitz Award, Navy League of the United States, 2001; Executive of the Year, Washington Techway, 2001; Bob Hope Distinguished Citizen Award, National Defense Industrial Association, 2002; Executive of the Year, National Management Association, 2002; National Reconnaissance Pioneer Award, National Reconnaissance Office, 2002; Industrial Leadership Award, American Astronomical Society, 2003; CEO Diversity Leadership Award, Business Women's Network, 2003; Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2003; Corporate Citizenship in the Arts Award, Americans for the Arts, 2003; Washington Center Leadership Medal, Asia Society, 2003.

Address: Lockheed Martin, 6801 Rockledge Drive, Bethesda, Maryland 20817-1877;

Vance D. Coffman was one of America's foremost astronautical engineers and business leaders. He developed new techniques for guiding satellites and was responsible for developing communications satellites for the Space-Based Infrared System that formed part of America's early-warning defense system. As a leader of Lockheed Martin, he pressed for openness in dealing with friendly nations and envisioned an age of cooperation among allies that would include sharing of defense technology and the cooperative development of defense systems so that all countries would be equally capable of participating in mutual military obligations.


Coffman was raised on a soybean farm near Winthrop, Iowa, where the launching of Sputnik first inspired him to study science. He took five years to earn a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University in 1967 due to the lack of mathematics coursework available at his high school. In 1973 he received a doctorate in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University.

In 1967 he took a job as an analyst of guidance and control systems for Lockheed Corporation's aircraft and spacecraft manufacturing. He established himself as worthy of upper management's attention by devising a way for satellites to precisely position themselves using distant stars as references. As his responsibilities increased, he studied books on management, turning himself into an engineer with business qualifications as well.


In 1988 Coffman was appointed president of Lockheed's Space Systems Division, where he was responsible for the development of the Hubble Space Telescope and the MILSTAR communications satellite. Coffman eventually became involved in secret defense projects such as the Space-Based Infrared System, and because he could not talk in public about much of his work he gained a reputation for being subdued. Meanwhile, he pushed Lockheed toward becoming more involved in commercial enterprises, especially telecommunications satellites.

In March 1992 a new job was created specifically for Coffman: that of corporate executive vice president. In 1995 Lockheed merged with Martin Marietta Corporation, and during the reshuffling of management positions Coffman became president of the Space and Missiles division of the new Lockheed Martin. As part of the corporate consolidation, he closed two of Lockheed's missile manufacturing plants. On January 10, 1996, he was elected to the board of directors; on July 1, 1996, he was appointed president and chief operating officer. That year, Lockheed Martin amassed $27 billion in revenue.


On August 1, 1997, Coffman became chief executive officer and vice chairman of the board at Lockheed Martin. He was well liked because of his friendly, honest manner and had big plans for the company, wanting to boost space-systems and information-systems technology. He quickly became an outspoken advocate for his views. Yet, problems were brewing thanks to poor communication between Lockheed Martin's top management and its division leaders. The F-22 fighter aircraft under joint development with Boeing was $2.1 billion over budget, and Theater High Altitude Area Defense missiles being developed for the U.S. Army failed to function properly. In spite of these setbacks, Lockheed Martin netted $1.2 billion in 1998. That year, Coffman became chairman of the board.

By the end of 1999 rumors were rife that Coffman was about to be replaced. Sales for the C-130J military transport aircraft were far below projections; defense projects were beset by overrunning costs; and Titan and Athena rockets exploded at launch, destroying three $100 million spy satellites. From January 1 to June 10, 1999, Lockheed Martin cut eight thousand jobs. From May to November, its stock value declined 55 percent; the company was $11 billion in debt. In June, Coffman was called to the Pentagon to explain Lockheed's failures. For the first time since the 1960s, Lockheed lost a spy-satellite contract; the $6 billion project instead went to Boeing.

Not all news was bad news, however. Lockheed Martin quickly forged a partnership with Daimler Chrysler Aerospace (of Germany) and Alenia (of Italy) to build the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), designed to protect front-line troops. Coffman was an advocate of open cooperation among defense allies, and this project was a highlight of his efforts. The company netted $575 million and by the end of the year had $50 billion in back orders.

In 2000 Coffman reorganized Lockheed Martin, consolidating its manufacturing into three divisions: electronic, aeronautical, and astronautical. He expanded his company's commercial operations by purchasing Comsat for $2.7 billion, the cost of which was largely responsible for Lockheed Martin's posting a net loss of $519 million in 2000. On the positive side, Lockheed Martin's Patriot Advanced Capability3 missile was chosen for MEADS, and the company added $39 billion in new orders. Throughout Lockheed Martin's successful business dealings, Coffman continued to be a passionate public advocate for his vision of a NATO alliance that offered equal access to all member nations' defense projects.

In 2001 Lockheed Martin had 20 successful rocket launches, and it landed a $7 billion contract for 80 F-16s from the United Arab Emirates. That year Lockheed Martin also landed the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter contract for $200 billion, to be spent over the next two decades. In 2003 Lockheed Martin had a company-record $32 billion in revenue, 25 percent of which came from information technology. Yet, the company's stock declined by 11 percent, part of a worldwide decline in technology stocks. Although the board of directors wanted him to remain, Coffman planned to leave the CEO post on August 6, 2004, and he planned to retire as chairman of the board in April 2005, citing a desire to begin a new stage of his life.

See also entry on Lockheed Martin Corporation in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

Banks, Howard, "Not Rocket Science," Forbes, April 16, 2001, p. 140.

Crock, Stan, "Can This Farm Boy Keep Lockheed in Orbit?" BusinessWeek Online, October 27, 1997,

Muradian, Vago, "Great Impact Not Expected from Augustine's Departure," Defense Daily, April 21, 1997, pp. 122124.

Kirk H. Beetz