MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
This summer, Mr. Stephen Bowdren was appointed the Program Executive Officer for Land Systems. PEO LS, the Marine Corps’ only Program Executive Office, is located at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.
In his new role, Bowdren leads a team of Marines and civilian Marine acquisition professionals who are developing, delivering and sustaining nearly $8 billion in lethal capabilities across five program offices for the world’s preeminent fighting force – the United States Marine Corps.
But the Connecticut native’s road to Quantico actually started 43 years ago, when he spent a summer between his sophomore and junior year at the University of Connecticut attending the first phase of the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Course at Camp Upshur, onboard Quantico.
Although he did not complete the second phase the following summer – Bowdren recalls getting sidetracked after meeting his wife – it was ultimately the beginning of a long and distinguished career, both as a Naval officer and a civilian.
After graduating from the University of Connecticut with a History degree, the new PEO Land Systems chief entered law school but realized his passions lay elsewhere.
“When I enrolled in law school, I was set on being an environmental lawyer. But, you could not take any environmental classes until your third year. Restless and anxious to be more than just a student, Bowdren recalls that he “felt it was time to go out and make history myself.”
Feeling drawn to contribute to something larger than himself, and remembering his experiences at the Platoon Leader’s Course, Bowdren ultimately followed the footsteps of his father, a Korean War-era Navy veteran. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1982 and served as a naval surface warfare officer until retiring in 2002.
His retirement was short-lived, however, as he returned to civilian service in the Department of the Navy in 2003 and climbed his way to an appointment in the Senior Executive Service in 2015.
Today, Bowdren is back on base in Quantico, where his story – in many ways – first began. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife of 40+ years. He has three daughters and two grandchildren, whom he adores. Noting that two of his daughters were college athletes, he is an avid fan of college sports and women’s sports in general.
Marine Corps Systems Command’s Office of Public Affairs and Communication recently met with Mr. Bowdren and asked him a few questions about his new role, his vision for the command and – perhaps most importantly – his return to Marine Corps life. Check out the interview below.
“It’s all about the warfighter.” At the end of the day, I want us to live up to that statement within our logo. If we’re going to say that, we have to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. And so, my vision is that we plan, execute and learn as a world-class organization in executing our acquisition programs that support the Marine Corps mission.Program Executive Officer Stephen Bowdren
What vision do you have for PEO Land Systems?
“It’s all about the warfighter.” At the end of the day, I want us to live up to that statement within our logo. If we’re going to say that, we have to not just talk the talk, but also walk the walk. And so, my vision is that we plan, execute and learn as a world-class organization in executing our acquisition programs that support the Marine Corps mission.
I am often asked, ‘Well, how do you measure that vision?’ How do you measure if the organization you are leading is “world-class”? There are many benchmarks out there. One benchmark I’ve always been interested in is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award standards. There are other metrics organizations guide themselves by, but for me, what’s most important is direct feedback from the warfighters on the ground and knowing we’re providing the lethality and the capability they need to execute their missions.
Does Force Design 2030 play into your vision?
Yes, it does. I’m interested in applying Force Design concepts, especially the need to test assumptions, experiment frequently and increase decision speed. These principles are important to accelerate our very deliberate and often lengthy acquisition process to ensure we can keep pace with threats around the globe.
What role do you see PEO Land Systems playing within the defense space as global tensions continue to rise?
I think our programs – and our portfolio – are crucial for the Navy and Marine Corps to maintain maritime dominance for our national defense and prosperity. Our programs are vital to the modernized force that is being tested and fielded. We’re fielding, for instance, the Marine Corps’ next-generation Amphibious Combat Vehicle replacing the legacy Assault Amphibious Vehicle. We’re also fielding the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar, otherwise known as G/ATOR, which provides our warfighters with increased accuracy, tactical mobility, and reliability over our other legacy radar systems.
Our role is to deliver these systems and platforms on or ahead of schedule. And we work closely with industry and our Marine Corps enterprise to do that. A successful program acquisition is a result of close collaboration and coordination with other Marine Corps organizations providing us with the capability requirements and programming resources. Those three processes and organizations –requirements, programming resources and acquisition – have to work together and be synchronized to get the best outcome for the Marine Corps.
Are there any goals you’d like to accomplish as you take the helm of the PEO?
First and foremost, I want to help strengthen and build our workforce. Our people are truly the foundation of success. Our Marines, civilian Marines, and contractor support workforce within the PEO operate within a dynamic acquisition environment that is complex and constantly changing. Effective teams can tackle these challenges, but we just can’t assume that they are “good to go.” We must continuously assess our capabilities and move quickly to ensure we remove any barriers to world-class performance. So one of my principal goals is to ensure our workforce has all of the skills, capabilities, and resources they need to achieve world-class performance.
Secondly, we must accelerate our processes and make the best use of the levers that both the PEO and our program managers have at their disposal. Key to that is to ensure you are not just shooting for “on time” delivery, but early delivery. Then you need to align your team and stakeholders on that goal. So, we’ve always got to be working to increase our velocity, to find ways to do things in parallel, find ways to eliminate unnecessary process steps, find ways to delegate tasks and functions, or automate tasks so that we can increase speed. Speed is probably the most important factor. But when you try to go fast and you’re not prepared to go fast, then you can make mistakes.
Do you have a message for the PEO Land Systems team and the Marine Corps acquisition community?
I want to thank the Marine Corps leadership and the PEO LS team for supporting my rapid transition while onboarding here. I have tried to meet quickly as many people as I can, but there are still many team members I’m eager to meet. I’m working on it, though, and have seen how many incredible folks work with us. Really, it’s clear to me, by all measures, that I’m joining a great team, not only at PEO Land Systems, but throughout Marine Corps acquisition.
We’re poised to do incredible things for our warfighters and I look forward each day to increasing our value to the Marine Corps, the Department of Defense and our nation – always while living up to that motto which says, “It’s all about the warfighter.”