MARIETTA — Shan Cooper stunned many in the community this week when it was announced she was stepping down as Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the company’s Marietta facility, but Cooper said her decision was motivated by a desire to stay in Cobb County.
“From a personal perspective, I really wanted to be in a position where I was going to be here locally. I love Cobb County, I love the Atlanta area,” Cooper said in an interview with the MDJ on Friday.
As the general manager of the Marietta facility, which has shared a runway with Dobbins Air Reserve Base for more than 60 years, a promotion within Lockheed would have likely required her to move elsewhere, Cooper said.
“There would have been a strong possibility,” she said. “This role is the most senior role here, so if I was going to grow to the next level, it probably would have required a relocation. We just decided as a family — this was a joint decision with my husband, my daughter, my family and my parents and his parents and everybody had a vote — that we really love this area and I love this community and we really wanted to stay here.”
She’s also going to become a grandmother in May when her daughter, Chantel Williams, has her first child, making it even more important for Cooper to stay in Cobb.
Cooper said she couldn’t reveal where she’ll be working next until her new employer announces the hire, but emphasized she was not actively seeking a new job when this opportunity presented itself.
“Over the years, I’ve been offered many opportunities, and I’ve just said no to them. But this one here kind of caught my attention. It was really exciting, it was something new to go do. I thought at this point, ‘You know what? I think I’ve done some wonderful things here at Lockheed Martin. The company’s in great position now. This will be a time to leave on a high note, and I always want to do that.’”
In December, Lockheed signed a five-year, $5.3 billion contract to build more than 75 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft for the U.S. military, all of which will be built at the Marietta plant. Having this deal in place for the facility and the 2,000 employees who work on the C-130 line also influenced Cooper’s decision to step down and let someone new take the reins.
“As I thought about the company, you always want to leave something in a better place than when you came in, and we had just won this wonderful C-130 contract — $5.3 billion — and so if I was going to make a career shift, now was the time,” she said. “I recognize, again, it’s probably good for someone new with new ideas and new perspectives to come into this role now. I’ve been here five years. You may not want to, but sometimes you have to just get out of the way for the next new leader and new thoughts and perspectives to come in.”
Still, Cooper said it was tough telling her colleagues she would be leaving.
“There’s been tears, I’m exhausted. … My email is completely full, my text inbox is full at this point. The outpouring of love has been just overwhelming and just wonderful,” Cooper said.
Johnny Whitaker, director of communications at Lockheed’s Marietta facility, said Cooper announced she would be leaving in a video conference with senior leadership early last week. Whitaker said the room fell into a “stunned silence” after Cooper said she was leaving.
“I don’t think a lot of people saw this coming,” Whitaker said. “She is so loved around here that there’s a lot of sadness here, seeing her go. We understand, it’s an opportunity for her to move up and fulfill her dreams of staying in the metro area. It’s going to be tough to backfill this lady. She’s a class act and has touched a lot of lives here in a very positive way. Her replacement is going to have some — (she’s) a very tough act to follow.”
For her part, Cooper said she hopes her employees remember her as a caring person who was always available to help them get what they needed to be successful.
“I hope they’ll say that under Shan’s leadership, (they) had a chance to grow and develop. That would be just ‘Wow’ for me. From the community perspective, I hope people will say, ‘Shan was a person that gave back, that she would personally roll up her sleeves and get involved and get things done, that service was important to her and she lived that.’ To me, those would be two very important things to leave as a legacy.”
Cooper’s last day with Lockheed is Feb. 5. No date has been set for hiring a replacement for Cooper, according to Rob Fuller, communications manager for Lockheed. Until a replacement is named, George Shultz, vice president of Lockheed’s Air Mobility and Maritime Missions, will serve in her stead on an interim basis, Fuller said.
Whoever the next general manager of the Marietta facility is, Cooper said they must recognize the importance of being connected with Lockheed’s employees and the community at large.
“Not partnerships, but relationships,” Cooper said. “Relationships with the workforce, relationships with leaders in the community, whether it be in our education system, our business community, our public servants. I think that’s really important, the relationships, to me, are most important. I’ve been successful in this job because of that, and I think if that person makes it a priority, he or she will be just as successful.”
Read more: The Marietta Daily Journal - Shan Cooper talks Lockheed legacy and moving on