Kris Busch remembers listening to the Buffalo Sabres playing the Boston Bruins when the battery on his small transistor radio died. Only 6 or 7 at the time, he was up past his bedtime, so he did not want to wake his parents. So he took the cover off the radio, stripped the wires and stuck them in the electrical outlet.
The radio blew up.
“That was the trigger that got me into engineering,” said Busch, now 50 and vice president and general manager of military contractor BAE Systems’ Maritime & Defense Solutions division in Rockville.
Busch, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., the ninth of 10 children, said his parents never found out about the incident.
“I would have gotten in trouble ,” he said. “They were strict about us not staying up late.”
Busch joined BAE Systems in 1993 as a midlevel electrical engineer working on a Navy communications program in Southern Maryland. In 1998 he moved to Charleston, S.C., to work as chief engineer for the external communications design and integration for the USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Moving up the ranks at BAE, he became director of operations at the Charleston business and oversaw annual revenues there grow from $40 million to $125 million in three years.
Busch was promoted to his current assignment a year ago.
“Kris is a key member of our leadership team,” said Dave Herr, president of BAE Systems Support Solutions. “His strategic vision for the business is spot-on and his passion for workplace culture is exactly what we need to ensure continued and future success.”
Busch continues to maintain his home with his wife of 23 years, Diane Busch, in Charleston, while their youngest of three sons finishes high school. During the week, Busch lives in a condominium in Germantown.
Busch remains active with the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and with an educational nonprofit’s efforts to encourage students in science, technology, engineering and math programs.
“We want to get people to think about what it means to be an engineer,” Busch said. “When I was a student, I didn’t know any engineers.”
Busch is the first in his family to be an engineer. His father was a Marine who landed at Guadalcanal in World War II before going into construction after the war; his mother worked at a housing program.
When he was in high school, Busch, who admits he paid more attention to sports than his grades at the time, said a guidance counselor had asked him what he planned to do after graduating.
“I told her I wanted to go to [the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology] and she just laughed at me,” Busch said. “I’m very competitive. She said, ‘Kris, did you look at your grades?’”
Busch said the incident made him work harder in classes, but after graduating he joined the Navy. He tested well and was assigned to Naval Intelligence, working on the technical side. After finishing six years of service, he went to the University of Massachusetts for a bachelor’s in electrical engineering and later received his master’s in business administration from Webster University.
Busch said his management style, guided by his leadership training and his own philosophy, is to “have a very open style.”
Instead of just directing employees what to do, he said, he likes to listen to them first.
“I like a lot of input into the decision process,” Busch said. “I’m directive when I need to ... I roll up my sleeves and get right into it when I need to. I was born and raised blue collar, so it’s my nature.”
The company believes in the “Great Places to Work” approach, that companies that have happier employees are more productive and profitable.
“At the end of the day, when people are happy to be at work, the company does much better at the bottom line,” Busch said.
His division has 1,800 workers throughout the U.S.
The looming cutbacks in projected Pentagon spending increases from federal budget sequestration has many in the military industry worried, but Busch said he believes BAE is well positioned to absorb such blows.
While the company does work on ships being built for the Navy, it also retrofits and upgrades older vessels. With Pentagon officials looking at various ways to save money, the company can offer solutions to support the Navy, he said.
“We’re prepared very well to navigate through some tough waters,” Busch said.