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Exclusive: Lockheed names F-35 chief to run aeronautics as Evans undergoes medical treatment

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By Reuters
Exclusive: Lockheed names F-35 chief to run aeronautics as Evans undergoes medical treatment
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump greets Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson in front of a Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter on the driveway abutting the South Lawnat the White House in Washington, U.S., July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria   -   Copyright  Carlos Barria(Reuters)

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Greg Ulmer, head of Lockheed Martin Corp’s <LMT.N> F-35 fighter program, will temporarily lead the company’s aeronautics division while its current chief, Michele Evans, undergoes medical treatment, the company told employees on Monday.

Evans, 54, who took over as executive vice president of Lockheed’s largest division in October 2018, is widely seen as a leading candidate to succeed Marillyn Hewson, 65, as chief executive of Lockheed, the No. 1 U.S. arms maker.

The surprise announcement about Evans’ illness came at the start of the high-profile annual Air Force Association conference in Washington, and could raise questions about Lockheed’s succession planning.

Evans was diagnosed with cancer several months ago but has continued to work while undergoing treatment, according to three sources familiar with the situation.

Company officials recently decided to name Ulmer as Evans’ delegate and acting EVP of aeronautics while Evans continues medical treatment, but her prognosis is excellent, Lockheed spokesman Joe LaMarca said. He gave no details.

“As part of her annual executive physical and follow-up with medical personnel, Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Michele Evans was recently diagnosed with a medical issue and is undergoing treatment,” he said. “Her prognosis is excellent, the condition is treatable, and a full recovery is expected.”

He said Ulmer would serve as Evans’ delegate and acting executive vice president of the aeronautics division, while Evans “focuses on her recovery.”

Aeronautics, the largest of the company’s four divisions, reported a 15% increase in revenues to $11.13 billion in the first half of 2019, with operating profit up 13% to $1.18 billion in the same period.

With about 25,000 employees, Lockheed’s aeronautics division builds the F-35 stealth fighter, the C-130J transport plane, and a variety of other military aircraft. It also includes the company’s famed Skunk Works advanced development unit.

Evans worked at multiple positions across Lockheed throughout her 32 years in the weapons industry, and plays a leading role in the company’s diversity initiatives.

Lockheed last year changed its mandatory retirement age rules to exempt the CEO, allowing Hewson to stay on past this year. It has not named a chief operating officer to start the process of choosing a successor to Hewson, who last year topped Fortune magazine’s U.S. list of most powerful women.

But industry insiders and analysts say Evans is among the top candidates to succeed Hewson, given her age, strategic vision and broad range of experience across the company.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Nick Zieminski)