Coleen Burke-Finney ’90 ME, ’99 MBA

Director of International Policy Integration, The Boeing Company

 

Coleen Burke-Finney ’90 ME

Q: What has been your career path since graduation from Villanova?

A: I have worked at the same company for over 25 years, but have had many interesting assignments that allowed me to continue to learn and grow in every job. My career path within The Boeing Company has been rather “non-linear” in terms of being related to my engineering degree. The majority of my experience has been on the defense side of the business, with the first half of my career  spent in the Philadelphia region, followed by eight years in southern California. I now reside in the Washington, D.C. area.

I built a relationship with Boeing during my senior project as part of a team that built and raced Villanova’s first solar car cross-country. I started at Boeing in engineering, working on interesting projects in manufacturing R&D, mostly related to state-of-the-art composite and tooling technologies. From there, I took on a project leader role in test operations, followed by management roles in engineering aircraft repair, business operations, finance, business development, and in strategy development related to our programs with the U.S Army.

While working in Philadelphia, I returned to Villanova to pursue my MBA– just so I could spend time at the other end of campus. I then took on a director position in southern California, leading strategy for our programs with the U.S. Air Force, and then in Phantom Works, which represents next generation technology efforts for the DoD, along with integrated enterprise technology planning.

Coleen Burke-Finney '90 ECE,  Director of International Policy Integration, The Boeing Company

Q: Tell us about your current position:

A: In April 2014, I took a promotional opportunity to shift into a very different role as the Director of International Policy Integration for Boeing International in Washington, D.C. The position leveraged my experience in strategy by allowing me to lead the development of integrated strategies across the enterprise related to countries around the globe where Boeing does business. As a company, we look to become more global and I have been supporting several high-level efforts to design and implement our strategic intentions. In addition, I am responsible for leading International Global Corporate Citizenship, where we invest to make an impact in the communities of more than 45 countries worldwide. I am also responsible for the charitable relationships we have with more than 35 international universities in 14 countries. In this role I also support international environmental policy issues.

As part of my job, I volunteered to own the relationship between Boeing and Villanova in a role called an executive focal. In this capacity, I spend time at the school on advisory boards, speaking with students, providing guidance on resumes, matching Boeing technical experts with student projects, supporting engagements to the Boeing facility and other similar activities.

Q: What has been the highlight of your career to date?

A: I have been afforded the opportunity to work on many fascinating projects across my career and have had some amazing experiences. One of the highlights occurred while working on the CH-47 Chinook helicopter program. As a “Ship Captain,” I was pulled out of my normal duties and tasked with managing the pace of a Chinook through assembly and test. This was one of several aircraft that was behind schedule, but critical to our business plan. It was the last of six aircraft being delivered to the Korean Air Force, and we needed to get creative to overcome obstacles that arose. I worked closely with the Korean Major who resided on-site as the customer representative to ensure his satisfaction. He told me he had not previously worked much with women in these types of positions, so this was very different for him. (Recognize this was almost 20 years ago.)

We completed the aircraft and had it officially accepted three days ahead of schedule. As a sign of his confidence in our relationship, he allowed me to represent him on the ferry flight from the Boeing plant in Ridley Park to Wilmington, Delaware, where it would be prepped for delivery to South Korea. There are very strict rules regarding personnel allowed on the aircraft during flight testing, but since ownership had officially changed, the Major was able to direct who would be authorized. It was an amazing experience for me to actually fly on a product that I worked on, and I appreciated that this was the result of the relationship and trust built between me and the customer.

Q: How did your Villanova education contribute to your success?

A: Villanova provided me with the opportunity to experience, learn, succeed and fail. All of these are important in developing your personal and professional skills. The curriculum instilled in me discipline and the ability to think logically about an issue. The professors encouraged collaboration and teamwork to solve problems. In addition, Villanova encouraged me to grow multilaterally – not singularly focused on technical knowledge. All of these are important traits in the workplace.

Q: What do you know now that you wish you knew then (as a college student or new graduate)?

A: You are not expected to know everything you need to know when you start a new job. What you will be expected to know are the basic technical aspects, as well as how to logically think and execute. I can guarantee that your first job won’t be perfect – what it will be is an opportunity to experience the company and learn more about yourself so you can better direct where you want to be.

I consider careers to be long term; jobs are short term. A mentor of mine told me that “jobs are the assignments we have over time to build the skills, expertise and understanding to take on more responsibility. Careers are choices we make.” No one is forcing you to have a career - you are choosing it. Your career is in your control. Look at where the company is growing and focus your efforts in that direction. Define what a successful career is for you, then get going.

Q: What one piece of advice would you give to the next generation of female engineers?

A: Always strive to be excellent and respected in your career and give back whenever you can. Step forward and volunteer for an assignment that you may not really know how to do, but want to learn. People recognize that and see it as confidence – whether you feel that way or not. Clearly I did not have experience in doing most of the jobs that I mentioned earlier. There was usually one piece that I felt confident about; the rest needed to be learned. If I knew everything I needed to do a job, I would not be challenged. Learn to be comfortable with learning. That is how you grow and thrive.