Kathy Warden

Before she became CEO of Nrthrop Grumman Warden worked with the Aspen Institute’s cyber tech strategy group.

The JMU Board of Visitors welcomed three new members this year, one of whom is the incoming CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Kathy Warden, who currently serves as president and chief operating officer of Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense company, graduated from JMU in 1992 and previously served on the board of the JMU College of Business. 

Come Jan. 1, Warden will be one of 25 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. According to Warden, it was over many decisions in her career that she ended up following a path that led to this position.

“JMU really provided me a foundation for lifelong learning and a desire to contribute to society, and it prepared me with the skills to work with others and the confidence to be a leader,” Warden said.

Warden has returned to JMU in her new position as a member of the Board of Visitors. According to Warden, making connections with JMU leadership is mutually beneficial.

Interim Dean of the College of Business Michael Busing worked with Warden as part of the College of Business. Warden spoke to information security MBA students in August of 2014 as part of their orientation.

“I was particularly impressed by the way in which Kathy engaged that group of young professionals and how she made a call for more women in technical fields such as computer science and information technology,” Busing said in an email.

After that meeting, the College of Business began to actively recruit her for its board, of which she became a member in 2016. Since then, Warden climbed the ranks at Northrop Grumman.

“I often joke with her when I see her on campus that she is about due for another promotion,” Busing said. “I am impressed with how approachable she is and how she truly wants to engage with everyone at JMU.”

On her way to becoming Northrop Grumman’s CEO, Warden worked with the Aspen Institute’s cyber tech strategy group, a high-level, multi-sector group of individuals that include former government officials and industry executives. They’ve worked on what they collectively view as some of the top challenges within this space.

One of the group’s goals is to develop a cyber workforce that’ll be able to respond increasingly effectively to cyber security challenges. According to Matthew Rhoades, managing director of the cybersecurity and technology program at the Aspen Institute, her expertise and knowledge within this area is helpful.

“Her experiences on the ground doing these sorts of things have been invaluable in terms of helping the group,” Rhoades said. “These are challenges that she faces day to day. She sees it at a practical level. As a practitioner of sorts, her point of view is invaluable.”

Warden says that the physical growth of the university is the biggest change since she attended. Even though it’s a much larger university, Warden has seen the focus on the student experience and how it still has the same sense of community.

“As one of few women CEOs, we have an opportunity to encourage other women to aspire to senior leadership roles and I take that responsibility very seriously,” Warden said. “Every CEO is focused on delivering value to its stakeholders, including its employees, our customers and our shareholders.”

As a former Duke, Warden realizes that there are many choices that students face after graduating college. Her advice is to be resilient when you are faced with setbacks because everyone faces them at one point.

“It was over many years in my career and a number of opportunities that I ended up following a path that led me to this exact position,” Warden said. “I think it’s important that people remain open-minded about opportunities that come your way.” 

CORRECTION October 18, 2:10 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated Kathy Warden is the current CEO of Northrop Grumman. However, Warden is the incoming CEO of the company and will start the position on Jan. 1.  

Contact Matthew Sasser at sasserma@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.

Matthew Sasser is a sophomore writing, rhetoric, and technical communication major. Beyond writing, he enjoys skateboarding, playing bass guitar, ultimate frisbee and is an avid Taco Bell enthusiast.