Groton — After more than three decades at Electric Boat, company President John P. Casey says his own self-worth is inextricably linked to the success of the shipyard.
"You get to a certain level of responsibility where your own personal accomplishments matter little compared to the accomplishments of the organization you're leading," Casey said Wednesday.
General Dynamics announced Wednesday that Casey will be the new executive vice president of the corporation's Marine Systems group, which includes EB, Bath Iron Works and General Dynamics NASSCO. Kevin J. Poitras, EB's senior vice president of engineering, design and business development, will succeed Casey May 2.
Casey, 57, was hired at EB in 1979 and became the shipyard's president in October 2003. During his tenure at the helm, EB strove to cut the cost of manufacturing Virginia-class submarines so the Navy could buy more of them. EB designers and engineers began working on a plan for a new class of ballistic-missile submarine to replace the Ohio-class boats.
Last year, the Navy doubled the rate of submarine production from one to two per year and the Department of Defense formally recognized the planning for the ballistic-missile submarine as an official program, which means the plans can continue on to the technology development phase.
Retired Rear Adm. John B. Padgett III said Casey was "the leader who got us to two a year."
"He has an excellent reputation with the customer, the Navy," said Padgett, who worked for Casey at EB as a vice president for business development and strategic planning. "He is, I think, widely admired within the shipbuilding industry and his demonstrated performance has just been exceptional."
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said he could make the case to his colleagues in Congress to allocate more money to the Virginia-class program because Casey "demonstrated it was a solid, safe investment."
"When you look at the track record of the shipyard before he got there, it really had some challenges in terms of cost overruns and quality issues," said Courtney, D-2nd District. "There's no question that he helped foster a culture at EB that transformed their output and their reputation."
Casey said the production increase was extremely important for EB, but he gave the credit to the employees who "worked to make that success a possibility." Early in his tenure, EB's conversion of four ballistic-missile submarines to guided-missile submarines and delivery of the USS Jimmy Carter, the third and last Seawolf-class submarine, were incredibly important to show what the shipyard could do, he added.
The decision to move on was difficult, Casey said, since he cares deeply about the shipyard and considers it a privilege to be in charge. He will succeed Phebe N. Novakovic, who was elected in March by the corporation's board of directors to be its president and chief operating officer.
While his portfolio will include several shipbuilding programs, Casey said he believes the need for submarines has been validated over the past decade, and he doesn't expect the demand for them to change anytime soon.
Robert Canova, president of the Marine Draftsmen's Association-United Auto Workers Local 571, said he liked the idea of having someone with a long history at the shipyard leading the Marine Systems group.
"He will be missed on a daily basis here at EB," Canova said. "But I think it's positive for him, for EB and for the union that he's moving up."
Kenneth DelaCruz, president of the Metal Trades Council, said that he and Casey did not always "see eye to eye," especially when it came to layoffs during dips in the workload. But, DelaCruz said, he appreciated the fact that Casey was a "straight shooter."
"He may not have agreed with everything I said, but I always thought he was very fair," said DelaCruz, whose union includes more than 2,300 trades personnel.
DelaCruz said he was glad that General Dynamics promoted Poitras instead of bringing in someone from the outside, but he is concerned for the future. The Pentagon wants to delay the start of construction on the ballistic-missile submarines by two years; buy one Virginia-class submarine in 2014 instead of two; buy two submarines in 2018 instead of one; and close bases.
Hundreds of EB employees work on the submarines at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, which the Pentagon nearly closed during the last round of base closures. Casey told the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission in 2005 that the base should stay open because of the synergy it enjoys with his company, an argument that helped convince the commission to overrule the Pentagon.
Padgett, the national president of the Naval Submarine League, said "these will be interesting and challenging times for shipbuilders." Promoting Casey and Poitras were "very wise" decisions by General Dynamics, he added.
Poitras, 60, currently is responsible for the performance of the engineering and design programs, including concept initiation and development, detail design, construction support and life cycle maintenance. These activities involve more than 4,000 people.
"He's fair and he's proactive," said Canova, whose union includes 1,850 design, technical and administrative personnel. "I'm sure he's going to be looking out for the company's best interests and hopefully, going forward, we'll be able to have a good working relationship, as we have had."
Casey said Poitras has his complete support and is well-positioned to do well as the shipyard's president. Poitras was hired at EB in 1973 as a construction support engineer and has held positions of increasing responsibility.
"I'm going to leave here knowing there are a lot of people in place that can continue the success of this operation," Casey said.
Poitras said in a message to employees Wednesday that Casey "set the bar very high."
"But I'm convinced that by working together, we will continue to achieve success as a business, a technology leader and an important contributor to our nation's security," he wrote.