Profession: Aerospace Engineering Executive
Birth: Honolulu, Hawaii
Position: Sector Vice President, Space & Defense Products, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
Clayton K.S. Kau manages 3,000 Northrup Grumman employees who engineer and produce products involving space and defense technology. Kau’s unit, known as Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (formerly Northrop Grumman Space Technology and TRW), is currently involved in hundreds of projects that range from $50,000 contracts to multi-billion-dollar programs like NPOESS (National Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite System), Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS), and Airborne Laser (ABL).
Kau has responsibility for both Aerospace Systems and the production functions for the Space Systems Division’s space and directed energy, electrical, electromechanical, microelectronic, sensor and laser products. He assumes responsibilty for bottom-line product cost and schedule performance.
Kau finds satisfaction in working with talented people on technologically advanced programs that “save lives and make our nation safe. It’s great to work on activities that make a difference — it becomes more than a job,” he says. In addition to his managerial dties, Kau remains personally involved in key engineering decisions.
As a manager Kau finds his biggest challenge to be the cyclical, unpredictable nature of the business. “There are occasions when we don’t have enough people and are struggling to hire, and at times when our business is flat,” he says. “Luckily, we’ve not had to let people go too many times in the three plus decades I’ve been in this industry. But when we do, it is very hard to lay off good people.”
Kau believes in the value of seeking out challenges. “Never take a job that you know you can do — you learn by stretching and taking some risk,” is his advice to ambitious young engineers. “Engineering also requires working with others in a team in a multi-disciplined way, so how you work with people and how you manage others is as important as raw technical knowledge.”
Prior to his current position Kau managed the Advanced EHF Payload program and the MILSTAR Medium Data Rate Payload program. Both provided advanced, survivable secure worldwide communications for the U.S. armed forces.
Kau spent his first 18 years in Honolulu, the younger of two boys. Together they were referred to as “the Kau-Boys,” he recalls with a smile. After graduating from Iolani High School Kau earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, followed by a master’s and an engineer’s degree from MIT.
Kau graduated from TRW’s corporate Business Leadership Program and is a certified Six Sigma Green Belt. He is a recipient of a TRW CEO leadership award, TRW Chairman’s Award for Innovation, and of the 2008 Asian American Engineer of the Year Award from the Chinese Institute of Engineers.
He and wife Jaimie have been married for 22 years. They live in Palos Verdes Estates in Southern California with 3 playful dogs and a feisty cat. “All but one we rescued from the local humane society,” he notes.
“Jaimie and I love to travel, usually to countries and cities that we have not previously visited,” he says when asked about his favorite pasttimes. “ I’m an amateur photographer, so taking pictures on travel is a fun experience.”