Published September 18. 2013 1:00PM Updated September 19. 2013 12:53AM
Head of General Dynamics NASSCO will continue to oversee San Diego facility and take on Maine shipbuilder
Groton — After leading Electric Boat through a challenging year and a half, Kevin J. Poitras has announced his retirement.
As president, Poitras laid off employees this year after the shipyard lost two major repair contracts. He planned for the future even as the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect and the outlook for the defense budget became increasingly uncertain.
Poitras, 61, will retire Nov. 4. Jeffrey S. Geiger, the current president of General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, will move to Groton to become the new EB president. Frederick J. Harris, president of General Dynamics NASSCO — the company’s shipbuilding and repair operation in San Diego — will lead both NASSCO and Bath Iron Works.
In a letter to employees, Poitras said his 40-year career at the shipyard “has been an amazing run.”
“Despite my departure, the mission at Electric Boat is unchanged — we will design, build and maintain the world’s finest submarines. I am proud of the role I have played for more than one-third of this company’s 114-year history, and I know the team will continue that tradition for decades to come,” Poitras wrote.
On May 2, 2012, his first day on the job, Poitras hosted the chief of naval operations, who accepted a new Virginia-class submarine from EB nearly a year ahead of schedule and $64 million under budget.
Despite the good start, Poitras faced setbacks in the following months.
Later in May, the EB-built USS Miami was severely damaged at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, when a civilian worker set a fire on board.
EB won the contract to plan for the repairs and also expected to get the larger repair contract, but when the cost estimate for the work increased from $450 million to $700 million, top Navy officials decided to scrap rather than repair the submarine.
Since July, EB has issued layoff notices to 234 employees because of that decision and because the Navy now plans to use workers from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, instead of EB workers, to repair the USS Springfield. EB also is notifying the union that represents the shipyard’s designers that there will be some adjustments — 300 designers could be laid off within the year — as major design projects finish, including one to modify two older submarines to serve as moored training ships.
And funding for new submarine construction continues to be at risk under sequestration even though key lawmakers and Navy officials are standing by the plan to purchase two Virginia-class submarines a year and build a new class of ballistic-missile submarine.
Poitras has said the fate of Electric Boat depends on the design and construction of the new class. Before leading the shipyard, he was the senior vice president of engineering, design and business development at EB. He oversaw design and engineering projects, including the replacement for the Ohio-class boats.
Even as he faced these issues, Poitras has said throughout his tenure that he has been optimistic about the future, not only because of the projects on the horizon but also because of the people working on them.
“The workforce at Electric Boat is a unique national asset, with the exceptional depth of technical knowledge and integrity that nuclear shipbuilding requires,” he wrote in his letter. Going forward, “Electric Boat is positioned for success, with two of the strongest defense programs that exist today.”
The Navy awarded Electric Boat a nearly $2 billion contract in late 2012 to continue the early design work on the Ohio-class replacement.
In June of this year, the first module for the future USS Illinois, the 13th member of the Virginia class, arrived by barge from EB’s Quonset Point facility and was placed next to the North Dakota, the 11th of the class. Two submarines have not been side by side in Building 260 since 2003, when EB was building the USS Jimmy Carter and the USS Virginia, the first of the class. It was the first step to ramping up production in Groton to two boats a year.
John P. Casey, executive vice president of General Dynamics’ Marine Systems group, said Poitras “demonstrated his capabilities over a 40-year career with Electric Boat.”
“We appreciate his many accomplishments and his dedicated service and wish him well in retirement,” said Casey, who served as EB’s president for nearly a decade before Poitras took over. “This transition is an opportunity for us to review how General Dynamics’ surface-ship businesses operate, to ensure we are capturing all possible efficiencies as we support our primary customer, the U.S. Navy.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said Poitras made “an undeniable impact” on the southeastern Connecticut economy and facilitated relationships with local colleges so state residents would have the training to get jobs at EB.
“His impact in Connecticut and Rhode Island is wide and deep, and it has been a honor to work with him to support the men and women of Electric Boat,” Courtney said in a statement. “I applaud Kevin’s accomplishments and wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Geiger, 52, became president of Bath Iron Works in 2009. He joined the shipyard in 1984 as a production planner and held a series of positions with increasing responsibilities in production, engineering, manufacturing, planning and quality assurance. He was responsible for all of the engineering, design, material procurement, planning, quality control, strategic planning, communications and business development efforts at the shipyard.
Poitras said he is certain that Geiger is “the right person to lead this organization into the future.”
“Jeff has been a shipbuilder for 30 years,” he said, “and I know he has the skill, drive and determination to lead Electric Boat to even greater achievements.”