“Accidents Happen,” the final episode in Punky Brewster’s second season, aired just weeks after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. While America is mourning the death of all seven crew members, Punky rethinks her dream of becoming an astronaut. The young girl’s teacher arranges for her to meet Buzz Aldrin, who inducts Punky into the Young Astronauts Club and encourages her to pursue a career at NASA.
Vivian Martinez-Wells remembers watching the episode from her grandmother’s house in Puerto Rico and sharing Punky’s ambition. Unfortunately, Universidad de Puerto Rico lacked an undergraduate program in aerospace engineering, and Martinez-Wells wasn’t ready to leave the island. She instead enrolled as a mechanical engineering student.
Today, Martinez-Wells is director of supply chain for Barnes Aerospace, a segment of Barnes, a publicly traded and global aerospace and industrial manufacturer. She leads a supply chain team that is helping streamline the way the billion-dollar company manufactures and repairs engine components and assemblies, as well as airframe parts supporting both commercial and military programs.
It’s a big job for which Martinez-Wells has been training her entire career. After college, she left Puerto Rico for the mainland and completed a master’s program in management and business administration at Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut. She also earned an executive master’s degree in public administration with a concentration in international economic policy from Columbia University, all while designing and later testing parts for Pratt & Whitney’s F135 program.
“Supply chain can unlock huge benefits and efficiencies, but only when there is purpose and structure, so everything is working together.”Vivian Martinez-Wells
F135s are the most advanced fighter engines with forty-three thousand pounds of thrust. They power F35 combat aircrafts, which reach supersonic speeds of 1.6 Mach or about 1,200 miles per hour. For Martinez-Wells, working on the warfighters was a dream come true. “Any young engineer would love to put their fingerprints on complex engines,” she says. “I had the chance to show what I could accomplish and being part of an innovative team only made me want to do more.”
After five years, Martinez-Wells stepped out of the F135 program to manage logistics. She worked hand-in-hand with leaders in the Indonesian and Chilean air forces to support products in the field. This customer-facing role helped the rising star develop broad capabilities and leadership skills. She then moved into the supply chain world and started purchasing the parts she had once designed.
The transition put Martinez-Wells on a new path. She flourished in supply chain, and although she had been with Pratt & Whitey for more than a decade, she wanted to learn other parts of the industry. “I’m naturally curious and wanted to try a different sized company and get involved in different parts of the business,” she explains.
That led her to join Barnes in 2013. She started in sales, moved to contracts, and in 2019, the company needed a new director of global supply chain operations.
It was a natural fit, and Martinez-Wells stepped in to transform the function and implement an operational excellence mindset that changed how Barnes does business. “I wanted to make supply chain more than a one-off project,” she says. “Supply chain can unlock huge benefits and efficiencies, but only when there is purpose and structure, so everything is working together.”
Changing legacy systems can be challenging, and some individuals tagged for the new team chose to leave for other opportunities. This created some unwelcome gaps in the plan and gave Martinez-Wells the chance to build a supply chain team from the ground up. “Some leaders in our industry only hire professionals with aerospace experience, but that limits your success. Supply chain is a transferable skill set, and we benefit from a diverse pool of talent,” she says. In her early months, Martinez-Wells brought in people from controls, automotive, and other industries to introduce a different perspective to aerospace.
With her hand-selected team in place, Martinez-Wells was ready to achieve operational excellence to consistently deliver Barnes’ value to its customers. Along with her peer executives, she led the team through working sessions and performed deep dives to define and streamline value streams. The team started to reap the benefits of driving operational excellence across the business, improving quality and performance while developing an unparalleled customer experience.
When the pandemic hit, Barnes’ supply chain team took advantage of the unexpected slowdown to get its organization and structure under control while maturing in its operational excellence journey. It then prioritized leveraging digital innovation opportunities through operations and business processes by investing in smart connected technology and enhanced business solutions. In 2022, Martinez-Wells plans to leverage this technology to find a competitive advantage, continue to enhance the customer experience, and boost growth through greater investment in digital improvement.
Whether she’s at Barnes’ headquarters or away from the office, Martinez-Wells is focused on exploring her passion for service, especially within the Hispanic community. She has helped organize professional development sessions through organizations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and mentor young women at CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering. Martinez-Wells leads by example as she rises in a male-dominated industry, showing her young daughter that anything is possible for women in the STEM fields.