Meet Scott Roberts of L3Harris

Scott Roberts is the Corporate Vice President for Taiwan and Southeast Asia at L3Harris Technologies, an aerospace and defense company considered the “trusted disruptor” providing support to the U.S. government and its partners worldwide.

Before joining L3Harris, Roberts held similar positions with U.S. defense contractors in the Asia-Pacific region. He also worked with the U.S. government and its Department of Defense, overseeing large systems operations, as well as owned and operated his own company. Apart from overseeing L3Harris’ business development efforts in Southeast Asia, Roberts, who is based in Taiwan, is the Co-Chair of AmCham Taiwan’s Defense Committee.

TOPICS Senior Editor Julia Bergström met with Roberts at the Ghost Island Media recording studio in early February to discuss industry collaboration, keeping up with developments, and the importance of trust. An abridged version of their conversation follows. Listen to the full interview on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

L3Harris moved its regional head office from Singapore to Taiwan in 2022. What prompted this decision?

When you look at my region of coverage, which is all of Southeast Asia and Taiwan, the latter has the most pressing need as far as capabilities go. Taiwan also executes acquisitions in a transparent manner and within known timelines.

When we started thinking about the move, a key factor in the decision was a drive to display our own commitment to Taiwan. We felt it important to show our appreciation to customers and business partners by establishing Taiwan as our regional headquarters. We originally planned to execute the move in 2020, but due to the pandemic I arrived here in September 2022. Of course, we remain committed to the other countries in this region, with people and offices in a number of them.

You’re a Co-Chair of AmCham’s Defense Committee. What are the primary objectives of the committee, and what made you want to join its leadership?

The Defense Committee’s primary objective is to work with the sector to improve our contributions to developing U.S.-Taiwan relations and Taiwan’s resilience. The committee also provides a single voice to the Ministry of National Defense and all other government agencies.

It took a lot of convincing by my Co-Chair Roger Yee and AmCham’s previous President for me to take on the role. But now that I’ve been in the role for a while, I can say it’s a decision I’m happy I made. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and it’s clear that we’re making a difference.

How did your international upbringing prepare you for an international career?

I was born in Amman, Jordan, and brought up in countries around the world – India, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, Singapore, and the United States. I think it completely prepared me for an international career. That experience built my foundation in several important aspects – it provided me with an understanding of international cultures and languages and the unique requirements of each country, as well as the ability to adapt easily to any situation.

My father was in the U.S. government, and I’ve been around military people, government personnel, and foreign government people my entire life. It felt natural to continue that process in my career.

Defense is an inherently collaborative industry. When is the client the driver of demand, and when is industry the driver of supply?

If the customer is the driver of demand, you’re already too late. Taiwan, along with some other Asian countries, does not want to be the first to use a capability. A lot of markets prefer proven capability, and because of this, they often rely on relationships with other governments or corporations to understand existing capabilities and acquire these through direct commercial sales or foreign military sales.

At L3Harris, we welcome competition. We hope our competitors are also working to ensure that the customer gets the best possible capability for their needs.

What lessons did running your own business teach you that you still use today?

As a small business owner, you’re responsible for everything – HR, accounting, sales, distribution, marketing, and customer support. As the business grows, you recruit a team that you in turn need to manage. In this process you’re basically handing over your baby to other people, and for it to succeed you need trust. Trust is really the key pillar of success.

Running my own business helped pave the way for my return to life in corporate America. I have always espoused that you should treat the company you work for as if it’s your own and consider the ramifications of your actions as if you owned the business.

You and your team were part of last year’s Taipei Aerospace & Defense Technology Exhibition (TADTE). How did you enjoy the event?

It was great. I’ve been going to TADTE on and off since around 2006, and the changes in that show over the years have been incredible. When it was first launched, you’d mostly see model companies – people selling little toy airplane models or trinkets. Today, you have people presenting real capability. There was a strong commitment on display by both foreign and Taiwanese industry and government at the most recent event, and the amount of capability on exhibit was mind-boggling.

Last year was also the first time that the exhibition featured a USA Pavilion set up by the American Institute in Taiwan. As an American company with presence in Taiwan, we were located right next to the pavilion, and it was great to have all the partner nation companies in the same place supporting Taiwan.

How do you work to stay up to date with the latest developments in the industry?

In my role at L3Harris Corporate, I rely heavily on my colleagues in our business units to keep me up to date on the latest developments and technology. We meet regularly in Taiwan, at offsites around the world, at trade shows, or even virtually. I also find it significantly valuable to visit our facilities back home. Technology is rapidly changing, and without this interaction, it would be hard to stay abreast of things.

Apart from that, I stay up to date through industry magazines and various news sources, such as Aviation Week & Space Technology, Defense News, and journals specific to certain technology.

Many people view the armed forces as a highly disciplined and hierarchical workplace. Does that culture trickle into the industry?

The short answer is yes, it does. But the industry has a diverse blend of people, from freshly graduated university students to more mature people who have been in commercial services their whole lives, as well as people who spent a great deal of time in government before switching to the private sector.

Someone who comes straight from government might not at first understand all the commercial aspects. They might also need a while to get used to the lack of rigid structures. Of course, you’ll face pressure in both private and public roles. In the military, there’s the pressure of defending your nation. In the private sector, there’s pressure to grow your business, meet shareholder value, and account for other key metrics.

If you have a diverse team of people who’re supporting one another, you get this incredible blend of capability. Within a team, you need to know everyone’s strengths and weaknesses, and you need to pull and draw on each of your strengths and weaknesses to move forward.

Have you had any mentor figures or people who have had an influence or impact on you as a professional?

One of the key moments in my personal development was returning to corporate America after I sold my business. At the time, I was fortunate enough to have a boss who mentored me. He’s retired now, but he’s still a personal friend. That relationship and his support not only helped me grow personally but it also helped me grow the business. With his help, I was able to quadruple our sales and open in three new markets.

The other important mentor figure in my life has been my father. He was an incredible guy who I’ve looked up to every day of my life. You could also say that anyone who comes into your life is a kind of mentor – you learn from other people’s successes and mistakes and draw inspiration from traits you admire.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in a career in your industry? Are there any characteristics that you find particularly important?

You should always follow your passion. If you follow your passion, you’ll be happy in your career. If you feel regret over what you’ve done, it’s time to make a change. Passion and a willingness to learn are more important than your background or what you studied. I have good friends who are lawyers by training and now work in business development in this industry. Some other business acquaintances started out as accountants or engineers.

When I interview prospective employees for jobs, the candidates who stand out are those who speak multiple languages, have lived in a number of different countries, and have a similar drive for the defense industry.

What do you like to do when you’re off the clock?

Anything in the great outdoors. Mountain biking is my main passion, but I also love hiking and whitewater kayaking. Taipei is a great place to live if you love hiking – you don’t need to travel far to enjoy a good trail. Elephant Mountain is great, and I climb up Nangangshan at least once a week. But my favorite is Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range – it’s incredible, and it only takes two or three hours to get there from Taipei.