Feb 8, 2019

Ep 129: Rex Geveden - Chief Executive Officer, BWX Technologies

Chief Executive Officer
BWX Technologies
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Show notes

00:34 Q: How did you get involved in NASA?
A: Rex Geveden’s background in engineering physics led to his first interest in national missile defense systems, eventually leading to his involvement in NASA. Rex joined Teledyne Brown Engineering and moved to Huntsville, Alabama, working on physics-based modeling of missile defense systems. Huntsville was also home the Marshall Space Flight Center, where he spent 17 years total.
1:54 Q: How did you rise to the top of the NASA?
A: Rex Geveden started as a payload engineer at NASA, worked into a chief engineer position, and then was promoted to Associate Administrator, similar to a COO position. Rex was involved in all mission areas, including the space shuttle, space station, haleophysics, and aeronatics. Rex held the top non-political position at NASA.
5:28 Q: What were you doing in your next senior leadership position at Teledyne?
A: Rex Geveden left NASA to hold a senior leadership position at Teledyne Technologies, the parent company to Teledyne Brown Engineering where he had previously worked. While Rex was at NASA, he met the CEO of Teledyne Technologies and was invited back as President of Teledyne Brown Engineering. Rex moved on to become Executive Vice-President of Teledyne Technologies, putting him in charge of two of four operation centers, including 11 Teledyne companies.
8:08 Q: How did you come to the nuclear industry?
A: Rex Geveden has been interested in physics since middle school. Rex found a book on special relativity in 8th grade and became enamored on the paradox of the twins and space attraction, leading to his interest in physics. When Rex left NASA for Teledyne, he discovered the company had nuclear manufacturing credentials that were dormant. Rex set Teledyne up to restart nuclear manufacturing.. Rex wanted to get involved in the nuclear renaissance. Teledyne’s biggest markets at the time were space and defense, while nuclear was more a market on the edge of their focus. Rex spent 8 years total at Teledyne. Rex got a cold call from a BWXT recruiter, which was a company produced from the split of Babcock and Wilcox. BWXT became the nuclear portion of the business. Rex was hired on as COO, with plans to be a CEO successor.
11:27 Q: When you took a senior leadership position at BWXT, what kind of vision did you sell in order for the company to hire you?
A: Rex Geveden sold his vision for the company based on two primary objectives. The first objective was to protect the Navy business, since BWXT is the sole provider for most nuclear equipment used on U.S. Navy submarines and aircraft carriers. The Navy business provides up to 80% of business in sales for BWXT and is a sole source business with heavy backlog. The second objective was to think about how to manage the cash the company had generated in new areas for growth.
15:52 Q: What are some of the areas in which you thought to innovate?
A: Rex Geveden focused some of his innovation on market-based strategy, and others were driven more by technology. Rex saw one market-based opportunity in that BWXT was underexposed to the Canadian reactor market, which are going under a big expansion and refurbishment project. On the technical innovation side, Rex was interested in medical radioisotopes. BWXT was experienced in the radiochemical process and had idea an idea of how to make an isotope in a much less expensive way, with no complex waste stream and with continuity of supply, which had not yet been available. BWXT bought a radioisotope manufacturer as a way of managing risk in this innovation field.
19:14 Q: It takes a lot of confidence to buy a company and grow them in ways they hadn’t before. How do you buy a business?
A: Rex Geveden led BWXT’s acquisition of a radioisotope manufacturer, focused on cost and strategic synergies. BWXT had the technology to put in the existing manufacturing plant filled with skilled workers with knowledge of regulatory requirements. Rex’s strategy was to buy a workforce capable of taking BWXT’s technologies.
24:44 Q: Electricity demand in traditional markets has leveled off. Are there other international markets that are attractive?
A: Rex Geveden is attracted to international markets such as Canada, but also recognizes the unattractive sides of state-owned enterprises such as China. These enterprises only want the technology and one generation of help from the company. BWXT concentrates mostly on the promising nuclear renaissance in Western markets. Advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning, combined with a nuclear need creates a nuclear revolution. Rex sees that making incremental changes is too expensive and takes too long. Classic architecture, especially pressurized water reactors, are not the solution for this nuclear renaissance.
30:15 Q: What else is under your scope?
A: Rex Geveden leads BWXT in many areas of scope, such as nuclear thermocompulsion with NASA, manufacturing with NuScale, and advanced manufacturing and technology work with the DOE for complex fuel forms.
32:09 Q: Is the industry looking into nuclear-powered rockets as possible technology?
A: Rex Geveden does not see a nuclear-powered rockets in the future, due to the high thrust requirement. Nuclear engines have high efficiency and high speed, but chemical rocket engines provide the thrust needed.
35:00 Q: What’s next for the company and the industry?
A: Rex Geveden will focus BWXT on investing heavily in the Navy business, which has been high demand for 50 years, due to all nuclear propulsion for subs and aircraft carriers. Rex sees interest from NASA, DOD, Army, and DARPA, among others, to invest in nuclear as the best and only solution for some problems. BWXT is well positioned for that in order to build another franchise platform. The combination of advanced technologies and changing economics, springboards the industry into commercial power generation.
Top 8 Bullet Points
- Rex Geveden’s background in engineering physics & career at NASA - Rex Geveden’s work in the space and defense markets at Teledyne Technologies - Role of nuclear manufacturing in the energy and defense markets - Development of nuclear propulsion technology for Navy submarines and aircraft carriers - BWXT’s market expansion into Canadian nuclear reactors - BWXT’s innovations in medical radioisotope production - Industrial collaboration between manufacturers and NASA, NuScale, and the Department of Energy - Interest from government agencies in advanced nuclear technologies.

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