A League of His Own

Overseeing stealth aircraft? The world’s most powerful space telescope? Just another day at the office for Tom Vice ’93, leading Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector.


While other college students partied, hung out or talked philosophy until the wee hours of the morning, Tom Vice worked. And worked.

The USC Viterbi alumnus, B.S. AE ’93, verified software code up to five nights a week at a Van Nuys aerospace firm from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. After his shift, the future executive would nap for a few hours in a rented Hollywood apartment before heading off to class at “simply the very best engineering school in the world,” he said.

Vice’s dedication, ambition and discipline, a word often used to describe him, paid off. Today, he serves as Northrop Grumman corporate vice president and president of the company’s Aerospace Systems sector.

The $10 billion, Redondo Beach-based business unit is a national leader in autonomous systems, space and missile systems, and advanced defense technologies. Projects under Vice’s direction include the James Webb Space Telescope, a replacement for the Hubble that will become the world’s most powerful telescope ever developed – “It’s a time machine that will see back 13.5 billion years to understand the very beginnings of time,” Vice said – advanced laser-firing aircraft; and the B-21, the next generation long-range stealth bomber for the U.S. Air Force.

“Tom is a special, inspirational leader,” said Frank Flores, B.S. EE ‘78 and M.S. EE ’81, a Northrop vice president of engineering for university and STEM relations in the aerospace systems sector. “He helps employees see the big picture and vision, which gets them get excited.”

Recently, Vice helped knock down silos among basic researchers, advanced designers and applied researchers in the company and elsewhere to “consistently introduce new disruptive innovation.” The result: the NG Next research center.

“This wasn’t on anybody’s radar, but Tom’s making it happen,” said Art Lofton, a vice president in the aerospace sector. “I think it will have broad benefits and implications positively across the board.”

Vice feels proud of what he and his team contribute to the nation’s security and scientific understanding.

“I work tirelessly to ensure that we continuously foster a creative, dynamic and collaborative culture that will be a catalyst for ingenious innovations and inventions,” Vice said.

Work he does. A typical 12-hour Monday includes two three-hour meetings. In the first, Vice and other executives review every aspect of the aerospace sector. At the second, he and other sector leaders discuss projects’ progress and challenges.

Vice began his career at Northrop in 1986 as an engineer on the B-2 Stealth Bomber. As a Star Trek fan boy and child of the Apollo era, he had found his dream job.

Over the next three decades, Vice steadily moved up the corporate ladder, eventually heading the company’s Aerospace Systems sector with 23,000 employees.

Looking back, Vice credits his USC education for much of his success.

“I learned how to think critically, how to integrate imagination and intellect together,” said Vice, the 2016 recipient of USC Viterbi’s Daniel J. Epstein Engineering Management Award. “I came to appreciate not only the laws of engineering, but the beauty of engineering.”