Keeping Saab on the straight and narrow
Defence is a heavily regulated industry, especially in the U.S., where exports of defence services typically require prior approval from the government. The environment Lola Neal works in can be fast-paced and is certainly never dull.
It should be noted that this is not the job Lola Neal aimed for when she applied to college all those years ago. And studying psychology, as she did, doesn’t necessarily have much to do with assisting Saab personnel around the globe in maintaining compliance with the U.S. Government export control regulations.
Psychology wasn’t even her first choice. If it had been possible to fulfil her dreams, she would at that time have gone to New York to become an interior designer. But life sent her on a different path and Lola never pursued a career in psychology either. Instead she found herself in the world of business and had a number of jobs in the field of communications, working on magazines, newsletters and developing advertising campaigns, before taking a temporary job at an American aerospace and defence contractor.
“When there was an opening for a full-time job in trade compliance, the department manager asked me if I was interested,” says Lola.
In spite of her lack of experience in the area she got the job.
“Later, I found out that no one else applied,” she says with a laugh, and adds:
“However, the woman who hired me became my mentor and I will always be grateful for that opportunity. I was also able to put my communication skills to good use in my new career path.”
She stayed on for another twelve years, before applying for the job at Saab.
“I doubt I was the only applicant for the position this time around,” she says. “I believe my experience working for a major defence contractor and my background in communications helped me get the job.”
As manager for trade compliance it’s Lola’s responsibility to ensure that Saab’s international activities are conducted in accordance with the U.S. Government regulations. This includes sales, marketing, demonstrations, exhibitions and follow-on support activities. She also provides export controls training to Saab personnel in the U.S. and abroad.
To obtain the necessary authorisations for the export, re-export or import of technology and hardware, Lola routinely deals with the U.S. Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“Saab has established a culture of compliance,” she says. “The company has a good reputation for integrity and is regarded as responsible by its customers, partners, suppliers and by government authorities. Transgressions can put the company’s health and growth at risk.”
With her background in communication, Lola Neal is also the editor of a monthly newsletter called “Export News Notes” that’s distributed to Saab colleagues across the globe.
She has been part of the team at Saab for more than a decade.
“I enjoy my work,” she says. “No two days are alike. Sometimes when I get to the office, I spend the entire day working on an issue that wasn’t even on my radar the day before. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, something I’ve never had to deal with before appears in my inbox. I like the fact that my job continuously challenges me.”
Working for Saab has also allowed Lola to travel internationally and experience other cultures. For example, she has been to Sweden numerous times and she has picked up a liking for Scandinavian design.
“Interior decoration is still my passion. I’m constantly redecorating my home – if I’m not actually working on a project, I am thinking about one. My design aesthetic is mid-century modern and I also like the minimalism of Scandinavian design a lot,” she says.
Name: Lola Neal
Works as: Manager, Trade Compliance in Washington DC
Family: An adult daughter
Lives: In Maryland
At Saab: Since 2007
Hobbies: Interior decorating and home improvement in general; there are always projects in the pipeline.
Likes listening to: Current hits on America’s Top 40 list, jazz and music from legends like Marvin Gaye, especially while I’m commuting and cleaning the house.
Hidden talents: I am a good dancer, which I doubt anyone at work knows, since I don’t typically dance in the office.
Most happy when: I am near the water and can see and smell the sea; and travelling abroad.