First female president prepares to take helm of national security lab

Jill Hruby, new director of Sandia National Laboratories
Jill Hruby, new director of Sandia National Laboratories | Sandia National Laboratories

More than 30 years of service at Sandia National Laboratories has finally paid off for Jill Hruby, who takes over next month as the company’s first female boss in one of America’s highest-profile science and security positions.

Effective July 17, Hruby becomes director of SNL and president of Sandia Corp., the wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., which operates SNL as one of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration labs. She will oversee more than 10,000 employees, operating revenue of roughly $2.6 billion, and operations covering nuclear weapons, energy and environmental technology.

Not only is Hruby the first woman to lead Sandia, she’s actually the first female to head up any of the NNSA’s three national security labs — Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories.

Breaking the glass ceiling, Hruby said when announcing her appointment last week, “is a great thing.”

Make no mistake, though, her job won’t be easy. Sandia has been involved in a major nuclear weapons modernization program to upgrade nuclear warheads and extend their life. The program has been one of the lab’s largest projects since the Cold War ended, according to a spokesman.

Hruby said that ensuring the modernization project progresses on time and on budget is a top concern. “National budgets are difficult but, so far, Congress and this administration have been pretty committed to the life extension programs,” she said last week.

Hruby also said she planned to “maintain the U.S. nuclear deterrent and lead Sandia in solving the difficult security challenges we face as a nation," which she knows is quite an awesome undertaking.

But it’s one she is more than capable of handling. Since 2010, Hruby has led more than 1,300 employees and contractors at Sandia in Albuquerque, N.M., as vice president of the Energy, Nonproliferation and High-Consequence Security Division, which supports Sandia's global security of weapons of mass destruction, energy systems and the nuclear fuel cycle. 

Additionally, Hruby has been the company's vice president of the International, Homeland and Nuclear Security Strategic Management Unit, which handles nonproliferation and arms control, and secures and safeguards nuclear weapons and materials. The PMU mission also has encompassed nonproliferation and arms control; securing and safeguarding nuclear weapons and nuclear materials; protecting critical U.S. government assets and installations; ensuring the resilience of physical and cyber infrastructures; and reducing the risks of terrorist threats and catastrophic events. 

The Ann Arbor, Mich., native earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1981. Hruby joined Sandia in 1983 as a scientist at the company’s Livermore, Calif., location where she researched thermal and fluid sciences, solar energy and nuclear weapons components, among other areas. In 1983 she earned a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of California at Berkeley and in 1989 earned her first management appointment at Sandia.

In 2003, Hruby was named a Sandia technical director, first leading the Materials and Engineering Sciences Center and its work in hydrogen science and engineering and microsystem science and fabrication. In 2005, she became director of the Homeland Security and Defense Systems Center, fostering Sandia work in systems analysis, applied research, and systems engineering, primarily for homeland security and nuclear weapons missions.

While at Sandia, Hruby also has been involved with nanoscience research, hydrogen storage, solar energy research, microfluidics, and the thermal analysis of mechanical-component design.

Hruby also has three patents in microfabrication and an R&D 100 award in solid-state radiation detection. In 2008 she received a Purdue outstanding mechanical engineering alumna award and in 2013 was named a "Woman Worth Watching" by Profiles in Diversity Journal. Sandia's Women's Committee also has named her an Outstanding Role Model.

Hruby will replace outgoing Sandia lab director Paul Hommert, who announced in mid-May that he planned to retire. Hommert has been lab director since 2010.