Executives Unpacked Episode 18: “Fight On” with John Beckner 

On Episode 18 of Executives Unpacked we got to know John Beckner, the founder and CEO of Horizon Technologies. John told us about his career in the aerospace sector, where he has worked for over 30 years. He’s worked in and out of government, including working with Ronald Reagan in 1980. Thanks to his expertise, Horizon Technologies has transitioned from an innovative startup to a groundbreaking company who are providing systems to the aircraft industry. Read on to find his best advice for others who are entering the aeronautical industry. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

You learn more from failures than you do from victories. I’ve always asked myself, “What do you learn from winning a programme? Why did you lose it? What were the pitfalls?” I look back at what happened, then see what we can do better next time. We lost a satellite recently, so as we go forward and build the next one, what are the lessons I can take forward? Always learn from your setbacks and defeats.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

That 1 in 10 launches fails. It’s risky. My glass is half full, so I always thought “This is going to work”. The reality is, the numbers are there, and it is a roll of the dice. We’re going to step up with help from the UK government and our partners. We’ll get back into space. We just have to take it one step at a time.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

Learn from your elders, mentors and people who have been there before. When I look back at my career, I could look to older members and understand they’d been in my shoes before. Get knowledge and advice from people who’ve worked in your position before. There’s a tendency, especially in today’s environment, for young people to think they’re the first ones to do things, but that’s not often true. Look to the older generation and learn from them, because they’re the ones who get us to where we are. 

What keeps you awake at night? 

The challenges we’ve had in the last year are really about the global supply chain. The component business affects the satellite payloads as well. We’re not first in line, which has been a big problem for us in the last year. We’re not done with the ramifications of COVID, which is a concern for my company. I don’t like to spend weekends talking to companies in Hong Kong asking for a specific semiconductor, but sometimes that’s what it takes. COVID’s also had a knock-on effect on sales. We can’t sell our avionics business commercially so we need to go to trade shows, but they’ve not been happening. If there’s no trade shows, there are no orders. Flights are full again and life goes on, but we’re still catching up. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that led to your continued success?

For me there are two. Number one; you gotta be quick. Respond quickly, turn things around, be mean and lean. Number two is determination. You can’t give up if you want to keep that pace up. It’s hard work. Lean and mean turnarounds are what will keep your customers happy, and in order to achieve that you have to be persistent.

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

Don’t give up. Don’t let setbacks throw you off. Don’t walk away from the game. There are two sides to that though. There is not always a way forward, so I’m not telling you to keep butting your head against the tree. There has to be a balance. Our motto at the University of Southern California is “Fight on”, which I still hold to, but you have to pick your battles too. Be wise enough to say, “There is no more fighting on here”. Sometimes it’s better to devote your energy somewhere else. 

To hear more about John’s work in the aeronautical industry, tune into the Executives Unpacked podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 16: Keep Your Focus with Rhonda Stevenson

On Episode 16 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Rhonda Stevenson, the President and CEO at Orbital Assembly Corporation. The company is constructing large, scalable, gravity capable turnkey solutions in space and beyond, enabling society to work, play and thrive in the space ecosystem. Rhonda is a seasoned professional with 20 over years of business leadership and entrepreneurial experience. Rhonda has also dedicated her life to supporting and heading up nonprofit organisations. Outside of the Space world, Rhonda’s happy place is out in nature and spending quality time with her children. 

Read on to hear Rhonda’s advice for people entering her industry. 

What would you say has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned so far, during your career?

The single most important lesson is that some of the narratives that we’re raised with aren’t true. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. Tune out the voices that say what can or can’t be done. If you really do believe that you can achieve your goals, you can.

Is there anything that you’d wish you’d been told earlier?

It’s not a sage piece of advice, but you have to understand that everyone goes through challenges. You may be feeling low because you’re not where you wanted to be. The common response is ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself’, but I think that you would be better served by saying, ‘Continue to hold yourself to the goals that you’ve set’. Don’t sit in a place of judgement, but find a solution and a way to keep moving. Don’t get stuck on worrying about where you are, focus on where you’re headed.

Is there one piece of advice that you would pass on to some of your leadership team, managers or coaches?

As a leader, you have to be very mindful of the team that you’re leading, but not at the cost of your objectives. There are different leadership styles, so don’t get stuck on just one. Some pyramidal type structures work very well in some organisations, while lateral systems work better in others. Keep your objectives and strategies in mind, but be empathetic to your team and find the best way to work with them.

What keeps you awake at night?

The biggest struggle for a startup in the space industry is always finding funding. I work side by side with folks who are putting in long hours, dedication and passion, all while working at lower pay than they would make elsewhere. As a leader I’m the caretaker of these teams, so I’m always looking for innovative ways to bring in funding. There are lots of strategic solutions that are obvious but inaccessible. We’re only just starting to see institutions like NASA work more freely with startups, but that’s going to benefit the whole community.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

I try to be like water; fluid, flexible and changeable. When you’re seeking advice or insight, be very clear in your own mind and heart that you are not seeking approval. Hold to the desires or goals that you have, and don’t let someone else’s opinion taint or cloud your self direction. Often when I’ve shared my goals or my objectives with others, the response hasn’t been positive. I’ve had responses like ‘that’s not how we do things, that’s not realistic, or that’s not achievable’. Be really mindful of the fact that it’s just advice or opinions, and it doesn’t mean you should let go of what you’ve set for yourself.

What advice would you give to somebody that wants to enter the industry?

You need to understand and own that you already have a tremendous amount of skill to contribute to this growing community. You shouldn’t feel like you have to ask for permission to enter or that you need to get a stamp of approval; you are welcome. You have many things to bring to the industry, and we need them. I had always wanted to be in the space industry, that’s a dream I was born with, but my trajectory didn’t look like I was going to get there. When I had the opportunity to transfer into the space industry, I worried that I didn’t have much to bring. I’m not an engineer. I didn’t work for Lockheed Martin. I didn’t become an astronaut, I didn’t even get to be a test pilot, so what on earth could I bring to the industry? Actually, what I brought was leadership experience, and that’s what the industry needed the most. It is apparent that there is a screaming need for continued leadership for businesses and concepts. 

Don’t wait. Don’t feel that you need to bring more skills than you already have to the industry, just start. 

To hear more about Rhonda’s experiences in the industry and the work that Orbital Assembly Corporation is doing, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 17: Impostor Syndrome is something that affects people at every level of business

Episode 17 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast featured a conversation with Kim Lawrence, the EVP of Global Client Operations at Visual Data Media Services. Growing up Kim had ambitions to be a journalist, but now she works with a provider of premium Digital Media Supply Chain Solutions and some of the world’s best known media brands. Read on to hear how Kim has progressed her career whilst tackling impostor syndrome. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible if you approach it with the right mindset. No matter how unachievable it might seem, if you start it with a curious, positive mindset, it’s incredible what you can accomplish. Over and over and over in my career we’ve had projects that just seem impossible to get done, but we’ve succeeded in the end. There’s always a way to figure it out.

Is there anything you wish you’d been told earlier in your career?

Impostor syndrome is a thing that everybody experiences. I didn’t realise that until about five years ago. Until then I thought ‘At some point, somebody’s going to figure out that I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.’ Knowing that other people in the same roles as me and even CEOs still struggle with impostor syndrome was a game-changer. I started my working life straight out of secondary school at 16, so I was always the youngest person in the room and I had no formal education. As a result, I always thought that someone was doing me a favour by letting me be there. I wish I had been told that I was there because of me, I earned a seat at this table, and people want to hear what I have to say. All sorts of people, even those at senior levels, can all feel like their progression is a fluke. It’s hard to get that across to young people who are just coming into the workplace, but it’s something that we should really try to communicate. It’s what I wish I knew then. 

What advice do you think had the most impact on you?

‘Fake it till you make it’ is an obvious one, but it’s less about faking the job that you do and more about faking your confidence. It takes courage to walk into a room and host a meeting, give a presentation, pitch to a client or go into a post-mortem meeting with a customer. If you can channel your confidence, it puts everybody else at ease. I’m an inherently shy, introverted person, which people often say doesn’t come across at all, because I push through that to find my confidence. That’s helped me achieve all kinds of things. 

Another piece of advice I got recently is ‘don’t try and be the hero in somebody else’s story’. I have a tendency to want to fix everything, but I’ve learned that people need to be the hero in their own story. That’s led me to one of my core passions, which is mentoring and developing people. I had so many amazing mentors in my life, and now I want to give that back to other people. I wish I’d had a female mentor like me to look up to, so I try to be that for people. I’m here to help people see their potential, support them and give them the resources they need to smash it.

What keeps you awake at night?

I don’t think I can count my sleepless nights on one hand. Having said that, I do worry about whether I have the wrong person on my team, or the dynamic isn’t quite working for someone I’ve brought in. If I see potential in this person, how do I know if our culture is strong enough to set this person up for success? Anything we do that affects people causes me a lot of stress. I feel a responsibility for people, because when you have someone who doesn’t fit, it impacts the whole company culture. 

Can you identify a single thread through your career that’s led to your success?

If I listen to my imposter syndrome I would say it’s I’ve got here by pure luck, and I have no idea what I’m doing or how I got here. Curiosity is actually my secret. I’m a truth-seeker by nature, and I always want to get to the bottom of something and understand it. If I’m told no, I’ll ask annoying questions until I completely understand why, and that usually leads to a creative conversation about solutions. I remember seeing a woman at work once, and she was commanding the room, answering questions and coming up with solutions. I realised that I needed to understand how to do that, and it’s my curiosity that got me there. 

What is the one bit of advice that you would offer to others?

Be intentional about who you surround yourself with. You need to make sure that they inspire you in some way, because you become a little bit of each person you spend time with. Cut toxic people out of your life and out of your business quickly. 

To hear more about Kim’s work, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 15: How Katherine Gizinski Makes Life Better 

On Episode 15 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we spoke to Katherine Gizinski about everything from the satellite industry to her passion for proper coffee. Katherine is the CEO of ManSat, a graduate of the International Space University’s Executive program, the chairwoman of the SSPI, and a supporter of the ITU’s ‘Girls in ICT’ initiative. She’s had an extensive career in the satellite industry, working with the US defence contractors to bring commercial satellite and terrestrial communication technologies to austere environments in support of military, diplomatic, first responder, and commercial initiatives. 

Read on to find out how Katherine uses her passion to make life better for everyone!

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career?

The lesson that’s reaffirmed most often is that your passion can’t be that can’t be trained. That’s something that’s got to be within someone. Your passion, work ethic, and mindset aren’t something you can learn. It’s really easy to place emphasis on qualifications, pedigree and expertise in our industry, but time and again, I’ve seen very qualified folks grow complacent. The folks that are really switched on are passionate about what they’re doing, willing to learn and are ready to drive themselves and their organisations to the next phase. Those are the folks you want driving high performance teams. For me, your passion, work ethic and a growth-oriented mindset trumps everything else in terms of what you can do.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

Understanding how to manage people with different personalities would have been a great lesson. Some folks really need a lot of direct feedback, but others have so much motivation within them that a little bit of feedback goes a long way. A benefit of working with really driven and capable people is that they usually push themselves harder than anyone else. I could have benefited from being a little easier on myself and on others around me. 

What’s one piece of advice that you always give to others?

I am a firm believer that we need to know our value. If you know what you’re good at and what you can bring to an organisation, you can find an environment where your skills have the maximum impact, and that will take you to a phenomenal place. Once you’ve found that, my advice is to stay curious. Never stop learning and growing. Always try to be a better version of yourself than you were the day before. That can be in terms of skills, development and knowledge base, or on a personal level, where you improve your cross functional collaboration, interactions with others or the way you run your team or organisation. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night? 

What plagues me is ‘How can we make life better for everyone?’ It sounds like a big question for an organisation like ours to grapple with, but we’re part of the solution. Our role is helping streamline the process for everyone. I see us as technology enablers, and we’re absolutely committed to that mission. I’m always challenging the team and myself to approach a client’s problems differently, take a different perspective, find what can we do here differently and ultimately keep the end customer in mind. If we don’t do our job for the client, the end customer doesn’t get the capability. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I’ve always loved what I’ve done. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t aspects of all of our jobs that maybe aren’t our favourite. I can’t think of a role where I haven’t loved what I’ve done, and that’s kept driving me forward and kept the work itself fun and fresh. That’s the recurring theme throughout the various roles I’ve had. I’ve always had an attachment to the mission, vision and purpose of my companies, because I understood the value of what we were bringing to our users. Once I have that mindset, everything else flows from it.

To hear more about Katherine’s work in the satellite sector, listen to Episode 15 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast

Executives Unpacked Episode 10: Accomplishing Your Goals with Shelli Brunswick

On Episode 10 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Shelli Brunswick, the COO of The Space Foundation, and an Executive Leader for the Centre of Innovation and Education. She brings a broad perspective and a deep vision to the Workforce Development roadmaps and the economic opportunities available to everyone for the space industry. Shelli has a distinguished career ranging across space acquisitions, programme management leadership and congressional liaison for the US Air Force. In her current role she’s leading the way when it comes to promotion of diversity and inclusion across the world, encouraging the next generation of women to pursue STEM subjects and join this wonderful space industry. Outside of Shelli’s passion for mentoring she spends most of her time travelling or getting outdoors, practising photography, and enjoying wildlife. 

This incredible woman shared her insights with us, the highlights of which are below. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

One of the biggest lessons is to never disqualify yourself from something you haven’t been offered. When I was transitioning out of the US Air Force to become a civilian and I was looking for a new job, someone sent me a job announcement to be the CFO of Space Foundation. Initially I went, ‘I don’t qualify for that, so I’m not going to apply’. I talked to one of my colleagues in the office, who’s also a good friend, and she said, ‘Never disqualify yourself from something you haven’t been offered’. Based on that advice, I applied to be the Chief Operating Officer at Space Foundation, and after a lengthy interview process, I was selected. Sometimes we go through life, and we eliminate ourselves from things we haven’t even been offered because we think we’re not qualified. Don’t do that. Try anyways, go for it. What do you have to lose?

What do you wish that you had been told earlier?

Your goals and dreams and aspirations are achievable, but they’re not achievable overnight. Sometimes, especially when we’re younger, we feel this great pressure that we have to accomplish things and it can be overwhelming. We’re seeing that in the workforce today, we’re seeing a lot of burnout, we’re seeing a lot of people not taking time to rejuvenate, spend time with their family or connect with nature. 

Success is about creating the vision for yourself, and then breaking that into small, achievable milestones. I want to write a book next year, but I’m not going to write that overnight like I did my college paper, I’m going to have to outline and plan. Some days or weeks, I can do a lot more, the ideas flow a lot better, and some weeks I can do less. But how do you slowly work towards those goals? The same thing happens here at the Space Foundation and in any industry, so I sit down with my team and say, ‘What do we want to accomplish this year?’ We can’t accomplish it overnight, but we can lay in milestones and inch stones and every week, every day, we are slowly moving towards that goal. That helps to eliminate a lot of stress that people feel about achieving lofty goals when they think that they’re unattainable. They really are attainable, because you just have to break it into steps and look at that incremental achievement you’re doing every day. Even when you sent me the questions for today, I actually outlined several of my thoughts, and I thought ‘This might be great for my book’, so see, you’re helping me to slowly accomplish that goal!

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

When I started working on Capitol Hill as a congressional liaison for the US Air Force, my boss told me, ‘Life is all about building and maintaining relationships’. When you look back over your life and you think about mentors and champions that have supported you in your career, life is about building those relationships and maintaining them. Even when you and I look at our relationship, you reached out, we did a webinar, and that could have been it. But no, we stayed in touch over the last two years, we’ve tried to connect in Long Beach, now maybe we’ll finally meet in Paris. I do that with the champions and mentors who have supported me, and now I am a big proponent of giving back and building those relationships to help the next generation make their way into the technology and space industry. I’m an avid mentor. I support so many mentoring programmes, entrepreneurship programmes, not only for women, but for diversity and men, because we need to help that next generation the same way I was helped. I’m all about relationships.

What keeps you awake at night?

Well, as we just talked about, there are a lot of challenges going on in the world. We’re seeing a potential global recession, we’re seeing high inflation, we’re seeing climate change, we have war. Those things concern me. What concerns me is how are we preparing that future workforce? How are we creating that pathway? What I’ve learned is disruption is really the norm. There is no normal. People said after COVID we’re going back to normal – well, what was really normal? What we really have to do is change our mindset and say, that disruption is normal and the world continues to change. How do we create the resiliency and the tools that help humans lean into these disruptions and these challenges, and then come out with new solutions that make the world better? We can look at every problem as an opportunity for a solution. It’s an opportunity for an entrepreneur. I stay awake at night thinking about that, thinking about the workforce holistically, as well as my personal team. How do I be a servant leader? How do I empower them? How do I allow them to take on greater responsibility? I don’t mean this just in the macro world, I absolutely want to help make the change and create the workforce, but even at Space Foundation, how can I be a better leader every day with my team and be that servant leader? I’m working on a new concept for leadership, and as soon as I have it articulated, I hope to come back and share it with you. It relates to participative and innovative leadership on a global scale, which is what really keeps me motivated.

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

The one thing is to take advantage of every opportunity. I joined the Air Force right out of high school because I didn’t have money to go to college and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. The Air Force was a great opportunity for me to learn a skill set. I started in HR, that was what I was classified as. Because I started in the HR world I was able to go to school at night, taking advantage of tuition assistance, and I earned my degree by going to school at night, and then I was able to apply to become an officer. Whenever something came along or someone asked ‘Would you like to go to this training? Or would you like to go to this conference? Or would you like to meet somebody?’ the answer is always yes. Sometimes those opportunities are hard work. You shared that I’m part of several organisations, and those are all volunteer things I do. I spend a lot of my weekends doing volunteer work for these other organisations, because I’m passionate about it, but that’s part of taking advantage of those opportunities. When you take advantage and you put in the hard work, that’s when opportunity meets the right timing. Suddenly success happens. Take advantage of every opportunity, lean into it, learn and continue to grow. That’s how I got to where I am today. 

What’s the one piece of advice that you always give to others?

Don’t fear the unknown. When I applied to become an officer in the Air Force, the first time I was not accepted because I don’t have a STEM degree. I was like, okay, you’re automatically allowed another time, so I applied again. The second time I was selected, but they classified me as the space programme management officer, and I was like, what is that? I was in HR. I was in personnel. I wanted to be a personnel officer for the Air Force because that’s what I knew. That’s a career field that everybody I knew was in, that’s what I wanted to do. Somebody from the Air Force personnel centre said, ‘Sergeant Brunswick, we need you to be a space programme Management Officer’. And I said ‘Yes, sir’. That decision the Air Force made for me started my 25 year career in the space industry. If I had my way we would not be talking today, I’d be a personnel officer, but instead, I’m a space industry leader. I’ve seen the amazing things that have happened in the space industry. Sometimes we convince ourselves that we don’t want to do things or we say ‘That’s not my passion. I want to follow my passion’. Back in the 90s, who knew that space would be my passion? That just goes to show not to fear the unknown, lean into those new opportunities, and embrace them. If it doesn’t work out, give it a try. If it still doesn’t work out, you’ve got a great thing to add to your resume and your toolkit and you can go back and do something else.

We hope you enjoyed hearing Shelli’s stories as much as we did! To hear more insights from our incredible executive guests, listen to The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 9: Take the Lead with Rick Capstraw

On Episode 9 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we spoke to Rick Capstraw, the Chief Growth Officer at Signiant. Rick has been in the Content & Media industry for a long time, holding roles at the likes of Walt Disney and CNET early in his career, despite wanting to be a fighter pilot when he was little. He shared some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his career with us, including the best piece of advice he gives other people. Read on to find out what that is!

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible if you have the drive to make it happen, especially in this industry. It’s foolish to say that something’s never going to happen, or that there’s only one way to do things. I’ve always looked at what could be possible, and then found the drive and personality to make it happen. There’s no overarching power that says what can’t be done. With all the technological innovation that we’ve had over the last 20 years, anything is possible if you work hard and smart enough and build the right infrastructure and relationships.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier on in your career?

I may have been told this and not listened at the time, but having realised it now I try to drive it into everyone; your relationships in business are critical. The media industry isn’t that big, so you are going to run into everyone over and over again. I was not good at maintaining all the relationships that I made at the beginning of my career. When I run across people that I haven’t seen in 25 years, it’s great to be able to catch up and rekindle those relationships, but I always wonder what if I had maintained them through these last 20 years. Where would we both be now? I wish I had made a more concerted effort from early in my career to maintain the relationships that I made. Especially if you’re driving toward leadership positions, maintain your relationships and keep them strong. 

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

I remember complaining that I didn’t have the authority to direct teams effectively, and one of my mentors told me that you have as much authority as you are willing to take for yourself. If you set a direction and start leading, people will get behind you. Most people want to be led, so you have all the authority that you’re willing to take. That advice has served me very well throughout my career. People that I had no official authority over would listen to me because as a leader I gained a certain level of gravitas and authority. If you want people to follow you, it’s not about your title, your role or where you sit in the organisation; it’s about your vision.

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The prospect of disappointing people is what worries me. I’ll lie awake wondering ‘Did I do the best that I could do? Did my team do the best that they could do?’ I’m not worried about ‘Are we going to lose this deal?’ We’re going to do what we can do, and the chips are gonna fall where they may. What keeps me awake is letting people down. I’m confident in my own abilities, but if I ever did not do my best and other people struggle or suffer because of that, that’s what bothers me.

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

Having an innate sense of curiosity has led me to fascinating places. I am interested in anything; in how and why things work, and how and why they could work better. When I realised that the role of a sales executive is not to sell a product, it’s to understand a customer’s pain points and then utilise your suite of services to help them, that changed my entire outlook on the role. I’m interested in how businesses work, how they don’t work and how they could work better. If I can help with that, then that’s fantastic. 

It’s about a human connection as well. People are positively disposed to other people who are genuinely interested in what’s happening in their life. I always want to understand what is happening, because it helps create relationships and connections, and then people will want to work with me.

What is the one bit of advice that you always give to other people?

In every interaction, always try to add value. Value doesn’t have to necessarily be business value, it can just be a positive attitude and engaging conversation. When someone’s phone lights up with a call, and they see your name, what is the immediate reaction that they have? That’s my test for whether you’ve built good relationships; whether people think of you positively. Their response to you phoning them should be ‘this will be great. I’m gonna get this call.’ Be positive, be friendly, be the person that people want to talk to, and everything will come from that.

To hear more about Rick’s journey through the Content & Media industry, tune into The Executive Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 5: Lead by Learning with Charles Miller

On The Executives Unpacked Podcast we had the pleasure of sitting down with Charles Miller, the co-founder and CEO of Lynk. He’s a serial space entrepreneur with 30 years of experience in the industry. Charles has been the founder or co-founder of multiple private ventures and organisations. In addition, he’s a national leader in creating and developing public-private partnerships in commercial space to serve public needs. One of Charlie’s previous startups in our ranks has delivered more than 700 payloads to space and is a current world leader in Nanos launches. Charles has served NASA as Senior Advisor for commercial space, and has had many different private commercial space firms. Outside of space, Charles’s happy place is spending quality time with his children, and he’s an avid book collector. 

We tapped into his expertise as an executive to bring you all the tricks of the trade, from his biggest lessons to his advice to others in the industry. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

I’ve learned tons of things, 1000s of lessons, so it’s hard to pick just one. One of the ones I want to do something a little different than most, you know, CEO startup people talk about soft pick one is that it’s a lesson I learned 20 plus years ago; it’s not about you. With a lot of leaders in the world, it’s all about them, it’s about their ego, it’s about them being a hero. But the leaders who can paint a vision of the future, and it’s about everybody, and anybody can step into that vision of the future and make a difference and have their own hero’s journey as part of a great team, that’s a really great leader. The founder or entrepreneur needs to get out of the way. It’s not about them. It really isn’t about me, it’s about everybody else. It’s about making a difference that everybody can be part of that. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

The hardest lessons I’ve learned are that there are a lot of things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. For example, my first real commercial space startup was really too big. Back in the late 1990s, I started a venture focused on satellite servicing, and I needed to raise $200 million. I wish The Lean Startup had been around, I wish Steve Blank had written his great stuff. I encourage everybody to read Steve Blank stuff and The Lean Startup. I would have started much smaller and talked to more customers at the start. I learned that lesson the hard way. 

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve been given?

When I was a kid, my mum believed in being a straight shooter and telling the truth. I don’t know if that’s the best advice, because sometimes that bites you, but I live by it. Lying always comes back to bite you. Reality doesn’t lie. You can lie to yourself, but the physics of the world does not change. You have to have an intimate relationship with the truth. Facts, particularly in a business like space and satellite, are what you live on. You can trick investors or lie to investors and maybe get a few dollars, but it’s gonna catch up to you, you cannot trick it, space is hard. It comes down to integrity. Anybody who wants to get into the space industry can figure that out pretty quickly. 

You need to have a passion for this line of work, because space is hard. If you don’t have a passion for it, if you don’t have a mission orientation, you’re gonna struggle. If you get into the space industry and find out it’s hard, you’ll quit, right? You just have to be completely persistent. I’m extremely stubborn, and I’ve been doing space for over 30 years, and so many people have come and gone in that time. You can become world class in this industry, but it takes a lot of commitment.

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

Recently it’s the financial downturn we’ve had and investors fleeing the market. That’s been keeping me up, raising the next big round of capital to build the ramp up the satellites. However, we’re seeing a lot of interest in what Lynk is doing now. You can solve all the world’s breakthrough technology, but raising money is probably the toughest thing we’re doing right now. It’s always a roller coaster.

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to success?

It’s all about persistence. You’re given your brains but you have no skills when you’re born, so it’s about persistence and a willingness to learn. You can give up on your short term strategy or tactical plan, but you can’t ever give up on your long term vision, your mission, your why you’re here on this planet. With a commitment to lifelong learning you can do amazing things. Most people think they go to college and they’re done learning, so you’re gonna blow past those people because they get stuck in place. If you’re the person that is completely persistent and alert, you can do amazing things. Just follow your passion. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

The best way to learn is by doing. Get some get involved with either a space venture that’s already existing or go start your own company and get involved with another space adventure. Whatever they’ll let you do, just do it. The founders look for people who are committed, passionate and unstoppable, so if that’s you, pound on the door until they give you something to do. Leaders aren’t born leaders, they show up. Even if you have to be taught how to be a leader, even if you don’t have a natural lean towards leadership, you can always be a better leader. I’ve learned a tonne about being a better leader, and the right company will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your leadership, and they’ll grow and coach you, but you have to bring something to the table. That starts at the beginning. If that’s who you are, there’s always a place to learn. 

To hear more of Charles’s insights as an executive, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast now!

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 4: Experience the Industry with Naomi Kurahara

On Episode 4 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Naomi Kurahara. Naomi is the co-founder and CEO of Infostellar, a NewSpace communications technology company based in Tokyo, that provides flexible and scalable ground station services enabled by its cloud platform stellar station, the ground station platform is for modern space business. She started in the industry for integral systems Japan, working as a systems engineer, then found herself in Infostellar back in 2016. Naomi still has big dreams, and one day would love to travel and participate in space travel. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

My biggest lesson is to think really well, and don’t hesitate to ask lots of questions. Any sessions that you’re in, whether it’s internally with your team or outside of the team or company, just ask questions. That helped me a lot in the past.

What do you wish you would have been told earlier?

I think for me, building trust is really important. I wish someone had told me that building trust takes a lot of time and effort, and losing trust is very easy. It can happen in really short time. In my industry, the space industry,  I see so many businesses relying on trust between the parties joining a project. So yes, the importance of trust is what I wish I learned sooner.

What is the best bit of advice that you have been given?

One of my professors told me to experience the entire satellite project. So before, the whole satellite project, from mission design to launch and operation would take 15 years, but now through small satellite development projects, we can do that in three or five years. Experiencing it from beginning to end helps my engine carrier or management carrier in various different aspects. It really helps the whole project and my career, so I would say that’s been the most influential piece of advice. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night when it comes to sort of work?

For me, that relationship I have with my team members, customers or investors, that’s created a lot of sleepless nights. If I started to feel this distrust towards someone, or if I made someone distrust me, that takes over my mind. It’s always the relationship with people that I worry about most. It’s about the trust I mentioned earlier. 

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that has led to your success?

I believe in the potential of the space industry. Space technology has the potential to change everyone’s lives. Things are becoming more convenient, more exciting and they’re giving us more freedom. I strongly believe that space technology has potential. And I think that makes me keep challenging our limits, which is what creates success.

What would be one bit of advice that you would give to others?

Don’t give up. I know it sounds really cheesy, but don’t give up. Is there something you really want? It’s not easy, and there are easier options or ways to go, but I recommend sticking to something you really want to do because that’s how you’ll go far.

To hear more about Naomi’s experiences in the NewSpace industry, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast today. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 12: Cultivate a Growth Mindset with Katherine Monson

On The Executives Unpacked Podcast we had the pleasure of being joined by Katherine Monson, the COO at Hedron, an aerospace provider that is building a hybrid RF optical relay network. This dynamic communication infrastructure is going to enable the growing space industry to provide low latency data to the commercial and government end users here on Earth. Katherine brings a wealth of experience to the aerospace industry. Outside of the space world, Katherine’s happy place is hiking and exploring the great outdoors, as well as a passion for learning languages. We tapped into her expertise as an executive to give you the best advice from the sector. 

What has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is about the growth mindset. Always have the approach of learning. There are also pros and cons of that growth mindset. With folks who have experience you can absolutely leverage that experience, so being willing to come to the table and solicit that experience from folks who have done something before is excellent. The challenge of that is that things are changing very quickly, so that experience isn’t always relevant anymore. For those of us who have been in the industry for several years to also have that growth mindset, we need to accept that there are new folks coming to the table with a different way of looking at things. We might have failed trying to do something five years ago, but there could be things that are different now in terms of technological advancement or the operating environment that makes that idea that didn’t work five years ago suddenly very viable today. Having that learning mindset at all points of the day at all points of the year at all points of your career is the most important lesson I’ve learned.

What do you wish that you’d been told sooner?

People’s career paths, and people’s lives, frankly, are not linear. There are very few people that I can think of that at the age of 22, coming out of undergrad, wanted to do something and are now living exactly that life that they said they would when they were 22. It isn’t a straight path. Looking back, I’m sure you could explain how all of the choices you made led you to here, but you can only do that looking backward. One of the things that I want to say to some of our interns, or to some of the folks who are just coming into the industry, is ‘Don’t stress, you’ll figure it out, you make the choices that you need to on any given day, and as long as you keep moving toward problems that are interesting to you, that’s the thread that you should be pulling on.’ Find a problem that you care about, find a problem that matters to you that it isn’t solved yet. That’s when you’ll find yourself at the table with other people who share your passions, and those are just fantastic tables to be at. There are so many interesting problems in aerospace that are being tackled by so many wonderful, interesting people. There isn’t some master plan that you write out your life on. Every day, you make a choice to go to the table and solve the problem that you care about. The advice that I would want to give to my previous self is ‘calm down, take each step day by day, there isn’t some master architect out there, you have to sit down!’

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

Something that I have been learning this last year working with my business partners, my colleagues, is thought partnership. That’s a phrase that we invoke a lot, which is to say that the three of our brains together generate so much more potential than any one of us alone. One of the ideas that we’ve really been trying to actualize within our team is this idea of high performance athletes. One of the things that I heard recently with the Tour de France is that you have so many of these cyclists, and they are incredible on the bike, but what you may not see is that there is also a race for recovery. Everyone is good on the bike, but if you spend all day cycling up huge mountains, as soon as you get off the bike, the race to recovery starts – which is to say the person who is fueling the best, who is sleeping the best, who’s letting their body recover the best, they’re gonna go into the next day with more strength, more power and more energy. 

That idea applies to our lives more generally, but particularly in our careers. You have to figure out when you have a career in aerospace, you could have a career that is 50 years long. How do you create the environment to be successful? That’s incredibly important coming out of the pandemic because our lines between work work and life have been so blurred. It does require folks to be much more intentional about thinking about ‘How am I going to sustain a high performance level over many years’, and really thinking about that as an essential part of doing the role. That race to recovery, every single day, is vital, because now we’re showing up with the highest performance level possible.

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

There are so many things that can go wrong in an aerospace company, and that’s not unique to really any one player. Going back to the hardware elements and software elements, we are existing in a moment in time of immense growth in the industry. There is a huge talent shortage, because folks are really trying to grow all at the same time. Many folks are looking for people who have a lot of experience, who have done this before. We collectively have a challenge in the industry of how do we bring the next generation up to speed quickly? So how do we start to say, ‘these are really the key skills that I need; someone who has growth mindset, who communicates very well, who engages in thought partnership, who’s detail oriented’ etc. and starting to think much more specifically about what type of person, attitude and approach will be successful in this role. 

We need to take on more responsibility as a company to say, ‘How do I get you access to that experience, and can I get you access to people who have it in their brain that you can leverage a partnership with?’ Talent is always a question, where are you finding it? Are you struggling? How are you building support structures for people? So I think that’s a wonderful problem to have. But there’s so much growth in the industry that we’re trying to figure out on a human level, how do we level up the industry to make sure that that growth is sustainable? Talent is definitely a piece that everyone is struggling with right now.

Can you identify a single thread that’s run for your career that’s led to success?

I make it a priority to be involved with fellowship programmes in the aerospace industry. It’s important to me that we are training the next generation of folks to come into the industry and stake industry, particularly for folks who have non-traditional backgrounds or don’t have an aerospace engineering degree. Creating a diversity of talent in the aerospace industry really matters to me. 

If you are really passionate about creating diversity in the space talent workforce, we’re gonna have a great conversation about that, we’re going to generate ideas, we’re going to support each other as we keep working through those ideas. I cannot tell you how many people I have met that I still come back to and realise that our work is interconnected in ways that we didn’t imagine, rather than always having to wait till the ground point to share information. 

One of the conversations that often comes up with students a lot is ‘How did you get your seat at the table?’ The framing of that question honestly always breaks my heart a little bit. There isn’t a Master Guru in the industry, who says, this is the table and there’s chairs, and these are the people who are most qualified to have the chairs. I always try to push back on that framing to say, nobody’s gonna give you a seat at the table, there is no metaphorical table. There are lots of problems that different groups of people are trying to solve, some are working together in a company, some are multiple companies working together. Some are multiple companies that are competing with each other and trying to take different approaches to solving the same problem. It’s really about figuring out which problem space you want to be in. If you reshape your thinking of the table, it’s just a group of people who care about a problem and keep going to the table that you want to be at. It’s not that those people want to have you there. Frankly, they don’t probably notice or pay attention to who else is at the table. People are far less judgmental than we fear that they are. 

Nobody’s going to invite you to the table. It requires you to do some self reflection to say, ‘What do I care about? How do I want to spend my time?’ That’s the tip of the spear, because if you figure out what you care about, you always do your best work in a domain that you care about.

What’s one bit of advice that you could always give to somebody else?

Take the time to figure out the problem that you care about. We each have our own way of approaching problemsYou don’t have to care about something for 50 years, and you don’t have to decide once, on this day, and this week, and this year, what’s the problem that I’m trying to solve? I think that type of kind of self awareness and check in is the best kind of fuel that there is, and to really be honest with the answer that you get. A while ago, I got my dream job, but when I got there, about a month in, I realised, ‘I hate this’, which was terrifying because I’d spent so many years trying to get to that moment. Having the courage to solve that question honestly is essential. Look at that answer in the mirror and then move toward it. Just be willing to move toward where you care about a problem space, or where you think you can help bring a solution to the world. You have to live your life, no one else is going to live it for you, so do what you care about and try to enjoy it.

To hear more of Katherine’s insights, tune into Episode 12 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here.

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 14: Develop Your People Skills with Aakash Parekh

We spoke to Aakash Parekh about leading in the space industry during Episode 14 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast. Aakash is the CCO at Pixxel, a space data company whose mission is to build a health monitor for the planet by creating the world’s first commercial hyperspectral constellation. Prior to joining Pixxel, Aakash led commercial aviation in international markets for various startups in the tech domain. He has a business background, which he uses to bridge the knowledge gaps between commercial and engineering teams for his clients. 

Read on for his insights on unlocking your people’s potential.

What would you say has been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned throughout your career?

EQ will take you a lot further than IQ will. In the early stages of my career I was focussed on learning hard skills, but I realised that if you figure out how to deal with people, your growth will be exponential, not incremental. A lot of it has to do with self regulation, where you’re able to recognise your own emotions and control your reactions to certain things. Figuring out other people’s motivations and helping them get to where they want to be is the key to getting where you want to be. It took me a while to realise that, but it defines a lot of how I operate and the decisions I make today.

What do you wish that you’d been told earlier?

I wish I had been told about the importance of data science and how data literacy is going to become a paramount skill in any domain. I was a little bit late to the party. I used the pandemic to teach myself basic coding with Python and a few other data science courses and probability and statistics. I’m still a massive work in progress. I wish I could keep up with the times today, but I’m working on it. Data literacy and data science is critical to every area of business.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

As a leader your job is to make yourself unnecessary. That’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’re working with a big team, but you’ve done your job well if your team doesn’t need you at all. You should have honed these people to be completely self-sufficient, able to function on their own and empowered to make their own decisions. Enabling that autonomy and supporting your team’s growth is what it’s really about, not you. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

The fear of failure used to keep me up at night. Eventually I realised that failure is just a stepping stone to success. It’s inevitable, and certain learning behaviours are only prompted when you get hit hard. It took me a while to internalise that, but now nothing keeps me up at night.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career and led to success?

I’ve always taken on global roles, which has massively benefitted me. Travel opens up new destinations that I can explore as a part of my personal life, and it teaches you how to adjust to changing environments rapidly. Something that’s really critical in sales roles is adapting to different cultures, and I think travel teaches you how to do that. It teaches you resilience and open mindedness, which has helped me move along in my career.

What’s the one piece of advice that you’d give to others?

People are often conscious about the work that they’ve produced, and they want to get it to its best possible stage before turning it in. I feel like our culture highlights the pursuit of perfection, but I don’t necessarily think that that’s always the right way to do things. It’s important to make sure that you’re constantly moving forward and iterating and getting feedback, so finished is always better than perfect. No matter how perfect it is in your eyes, when you produce a piece of work it will always have the potential to become better. It’s actually smarter to get it early and then make adjustments. It’s a tactical piece of advice, but it’s critical in people’s day-to-day functioning.

To hear about the work that Aakash and his team are currently doing at Pixxel, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 13: Keep Improving with Lucy O’Brien

On Episode 13 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Lucy O’Brien, the Group CTO at EMG. Inspired to follow in her father’s footsteps, Lucy has been working in the communications industry since the early 2000s. She has worked at Sky, the BBC and Arqiva before starting her role at EMG in March this year. Lucy is passionate about driving more gender diversity in the workplace and thinks her 20-year-old self would be proud of what she has achieved. 

Read on to hear Lucy’s insights into the industry, from her biggest lesson to her best advice. 

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your career?

Everybody works differently. That’s quite a hard lesson to learn because I’m a plotter. I work really hard to gather all the information that I need to move things forward and make decisions. Not everyone works like that though. As soon as you realise that, you can adapt and move on as a team. Understanding that helps you to build a better team because you can recruit people who work well together and compliment your skill set. 

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I wish I’d been told quite early on that it’s okay to fail. I’m a people pleaser, so I don’t like failing or letting people down. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. I can remember when I’d been with the BBC for about two or three years, we had a major outage. I was one of the engineers on site overnight when it happened, and I left thinking, ‘I’m going to be called in tomorrow and they’re going to fire me over this’. Of course, that didn’t happen. That was such a key learning point for me. It’s not actually about failing – nobody likes to fail, no one goes out and thinks ‘I’m gonna go and get this wrong today’ – it’s about how you deal with it afterwards. I have a process I use to understand what has gone wrong, why it has gone wrong and how we can fix it. 

What one bit of advice do you always give others?

Perseverance is key. It stands you in a good stead in terms of learning new technology. It’s easy to sit and do what you do and know what you know, but you need to want to move on by yourself. As managers we should be helping people to learn, develop, grow and move on. Doing that is hard, because you also have your own job and a department to run, but you don’t want to lose good people. Individuals need to know where they want to go, find ways of getting there and surround themselves with the people who can support them in that journey. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The industry is ever changing. Things are definitely improving, and the amount of content that consumers want is growing. We’ve got to find ways to meet that demand, either on or under budget, and be good for the environment at the same time. That means that we’re constantly thinking about iterations, how to make things better and how to get more out of what we’re doing. That definitely keeps me up at night!

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

As a female in a very male-dominated environment, you have to be able to persevere and break down barriers. I always felt like I had to prove myself twice as much as my male counterparts. When I start a new job I set myself up for success by making sure I communicate really effectively. We’re typically not very good communicators within our industry, which is ironic because we work in the communications industry. It’s so important to have the right conversations with the right people and make them feel comfortable. We’re all just trying our best. I think as long as you recognise that, you’ll be okay. 

What is the best bit of advice you have been given?

Get yourself on a body language course. I did one about 20 years ago, and it helped me know when people are engaged in what I’m saying. The other thing is that you need to believe in yourself. Lots of us don’t believe in ourselves enough, we put ourselves down quite a lot. You have to believe that you’re good enough to be where you are. 

To hear more about Lucy’s career in the communications industry, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast now. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 11: Persevere with Dave Bettinger 

For our eleventh episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we invited Dave Bettinger to share his insights with us. Dave is the co-founder and CEO of SpaceLink, an exciting new company who aims to provide secure data from anywhere at any time. Dave is a business and technology visionary who has spent the last 30 years in systems engineering, focusing on innovation within satellite communications. Dave is incredibly passionate about the industry, and his happy place is whiteboarding new systems architecture. Outside of that, he loves to travel, eat and spend time with his family.

Read on to hear his advice for anyone who wants to follow a similar career path. 

What’s been the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Patience and perseverance. By nature I’m an impatient person, but I learned early in my career that not everything happens on my timescale. During my career I’ve been through a number of tough years, and I saw a lot of my colleagues up and leave because they were worried about the future. I stuck it out because I knew being patient and seeing things through would ultimately see us come out very successful. That’s exactly what happened, and we’re really proud of that.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I started my career at a big, established company where there were processes, people and structures in place, so there was very little change. I wish someone had told me to roll with the changes coming out of that. There’s gonna be a lot of change around you and there’s a lot that you can’t control, especially in the satellite industry. Accepting that has served me well and helped me grow. 

What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?

Someone told me early on to make sure you like what you’re doing, and only work on the things that you have control over. Above all, see things through. Focus on your job, focus on what you can control and you’ll be successful, don’t just aspire to move to the next rank on the corporate ladder. Focus on doing stuff well and that’ll come. I’ve never focused on moving up in my career; since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to be an electrical engineer and design stuff. It’s still my passion, and because I put so much into that I’ve been able to take on larger roles and turn that experience into bigger things. 

What constantly keeps you awake at night?

There’s always a perception that satellite isn’t a mainstream industry. Most people don’t understand how much space is serving humanity, so I worry about the general perception of the space industry. People think it’s just ‘Are you gonna go to the moon?’ No, there’s real applications, real science and real utility for satellites and space in general. I’d like to see space get its due credit, and hopefully the general perception remains positive, because we need to continue to invest in these applications. What keeps me up is getting the world to realise that.

Can you identify a single thread through your career that’s led to your success?

It’s always been learning and taking an interest in the other areas of the business. Starting my career I was fortunate enough to be thrown into a position where I was designing. As I went, I started to realise there were pieces that I didn’t understand because somebody else was designing them. So I learned RF. I started to think about what the system actually does,  and why people were using it. Then I had to learn about the applications in the market that we were trying to serve, which led me to ‘How does the business work?’ 

I try to learn as much as I can about all the areas of the business. That’s served me well. I was thrown into higher positions because I knew more than just my specific area – ultimately I knew how the business revolves around our technology. Now I’ve been given an opportunity to lead an organisation, even though I never aspired to be a CEO. Being an engineer meant you weren’t always worried about the people aspect of a business. Now that I’m here, I love it. I love being able to influence the Human Resources side of things and make sure that our people are getting what they need. Because of the fact that I’ve always taken an interest, I’m doing really well in this position.

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry?

The advice I gave to my son (who was a mechanical engineer graduate last year), is that there’s so many aspects to space that there’s always more to know, so go and learn it. You have to worry about everything from radiation and thermal challenges to aerospace engineering. Space is a very multidisciplinary industry. Do what you do well, but look around and get involved in a lot of different things. 

To hear more about Dave’s current work in the Satellite and Space sector, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 8: Embracing Curiosity with Brian Pemberton

On Episode 8 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were delighted to be joined by Brian Pemberton, the CCO Omnispace, a NewSpace provider redefining mobile connectivity for the 21st century. Brian brings more than 20 years of experience in global wireless terrestrial and satellite communications. In his current role, Brian is responsible for establishing the global strategy and the company’s direction in developing the world’s first 5G based global network. 

Outside of the satellite and communications world, Brian’s happy place outdoors, and his dream one day is to build an over-the-top entertainment room, where he could watch sports and movies with family and friends. 

Below are the highlights of our conversation with Brian, including his best career advice and the things he wishes he’d learned sooner. 

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The biggest lesson is one that you don’t quite realise when you’ve learned it, it’s not until you have an opportunity to reflect back, later in your career. It’s the importance of communication with peers and supervisors, especially in the matrix of organisations today. You need to be able to effectively communicate across groups of people, both internal and external. Being able to do that on an individual level as well as in group environments is a powerful and essential skill to be able to advance in your career.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier? 

Something that I would try to share with people is that if you’re getting the supervisory opportunities you’ve obviously a very strong individual performer. As you move into the more senior roles though, you need to be an effective delegator as well. That really gets back to the communication element, because you have to be able to tell those individuals about the different tasks you’re giving them. That’s something that a lot of people need to understand as they become managers, they have to balance being an individual performer and more of a coach or facilitator type role.

What one bit of advice do you always give to others?

You can tell someone what to do, or how to do it, but don’t do both. When you do both, that’s when you overstep, and you stop the individual being an individual, because we all work differently. You’ve got to give employees the latitude to find what works best for them. Figure out your methodology or process for your output. If there’s something that has a very deliberate process, show someone the process and allow them to figure out how it works best for them as an individual. If you make people do specific tasks your way, they’ll feel micromanaged. You can only have so much your way. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night? 

Usually when I’m awake it’s because there’s a complex problem to be solved and I’ve just started iterating different concepts in my head. That can be the early stages of a product or project where we’re still getting the design concepts or the requirements. Sometimes it’s in negotiations about the goal we’re trying to obtain, getting there and bringing the other stakeholders along. It’s just my own ideas that keep me awake when I have something to think through. 

Is there a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

One of the core attributes that I have is my passion for identifying a problem and coming up with that solution. Being able to take a vision in its ideation stage all the way through to execution is really fun for me. That ability to see down the road to where the pitfalls are and successfully navigate them is a rare thing. Sometimes you’ve got to pivot and rethink the plan, versus handing it to someone as their marching orders. That’s been something that’s differentiated me from a number of people that I’ve worked with throughout my career, and probably has a significant impact on the success I’ve enjoyed.

What advice would you give to somebody joining the industry?

Be curious. There’s a lot of different ideas and innovation that is happening. No one’s got a monopoly on the best ideas, so talk to a lot of different people. Be curious, don’t be afraid to prod things. Don’t accept that the answer is at face value, but be willing to question things. If we hadn’t questioned ‘why can’t we harmonise terrestrial and satellite into a single user experience?’ we wouldn’t be where we are with MTN today. My advice is always to be curious and stay curious, it will facilitate your learning.

To hear more about Brian’s work in the satellite industry, tune into the full episode of The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

Executives Unpacked Episode 7: Acknowledge Your Skill Gaps with Cees Honig

Episode 7 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast saw us sit down with Cees Honig, the CEO at Xite. Cees started his studies in economics at the University of Amsterdam, before moving into an MSc in business studies. In 2008, he joined Xite, where he worked his way up to becoming CEO. His happy place is having breakfast with his family, and Ricky Gervais is one of his idols. Read on to hear his biggest lessons and best advice from the boardroom. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

When you are leading a company or team, and you want to overcome adversity, you have to create different scenarios for solving the issue. A lot of people just run after one target. If you have multiple scenarios that you’re working on, you only need one to work. In the early days when we were starting up, trying to grow, get the music licencing in place and get deals done, especially in the States, we needed to be creative. We worked on different scenarios, changed our ideas, changed our business model and kept on changing it until it actually worked. That’s become an essential mindset for success. 

What do you wish you had been told earlier on in your career?

Ricky Gervais said something around the lines of ‘No one knows what the fuck they’re doing, so don’t worry’. I started in this company right out of college, and I was sitting across from a lot of people that felt like they really knew everything that was going on in the market, especially those big corporate cable operators and IPTV operators. Everything that’s going on was very interesting, but their products didn’t show a lot of innovation. That’s when I realised, these people know what’s going on, and know what they’re doing, but they’re not doing the stuff that they actually want to do. If I had known beforehand that nobody really knows how the hell to do what they are doing, that would have given me a lot more peace in the early days.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

The best advice comes from scenarios when you face adversity, I think that’s a good one. But the advice I have been given by someone else is to relax, because no one knows what they’re doing. I think that’s a very grounding way of taking life and also your job, even though there’s a lot hanging on that. The key to life is not taking yourself and life too seriously, because if you do you’ll get overworked, burn out or you become an a**hole, basically. Just don’t get too caught up in it. 

Is there anything that has constantly kept you awake at night?

I seldom have bad nights from business. But when I do it’s a problem I can solve, like a business model problem or a curveball that some operator or major label throws at me. Sometimes I literally wake up in the middle of the night and think of a solution for it, write it down and then go back to sleep. The first moment I can I’ll speak to my colleagues and we start calculating and debunking it or stress testing the idea. That’s so much fun. I have that mechanism in myself that keeps me up when I need to solve difficult problems.

What one bit of advice do you always give other people?

Be open to learning and changing your opinion. Keep on asking questions, because questions are more important than the answers because by asking questions you’re telling people that you’re interested and they can infer your intelligence. That gets you the furthest in life. It’s also about putting aside your ego and admitting when you’re wrong. A lot of people really hang on to their opinion, but if you can put your ego aside and learn and ask a lot of questions, that’s the best advice that I can give you. 

To hear more of Cees’ advice and experience, tune into The Executives Unpacked Podcast here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 6: Back Yourself with Marco Tinnirello

On Episode 6 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we were joined by Marco Tinnirello, the CEO at Eurovision Services. He has been in the broadcast industry for nearly 25 years, starting out with Globecast in an IT and data role before working his way to becoming the CEO at Eurovision services. He’s a man who believes that ambition matters more to success than talent does, and whose childhood aim was to be a highway patrol officer. 

Read on to tap into his insights into the content and media industry from an executive position. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

The road to doing the right thing isn’t always easy. You want everything you do to be a success and be great. The reality is, that’s impossible. The main lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that it’s okay to fail. It’s never great to fail, but you have to be comfortable with it, because you are going to fail. Embracing it and knowing that both outcomes are possible, is a really important lesson. If you don’t have that attitude, it will block you from trying stuff. I learned that the hard way. When I’ve messed up or when I made a mistake or when I failed, that’s when I’ve developed the most and gained the most. That’s a massive life lesson, it’s really helped me think differently about taking on opportunities when they present themselves.

What do you wish that you had been told earlier?

I’ve been pretty fortunate in my career, and I’ve always had great bosses and colleagues. good advice around me. It is very easy just to meander through your career without any objective, going from job to job just because it’s a job. One of the things I wish I discovered earlier was what I wanted to do with my career. You need to know what you want to do, and how you’re going to get there, because otherwise you’re just going to meander around. I wanted to be a leader. Realising that was a real light bulb moment. I just wish it had happened earlier.

What’s the best piece of advice that you’ve ever been given?

One of my recent bosses said, ‘You’ve really got to back yourself’. It was a throwaway comment, but it wasn’t in this context. We had just gone through a certain change in the workplace where he had two choices; he either swallowed it and went, ‘I don’t agree with that, but I’ll stay’ or ‘No, that’s against my principles, so I’m leaving’. It takes a lot of courage to do the latter if you don’t know where you’re gonna go. You do that by having the confidence to say, ‘I backed myself, I know what I’m capable of, I know I’m going to be okay’. The guy who said it to me was a fantastic boss, and he told me that you’ve got to believe in yourself, and you got to back yourself, have the confidence to do the right thing, and you’ll be okay. It was just a throwaway statement that was said at an incredibly important time. 

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

What keeps me awake is things that challenge your values and morals. As a leader you often have to make tough decisions. Sometimes you have to make restructuring decisions that impact people’s lives. Those keep me awake because I have to reflect carefully around them. The other thing that keeps me awake is the responsibility of leading an organisation.  It’s my job to make sure that we’re performing, which means I have to demand a lot from the team. I’ve always been super lucky to work with brilliant people who step up to that challenge. Question is, when do you push someone too far? I’ve got two responsibilities as a leader in this business, you know, deliver what the shareholders need in terms of performance and objectives; profitability keeping the workforce safe. One or the other doesn’t take precedence, you have to give both of them 100% attention. You’ve got to live by doing the right thing every single day. You’ll only sleep well if you never go against your morals.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

My ambition. I’m very rarely the smartest person in the room, and I don’t have magical powers or talent that no one else has. I’m often surrounded by more talented and brighter people. As a leader, you need to do that. There’s some ingredients that I picked up from my parents, who were immigrants into the UK back in the late 50s, when the UK was looking for labourers. They came with two very simple ingredients, which is that you work hard, and you always do your best. They run a family business and as a kid I had to help out, and my job was to make up the flat-packed containers our cucumbers went into. If you ever ask ‘What’s the most boring and soul destroying job on the planet?’ I can tell you what it is because I’ve done it. It’s picking boxes. It takes stamina to carry on. I’ve carried that lesson through my life. I’m not talented in any particular way, but what I do have is incredible staying power and determination, which you need in business. Those two words, determination and stamina, have been the keys to my success. 

What one bit of advice do you always give to others?

I’m going to pass on two pieces of advice that were given to me. Number one is back yourself. Never go against your morals, never go against your values, always stand by who you are. The second is never let the risk of failure limit you. Failing is just part of the journey. You have to accept that. If you went back to being a kid and stopped walking and after falling over a few times, you wouldn’t have gotten very far. That’s how it is throughout that journey of life. I don’t know why we ever stopped realising it’s okay to stumble and fall over. Remind yourself it’s okay to do that. It’s part of the journey. So always back yourself and have the determination to keep going through failures. 

To hear more about Marco’s life and insights into the industry, listen to the full conversation on The Executives Unpacked Podcast here

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 3: Getting People-Focussed with John Harris

On Episode 3 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast neuco’s co-founder and director Laurie Scott sat down with John Harris, CEO of  LEUK Teleport & Data Centre, which was formerly known as Signalhorn. John brings a wealth of experience to the table, having worked as a CEO within the private equity business for several years. He’s got a proven track record of founding, leading and growing businesses. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career so far?

It’s all about people. People are essential in the businesses that you run. You can have great insights on data, it can tell you what direction to take your business in, but without the people in the business acting as agents for change to take it on that new journey, or invest the time and effort in making your business grow, that data is useless. So very much it’s about the people and the talent pool that you have in the business. Without the focus on that immediately in the business, it’s very difficult to make the business and its opportunities go in the direction you want them to go in.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier?

I think that’s a very difficult question, given how I came to do this role, and get involved in it. I think the thing that I wish I’d been told earlier was to develop my people skills. Develop them to the point that you can get under the skin of the people that you work with, to understand what motivates them and your senior leadership team. On an individual basis, you need to understand their likes, dislikes, how they spend their leisure time, what they do and what makes them tick. If you’re into that, and you can empathise with them on an individual basis, you can get much more out of them. Eventually that has to penetrate deeper into the organisation, and I wish I’d probably understood that more at 24 or 25. That depth of understanding and empathy with the people around you and that understanding of what motivates them or drives them at an individual level has to flow from you as the CFO to your senior leadership team. And from that senior leadership team down into the people that they manage and work with on a day to day basis.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve been given throughout your career?

I think it’s probably a mixture of advice that I’ve been given and the environment I worked in.  Back in the 1980s, I worked for Salomon Brothers. Somebody there once said to me, ‘they don’t stab you in the back here, they come at you from the front with an axe’. That’s when I learned that you needed to be equally direct back and clear about where you were going, what you were doing. In that environment, Salomon Brothers was a very straightforward place to work. It was the making of me to be absolutely blunt about it. Having clarity of thought, clarity of purpose and clarity of communication with the people you work with was absolutely the making of me.

What type of things sort of constantly keep you awake at night?

I think in my role at LEUK T&C what keeps me awake is the question ‘are we managing to make the change rapidly enough to keep up with our customers demands?’ Even a year ago, some of our customers were interested in Leo, but some of them were difficult to get engagement with. A year on they all want to talk about it, they all want to be engaged with it. The speed at which we’ve got to adjust our conversations with customers is the thing that keeps me awake. Can we move as fast as some of our customers now want to move even though they didn’t want to do that a year ago?

Can you identify a single thread that’s run through your career that’s led to your success?

I think it’s a combination of things. Firstly, the experience of working at Salomon Brothers where they made me focus on people is very clear. What made them very good was actually that the talent pool was very deep. Understanding that people are critical I think makes one successful. How would you be a great leader? The answer is to just employ really great people around you. Equally, I think I was lucky enough to get into an engineering degree. So I was mathematically literate, which is quite useful in looking at numbers and analysing data. I think you have to have some interests outside work so that your profession isn’t a 24 hours a day task. It’s necessary to be able to have some time doing other things that give you moments to be reflective, I think that makes you better professionally.

What’s one bit of advice that you always give to others, or for somebody coming into the industry?

I think as a technologist, fundamentally, I’d have to say embrace change and the future as fast as you can. 

For more behind-the-scenes insights into John Harris’s life, listen to the whole Executives Unpacked Podcast episode here. 

Executives Unpacked Episode 2: Insights from Simon Farnsworth 

On Episode 2 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we sat down with Simon Farnsworth. Since starting his career, Simon has spent most of his working life in the broadcast industry. He moved to Australia and worked at Globecast, where he played a major role in them being acquired by Telstra. Moving back to the UK in 2016, he joined Discovery to head their Olympic technical distribution team, laterally progressing into the role of CTO for broadcast technology and operations, having been responsible for Discovery’s delivery of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, and most recently, the 2022 Winter Games. Simon recently left Discovery and has taken up his new role as CTO of News UK since September, and at neuco we’re also incredibly lucky to have him as our non-executive director. We asked him all of our burning questions. 

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is to listen. It’s not just listening, it’s also interpreting what you’re hearing, because a lot of people can spend a lot of time listening, but if you don’t relay that to the person, environment or situation that you’ve been in, it’s really hard to translate that into action. It’s asking often really simple questions to unpack problems or solutions or growth mechanisms that you’re working on. But I would say that’s the biggest thing. Another important lesson I’ve learned is is to show judgement. And not many people talk about judgement from a leadership perspective, because a lot of leaders go through a lot of executive training and coaching, and things like that. No one talks about judgement in terms of doing the right thing at the right time with all the environmental factors, people factors and business factors that you’re faced with. It’s about that moment in time where you make the call, and it’s about making those calls for all the right reasons.

What do you wish that you’d perhaps been told earlier in your career?

I think that when you’re young, and you’re trying to grow your career and climb the ladder, you believe that you can do everything, and you want to be liked by everyone. Well, guess what, you can’t do everything, and not everyone will like you. That’s a really hard thing to accept. You’ve got to have pretty thick-skinned. You’ve got to be respected by your team, but not everyone’s going to like you, and not everyone will like the decisions that you make. My philosophy has always been to kind of set the context around that to say, ‘I’ll listen to everybody, but I’m paid to make a decision. Not everyone will like that decision, and therefore you probably won’t like me, but I will make those decisions in the best interests of the company, or the business at the time.’ I think it’s really important that you accept that, and that you’re comfortable with that. That’s not easy.

What is the best bit of advice that you’ve been given? 

Get the right people around you. If you don’t have the right team, act quickly to get the right team. You’re nothing in senior leadership positions without the team because you can’t do everything yourself. It’s about creating an honest, open environment where people actually enjoy work and want to come to work. And again, that’s easier said than done but if you do those things right, you will be successful, regardless of what industry you’re in.

What types of things have constantly kept you awake at night?

I think for me, it’s about ensuring that I get that balance, between the work environment and the family environment. I think there’s a lot of pressure on executives to deliver, and that often comes with sacrifices at home. Because if you don’t have that balance right, you won’t be your best on either side of the equation. I’ve been privileged enough over the last six years to work with some outstanding leaders at Discovery, and they’re very balanced individuals. Yes, they work really hard, but they also really value their home lives, because if you don’t have stability in one, you can’t really focus well on the other and vice versa. If you don’t have a good job, it makes your home life difficult because it puts pressure on finances or stability. For me, it’s all about getting that right. I probably haven’t always had that right. In the past, I probably worked too much and focused too much on that, which affected that side of things because you don’t have great judgement, great vision, and all those things you need to be a great leader. And also, the clue here is often in the question that you’ve asked, it’s about getting good sleep. Don’t try and stay awake too much. Without sleep, you can’t do anything.

Can you identify a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

Yeah, I think it’s two things. For me, integrity is really important. I think if you get that right, people will respect you and want to work for you or with you. Secondly, stay humble. Keep your feet on the ground and just be an ordinary human being. If you’re a normal person everybody can relate to you, whether it’s the guy in the post room or the CEO or whoever else. I think those two qualities are really important. If you get that combination right; working hard, being humble and having strong integrity, you’ve got a very good solid axis to bounce from, and I think they’ve been really important in my journey so far.

What one bit of advice do you always give to other people? 

Something I always say particularly to young people is find something you enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll try hard and you’ll be passionate about it. If you don’t enjoy it, you end up becoming very negative in life. Find something you enjoy and that you’re really passionate about and you’ll succeed because you care about your work. It’s really as simple as that really.

To hear more insights from our executives, listen to our Executives Unpacked podcast, with new episodes available weekly. 

Executives Unpacked – Episode 1: Career advice from Jean-Francois Pigeon 

On our first episode of the podcast ‘Executives Unpacked’, we sat down with Jean-Francois Pigeon, the EVP Global Sales and Marketing at Synamedia. With a career spanning over two decades, Jean-Francois has made a name for himself in being able to accurately understand and anticipate market developments and adapt business strategies accordingly. In his previous role in Nokia, he served as VP of sales, overseeing 200 million euros worth of global accounts spread across 20 countries in the Middle East and Africa, where he played a major role in the company’s expansion into broadband and fibre in the home space. Now at Synamedia, he leads their global sales and marketing function and is responsible for developing business and new customer segments throughout Asia, EMEA in the Americas. He’s a man who nearly decided to become a lawyer, would love to own his own winery, and wishes he still had the innocence of youth. We asked him our burning questions and gained valuable insights into his perspective as an expert in his field.  

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career? 

Ignorance is bliss. It’s good to be young and naive, because you don’t know what’s not possible. You have no limits or constraints, and you don’t understand what’s not achievable, so you’re willing to try it anyway. I used to have a leader of mine, early in my career, who said, “Jeff, I have a great learning experience for you”, and that’s what he called ‘I’ve got a shitty job that I don’t want to do and I’ll hand it over to you’. I was naive so I willing to go for it. By the way, the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ goes all the way back to Publilius Syrus, who said in 8543 BC that ‘in knowing nothing, life is most delightful’. I think that’s the key to success; being able to approach life without fear, and without putting constraints on ourselves and holding ourselves back. Keep that youthful ignorance for as long as you can.  

Throughout your career, is there something that you wish that someone had told you earlier? 

Absolutely. One lesson I’ve learned is that it’s always important to assume positive intent when you interact with people. If you assume a positive intent it changes your whole demeanour to the situation, and it changes the outcome of the situation. If you take it negatively, you’re probably going to be angry and defensive so you’re not going to listen enough. When you assume positive intent instead, the message you’re sending is, ‘I’m trying to understand where you’re coming from. I’m listening to you, and maybe there’s something I’m not hearing in what you’re saying’. That’s a very powerful statement. I think I’ve found that in my life experience, having that attitude to engagement with different stakeholders changes everything. So, in some ways, the way you look at things influences the outcome of the situation, and I wish I had been told that earlier. 

I find that if you consciously walk into tough discussions and negotiations with that mindset it genuinely changes how that interaction will go. If you’re on a call, and as you’re talking, you’re walking and smiling, it changes the way you are perceived, even if the other people on the call don’t see you do it. If smiling or walking while you’re having a call can have an impact on someone who can’t see you, imagine the power of walking into a meeting with a positive mindset with people who can feel that energy. Given the nature of my role in sales, which is negotiation, in my experience having that mindset actually materialises in positive outcomes. 

Is there a single thing that you could highlight as the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given? 

Yes, it came from the late Michiel Dutré who was with our mobile communications group in Alcatel. The thing he told me is ‘JF, you have to be authentic’. That was exactly the right thing for him to tell me at the time because I have to admit that I was a bit arrogant, pushy and persistent. I was really rough around the edges. I don’t think I always conveyed the right vibe in the context of my engagement with peers and colleagues. When Muriel came and said ‘be authentic in the way you work and the way you interact with others’, it really helped set me on a path to change the way I acted in the context of moving from an individual contributor to a people leader. 

When you’re young, you’re a bit insecure and you want to prove yourself to the rest of the world. You’re out there, you’re bold, you’re brash, you’re trying learn. It’s only later that you realise what’s acceptable when you’re young may not be as acceptable later in life, particularly when you start getting more executive engagements. 

What one bit of advice do you always give other people? 

Go for it! It’s in keeping with my motto, which is instead of striving for a predictable, safe lifestyle, have faith and trust that life is a glorious adventure and live it to the fullest. So passion, passion, passion! Get interested in what’s going on, try to understand the implications of what’s going on in the world, not just in your domain. Try to understand everything, try to have different grids to read the world. I’ll give you an anecdote which I applied to myself. I saw a lot of geopolitics playing out in Middle Eastern Africa, particularly after my Asian experience, and I was impacted by that and I was so frustrated by it that I said ‘I need to understand better’, so I went to the School of Economy and Warfare. Last year, I did my executive VP in economic warfare, and it was so stimulating because it showed me new ways of looking at things and a different understanding of what’s going on, what’s at play, what’s the undertone, what’s the history… I think it’s so important to be switched on to the world, because then in your conversations and the way you engage you’re having an impact.  

And so that leads me to thinking about a career. I think it’s important that you don’t look at it as a linear progression. Don’t be afraid to divert horizontal steps versus vertical steps. I think too often people are worried about promotions, etc. That doesn’t make you better, you just get elevated to your highest level of incompetence. Instead, you should focus on taking the road less travelled and not playing by the rules, because if you play by the rules, the path is very crowded. If you follow the pack, you’re a follower. Be a leader and take a different path.  

I’ll give you an example of that as well. When I started my career, I decided to go on a manufacturing floor first. Most people after the degree didn’t go there, they went into product management, but I said, ‘No, I want to start there, because I want to understand how products are made for manufacturability’. Then I went to product management. Then I decided to go to Hong Kong at a time where everybody was going to the US and I said you know what, ‘No, I’m going to go to Asia, because Asia is different’. From there my whole career was made. I was making conscious choices not to follow the herd. My best advice to others is, if you want to have fun, you have to differentiate yourself. You want to have a unique career. Don’t get stuck into the world’s definition of what success looks like. Get exposed to the world. Get out there, learn, look at different cultures, look at different ways of doing things, be interested in everything! I think you can only do that if you’re really passionate about what you do. 

Is there one thing that’s constantly kept you awake at night throughout your career? 

Yes, making sure I was doing the right thing, meeting my commitments and adding value, particularly because I’ve worked a lot of emerging markets. The legal system isn’t necessarily there to protect things in an impartial way as it would in other places, and as a result trust is very important in the relationship or the transaction. I need to know if you’re going to be there to ensure that you deliver on my expectations. In my previous experience, for the first year, I kept being beaten because we weren’t delivering on our expectations. But the fact that I kept on showing up every month, and getting beaten, ultimately mobilised the organisation to deliver. If someone keeps showing up, despite the fact that they’re being beaten, ultimately, whether you like it or not, that person earns your trust. So, if I commit to something or to somebody, my word is my bond. Making sure that we meet the commitments we’ve made, and we keep on constantly adding value is really what keeps me up at night. 

Is there a single thread that has run through your career that’s led to success? 

I think you might be able to guess what that might be. It goes back to my original statements about ignorance is bliss and living with passion. At the end of the day, going for it, being curious, doing something you’re passionate about, looking for long term outcomes, and acting with integrity are all essential behaviours. You have to understand that to win in today’s world requires you to be fully engaged, listening, and trying to add value. So, for me, being passionate about what you do is essential, because to compete today you need to put in a lot of effort, you need to be keeping abreast, you need to understand what’s going on, you need to be responsive, and all of that takes a lot of energy. That’s a lot of personal investment, so if you don’t love what you do, it’s going to be a real drudgery to just get through it. Unless you’re doing something you’re passionate about, life will be tough. If you really want to make a difference, to have fun, to have an impact and enjoy what you do, then find what you’re passionate about and go from there.  

To hear more insights from Jean-Francois’s career in communications marketing, listen to the full podcast here.  

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