Executives Unpacked Episode 16: Keep Your Focus with Rhonda Stevenson

This post was written by: John Clifton

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

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