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

This post was written by: John Clifton

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

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