Executives Unpacked Episode 34: Questioning Your Position with Josh Marks

This post was written by: John Clifton

On Episode 34 of the Executives Unpacked podcast we were joined by Josh Marks, the CEO of Anuvu, to talk about his incredible career in the satellite industry and the advice he’s learned from it. During his career, Josh has previously held senior C-level positions such as CEO, CFO and Director. Growing up Josh was a young entrepreneur dealing Apple computers to local businesses, while he harboured a dream of becoming a pilot. 

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

The biggest lesson throughout my career has been the importance of watching the details of your operation from the customer’s perspective. Are the services you’re delivering really meeting the customer’s underlying expectations? Are you listening too much to your engineering hype? Do you really understand what the end user requires? That perspective is critically important. 

One of our colleagues at Anuvu likes to say that organisations in our space tend to think too much about ‘engineering out’ as opposed to ‘customer in’, which is a lesson that I think we all took very personally. We recognised that our advantage was being a company that leased infrastructure that could pivot very quickly to new technologies, so we could stay ahead of those customer expectations in a way that other companies in the connectivity and space couldn’t. Companies that have decade-long investments in very large satellites just couldn’t adapt fast enough. If you look at what makes a company successful, and therefore its executives successful, it’s an understanding of your end market and working backwards to create a technology that people need. 

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

When I look at the degree to which I have balanced loyalty and tenure at specific companies against the ability to jump to different industries, there’s a balance that is both positive and negative. It creates an opportunity to really learn about certain businesses over extended periods of time. The one piece of advice that I would like to have heard earlier is ‘always be thinking about the macro environment and whether the time that you invest in a company is the best use of your time and your investors’ time’. 

I would have benefited from hearing that assessing whether your time has been best spent on a yearly basis is important so that you don’t stall out. There are certainly times when I thought ‘We need to be moving in a different direction faster. We need to go after some of the underlying challenges in the business that are caused by the rapid pace of change and technology. We can’t just follow the pace that our competitors are setting in the market.’ I think that advice is essential for any leader, particularly at the C-level.

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

Often, there are a couple of tidbits of knowledge that apply just as much to my personal life as to business that I actually heard from my father, and I bring across the companies that I run every day. One of those is diplomacy. “Diplomacy is the art of letting them have your way” implies that you need to be persuasive in what you do every day, and you need to make it look seamless. That’s a skill that you only develop really by having an EQ to start with, but then developing it over time. Leadership is not about just demand execution. It’s about persuasion, so you have to pull as much as you push. 

The second is “He who hesitates is lost.” That piece of advice is just critical. When you look at what’s happening in the space industry today for example, there is no halfway ground between LEO and GEO in satellite orbits, we are at the cusp of a technology change, which is the same as the move that our communications industry made 25 years ago from dial-up to fibre. There is no halfway house, you must go all in. Any company that doesn’t make that pivot may not be out of business today, but I guarantee you that they will be out of business in five years. 

The last one, which I always take with a dose of humour, is “Never pass a men’s room.” It’s a metaphor for life on the road and always taking care of yourself first, but I think it also applies to business. If you have an opportunity to relieve some stress in the business by taking action, take it. Don’t try to bet 100% all of the time because your parlays aren’t going to work all the time. Having a measured approach and knowing when to take some chips off the table is critical. 

I think those three pieces of advice, which I got from my family and have applied to my career, are good lessons and foundations for others who are thinking about the cadence of managing companies at the scale.

What has consistently kept you up at night?

Once you’ve been an entrepreneur in a company that is scaling, nothing will keep you up more than making payroll because it literally governs your life in terms of working capital. It’s an exceptionally good discipline to bootstrap companies and not be too reliant on venture capital in those early stages because it keeps you focused on what’s important. The highest priority you’ve got is what’s right for your employees. As you know, we as an industry have had to adjust to a much higher cost of capital in today’s interest rate environment as a result of inflation. 

What should keep you awake at night is the question of whether you’re moving fast enough to face your competitors. Moving at speed while optimising your people, processes and products is hard, particularly when you’ve got a higher cost of capital or when you’ve got legacy customers and infrastructure that you’re trying to serve. You’ve got business models you need to deliver. There’s a freedom that comes with the incredibly quick innovation that those companies drive because of the disruption that they cause. 

Has there been a single thread that has run through your career that has led to success?

I think that industries are tough. They have very fast-paced innovation, so putting yourself in a position to succeed and advance is as much luck as anything. It’s your ability to take the shots and put yourself in a position to score that makes a difference, but there is a degree of chance to it. You just have to make sure that you shoot often enough that you can get the score that you need. So as I look at my career, one of the things that I see very clearly is that because I’ve taken a chance in new industries and effectively had to start from scratch, I haven’t been afraid to step out into new markets and apply the lessons that I learned to new areas. 

Success looks like being able to persuade financial backers and teams or recruits that you understand what’s required and can execute against that. Most people would agree that what separates the winners and losers in these spaces is a little bit of technology, a little bit of market knowledge, a little bit of customer deep depth, and a lot of luck. It’s also about being in the right place at the right time. 

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

I think as you look at your career, don’t be afraid to jump industries. Don’t be afraid to follow what you want to do in life as opposed to what you feel you have to do. It’s a struggle as you get further in your career because you only get so much time in life. I think you have to ask yourself the question every day, ‘Is what I’m doing now the best thing that I can be doing to make myself happy, to serve my customers and team to make money right as a company?’ Asking that question in a much more disciplined way and thinking about it in the context of where you want to be in 5-10 years is something that is easy to forget, but it’s very important. 

To hear more from Josh, tune into Episode 34 of Executives Unpacked here

Let's talk