Executives Unpacked Episode 5: Lead by Learning with Charles Miller

This post was written by: John Clifton

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. 

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