He spent his last 14 of 22 years of CIA service assigned to the National Reconnaissance Office, where he worked with advanced surveillance and reconnaissance systems, before holding executive positions in integrated systems for BAE Systems, government communications at Harris Corp. and space applications at Loral Space and Range Systems.
Click here to read his executive profile for more on his background.
Schuster recently caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss how his professional path has shaped his approach to his leadership roles, the evolution of the satellite and geospatial markets and where he sees commercial satellite opportunities in the federal budget environment.
ExecutiveBiz: How did your 22 years with the CIA influence and prepare you for the leadership roles you have had in industry at Loral, Harris, BAE Systems and most recently GeoEye?
Schuster: The government offers many formal training opportunities, which I took advantage of, but the real learning took place outside of the classroom. For me, this involved learning how to inspire and lead employees without some of the flexibility that exists in the private sector. This often meant conveying a strong sense of purpose and the importance of the mission.
I also benefited greatly from the interactions I had with some of the best people in industry across multiple companies. This enabled me to see different approaches to address a myriad of issues that I could later pick and choose from. In addition, I was the customer and thus gained insight on what’s important to customers, a perspective I have been able to apply effectively after I left government.
ExecutiveBiz: How did you leverage that public sector and private sector experience into executing your duties as COO at GeoEye, a role you’ve held since 2004?
Schuster: My job at GeoEye is a compilation of all of the things that I previously had done in my career and then some. The COO role entails leading a multidisciplinary team engaged in engineering, IT, program management, contracting, running a complex space operation, interacting with customers, both foreign and domestic, and growing a business.
Said another way, I’ve had experiences in both government and industry that directly apply to my duties at GeoEye. Having worked in both industry and government in highly related domains has been a real benefit as I fulfill my responsibilities as COO of GeoEye.
ExecutiveBiz: How have the geospatial and satellite imagery markets evolved since you first joined GeoEye?
Schuster: The commercial satellite imagery market has grown dramatically since I joined GeoEye. This has happened on both the commercial side and on the government side. The awareness that Google and others have created has paved the way for commercial imagery to enable the insight and understanding of events that would be difficult, if not impossible, to gain otherwise. It’s now an expected addition to a news story, a map display, or a property listing.
Commercial imagery started with the government as an interesting “sideshow” that supplemented the mainstream collections done by the government’s own satellites. The imagery was not readily accessible to analysts, nor was it integrated with the government’s imagery infrastructure. GeoEye’s first satellite, IKONOS, has always had the quality necessary to address key questions: its imagery is unclassified, which allows wider and less constrained distribution. It has the additional advantage of being very cost effective. Recognition of the virtues of commercial imagery led to programs aimed at making it more mainstream with greater accessibility and integration into the imagery architecture. These programs are poised to come to fruition in the coming year.
ExecutiveBiz: How does the current budget environment further shape your view on future opportunities?
Schuster: Opportunities in this constrained environment are found in identifying efficiencies without sacrificing effectiveness. Fundamental requirements of the Defense and Intelligence communities will remain or even grow as force end-strength declines. The ability to see into the movements and intentions of potential adversaries will become more of an imperative while financial resources become more precious. Commercial imagery, derived products, automatic pattern recognition and change detection are but a few areas where more and better information can be put into the hands of the users at less expense.
It is ironic, and I believe unfortunate, that on the eve of commercial imagery fulfilling its promise as an integral part of the national imagery architecture that the government changed its mind on how much they require. However, I believe that the cost-effective, unclassified and highly capable nature of commercial imagery will ensure that it prevails as an essential part of this country’s imagery architecture. Commercial imagery already plays a vital role and is highly valued by the users, particularly those engaged in military operations with coalition partners. While budget issues are likely to be with us for some time to come, commercial imagery is not part of the problem; it is part of the solution. I therefore believe its role in national security will continue to grow while commercial applications continue to emerge.