Executive Spotlight: Matt Desch of Iridium

Matt Desch, Iridum

Matt Desch is the CEO and president of Iridium, a position he has held for four years. He was previously CEO of telecom-services provider Telcordia. When he took over at Iridium in 2006, he helped guide the company to being publicly traded. Desch spoke with ExecutiveBiz about Iridium’s burgeoning new next-generation satellite project NEXT, his leadership style, and how his lifelong passion for aviation helped him lead one of the world’s truly global satellite operators.

ExecutiveBiz:  Could you tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up as CEO of Iridium?

Matt Desch: I’m a longtime veteran of the wireless industry, having been involved with wireless companies–mostly on the technology and supplier side–since 1990, working with cellphone operators like AT&T and Verizon and the like. I was interested in moving to the operator side to be part of delivering service to customers. Iridium was the most interesting way to do that.

ExecutiveBiz:  What are three or four core competencies of Iridium? What does Iridium do better than anybody else?

Matt Desch: First and foremost, it is global coverage. We are the only telecom operator to offer service to every part of the planet. Secondly, we are low cost compared to other satellite alternatives, particularly in the maritime, aviation and asset-tracking areas. Third, we offer a very unique and important services to the U.S. military and many government agencies. And finally, we have a fantastic ecosystem of partners who embed us into their products and they take us to markets in very unique ways, which keeps our variable costs very low.

ExecutiveBiz:  When you took over at Iridium in 2006, you then helped steer the company toward being a publicly traded one. Could you talk a little bit about that process?

Matt Desch: You need to understand that our business challenge had not been growth; in fact, we had grown consistently over the six to seven years prior to my joining Iridium and had become profitable while growing quickly. There was and is a lot of demand for our service.  The challenge really was the fact that we needed to replace our satellite network before it got too old, before about 2018.  While we were growing fast, we were only expecting to generate a little over half the capital required, so to build the new system, we needed to first go public, and then find the remainder of the financing, which is just what we’ve achieved this month.  We call this new network we’re building ‘Iridium NEXT.’  Going public was a critical first step, but obtaining the rest of the financing – $1.8 billion in total – has been a major milestone to ensure Iridium will be around a long, long time.

ExecutiveBiz:  As you mentioned, you’re a veteran of the industry, in many aspects of the industry. How would you characterize your leadership style?

Matt Desch: I would say it is inclusive, customer oriented, strategic and focused on results, and, most of all, open and easy to communicate with.

ExecutiveBiz:  What do you see as the goals for Iridium for the following year and then even looking further beyond that?

Matt Desch: The most exciting goal that we have is that we are now building our new and more powerful next-generation network, which we call ‘NEXT.’  Now that we’ve just kicked off the development, we want to make sure that’s off to a great start and operating well. From an operational perspective, we are looking for continued strong growth, specifically with entry into some new markets like broadband Internet for aviation and maritime, and lower-cost asset tracking and personal locator devices. A new goal for the next year or two is to complete or finalize the deals with customers for Hosted Payloads, which are payloads from commercial and governmental entities that would hitch a ride, if you will, into space on our new satellites for a lower cost when we launch them.

ExecutiveBiz:  Are there any issues or challenges that you face as a company that contracts with the federal government? Is there anything on the horizon or any issues that have arisen?

Matt Desch: Our only real issue with them is speed. We are launching our network in early 2015, and we need to finalize what we are carrying into space with us by sometime in 2012, I’d say.  While that seems like a long period of time for most companies, for the government that’s just tomorrow, so it’s really the need for the government to make decisions soon that are in their best interest – that save money and assure access for some of their important missions to get into space.

ExecutiveBiz: What are you passionate about, or what are some hobbies outside of work?  What do you do in your free time?

Matt Desch: I have a couple. Aviation has been a deep passion of mine since I soloed when I was 16 and became a pilot when I was 18, which was many years ago. I’ve been passionate about all things that fly since that time. This is actually the first time my job intersects with this passion, because at least a part of our business is to support the aviation segment. Also, I don’t have any children, but I do have a rescue Jack Russell named Emmy, and I think everyone should rescue animals. I think Emmy has extended my life several years, so I know they could be good for others as well.

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