Satellite Executive of the Year: The Nominees for 2012

By , | February 1, 2013 | Feature

Last year, we announced that Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium was the Satellite Executive of the Year for 2011 after a brilliant performance in maximizing the MSS operator’s long-term potential. Now, exclusive to the digital edition of Via Satellite, we announce the nominees for the 2012 award.

Khalid Balkheyour, CEO, Arabsat

Tom Choi, CEO,
Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS)

Mary Cotton, CEO, iDirect

Charlie Ergen, Founder and Chairman, 
Dish Network



Mary Cotton, CEO, iDirect

On the technology side of the satellite business, iDirect, a provider of satellite-based IP communications technology, had a very strong 2012, characterized by diverse revenue streams, and an ability to play in a number of satellite’s key growth markets. Mary Cotton has led iDirect to an enviable position across a number of key verticals.

In the government part of its business, a good portion of the overall company’s revenues comes from the U.S. government market via iGT, iDirect’s wholly owned U.S. government division. In fact, iDirect has already achieved more revenues from iGT in the first nine months of 2012 than in the whole of 2011. One of its operational highlights also came in this area. iGT won a $40 million order to upgrade the U.S. Army’s Combat Service Support (CSS) 3,800 terminal Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) network and associated infrastructure in support of the Army’s “Connecting the Logistician Program.”

In the enterprise market, iDirect, sells solutions to satellite operators and global/regional service providers for rural Internet access, education programs, banking and retail applications, etc. The company works with major players such as Intelsat, OBS, Algeria Telecom, Verizon, NewSat, Telefonica, Thaicom, an impressive list of customers here.

Cellular backhaul and particularly the use of small cell technology combined with satellite backhaul is an emerging application, and iDirect works closely with wireless infrastructure providers such as Nokia Siemens and Alcatel Lucent to ensure a seamless solution.

The company is also a growing influence in the international government and defense markets. It has contracts with the likes of the U.K. Ministry of Defense, and is relied upon to serve the diverse and specialized needs of the defense and civilian government agencies by supporting such mission-critical applications as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, airborne, communications-on-the-move and maritime communications worldwide.

iDirect’s performance internationally has also been a key part of its recent success. Opening the Latin American market has been a key focus for the company for the past two years. Working alongside key service providers including BT Latin America, Level 3 Communications, Elara, Telefonica Latin America and Axesat, iDirect is being deployed to provide Internet access to rural communities, schools, governments, and businesses throughout Latin America.

As high-throughput satellites emerge, iDirect looks well positioned to provide a robust infrastructure to satellite operators that want to extend this new capacity to the enterprise market. In 2011, the company won a contract from Inmarsat to provide ground network infrastructure and core module technology to integrate into Inmarsat’s Global Xpress satellite terminals. In 2012 iDirect began helping many satellite operators launch new Ka and HTS services to new and existing customers. iDirect is working with Thaicom 4/IPStar to bring HTS to the cellular backhaul, enterprise and SOHO markets. iDirect ground infrastructure is delivering capacity from Avanti Hylas 1 and 2 to the enterprise and SOHO markets. The company is teaming with the U.S. Department of Defense to support its WGS satellite and bring the benefits of HTS to military communications. And iDirect ground infrastructure was chosen by Yahsat to deliver capacity over Y1a to the military, enterprise and SOHO markets.

With a strong customer base, an increasingly diversified revenue base, and growth across a broad range of market segments, there are few companies that can match iDirect in providing satellite technology solutions. Under Mary Cotton’s leadership, the company continues to build on its success to expand the market and the possibilities for our industry as a whole.



Khalid Balkheyour, CEO, Arabsat

Middle East satellite operator Arabsat has had a stellar year in 2012, backed by highly impressive numbers, and a signature hosted payload deal signed at the end of the year. The operator is one of the most successful regional operators around and has an enviable position in the Middle East, and a growing position of influence in Africa. The company’s main highlight in 2012 is undoubtedly a hosted payload deal it has signed on the BADR-7 satellite. This will bring Ka-band services to the Middle East and Africa. While Arabsat has yet to announce the company it has done this deal with, it is a huge victory for the company, given that despite of all the industry discussion, hosted payload deals have been in short supply.

The company’s numbers also make impressive reading. In the nine months to the end of September, the company had grown its profits by almost 10 percent and its revenues by nearly 15 percent. The financial performance of the company has been hugely impressive. The company has generated close to $125 million in broadcast revenues in the first nine months of the year, an increase of almost $14 million compared to the same stage last year. Equally, in the telecoms market, the operator has gone from just over $80 million in the first nine months of 2011 to almost $100 million in the first nine months of this year. Arabsat also has a backlog of $1.6 billion, which is 5 times the yearly revenue of the company.

Balkheyour’s achievements are many. The operator has also built a highly strong position in the broadcast markets of MENA. The company has signed major deals this year with the likes of Sky News Arabia and Al Jazeera. The company also has one of the leading HD neighborhoods in the region and has been a pioneer in bringing HD content to television markets in the Middle East.

The company is also doing more than most to advance satellite technology in the Middle East. Recently, it signed a deal with mobile operator, Mobily to be involved in a national project to provide schools in remote and rural areas with broadband services in Saudi Arabia. The company’s impressive position in the broadcast arena is now being replicated in the broadband space. Whether it is Ka-band, Ku-band, hosted payloads, Balkheyour is bringing deals to all parts of Arabsat’s business. When you combine this with the company’s great numbers, it is clear that Arabsat is a regional operator of high class. Its performance in 2012 meets every possible metric and the operator, which has aggressively invested in new satellites, is reaping the rewards of that strategy.



Tom Choi, CEO, Asia Broadcast Satellite (ABS)

Asia Broadcast Satellite is a regional satellite operator on the rise. Tom Choi, the company’s CEO is building an impressive business based on smart acquisitions and aggressive and creative investment in new satellites. The company came to the world’s attention in 2012 when along with Satmex it signed a deal to procure an ‘electric’ satellites from Boeing. Choi estimates that by going for the Boeing 702-SP satellite, it will save the company up to 40 percent than other alternative technologies out there. Choi is an impressive dealmaker, and it should be of little surprise to anyone in the industry that he was one of the first to make an investment in Boeing’s electric satellite technology. Choi lacks nothing in the daring department, and over the last few years, from commissioning ABS-2, one of the biggest satellites every commissioned, to securing financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank) to support its ambitious business plans, the company is nothing if not bold. In November, the company announced that the Ex-Im Bank has authorized two transactions aggregating $461 million to underwrite the export of American-made satellites to Hong Kong. The pair of transactions will support approximately 3,700 U.S. jobs, according to Bank estimates derived from Departments of Commerce and Labor data and methodology.

Its strategy for ABS-2 has been equally impressive. The satellite is enormous, with more than 12 kW of payload power and up to a total of 89 active C-band, Ku-band and Ka-band transponders across 10 different beams bringing increased capacity and transmission power to the Middle East, Africa, Asia Pacific, and CIS/Russia. ABS in fact has already sold 60 percent of the capacity on ABS-2. With deals in the pipeline, this is expected to go beyond the 70 percent figure at launch. Choi predicts the satellite will reach a 90 percent utilization rate one year after launch, an impressive feat given the size of the satellite. From a cost recovery perspective, ABS expects the full program cost will be recouped by the second or third year after launch.

The company’s financial performance is also very strong. In the 12 months to the end of September, revenues grew by over 20 percent compared to the same stage last year, and net profits grew by close to 200 percent, highly impressive numbers.

ABS is on a tear. It is hard to believe that only a few years ago, the operator only had one satellite. Choi has been moving at pace to create a regional powerhouse that is looking to be a key player across Africa, Central and Eastern Europe (including Russia) and South and South East Asia. The company is looking to be present in most of the major hotspots for satellite services, both for telecoms and DTH. Choi’s achievements are already impressive and he has succeeded in a short space of time of putting ABS on the map. In an industry, that sometimes to outsiders can seem conservative, Choi is one of those new breed of CEOs who operates without fear and aggressively looks to change things. Whether putting innovative deals for new satellites or financing, making good on existing investments, Choi is one of the most ambitious and aggressive CEOs of any satellite operators out there. He is creating a regional powerhouse in ABS that will be force to be reckoned with in many markets. The Ex-Im financing deal and the Boeing satellite deal have been highlights for the company in 2012, as Choi continues to build the company at breakneck speed.


Charlie Ergen, Founder and Chairman, Dish Network

It has been quite a year for Charlie Ergen, founder and chairman of Dish Network and one of the most formidable executives in the media industry. For the past few decades, Ergen has provided the U.S. satellite pay-TV industry with a dynamic vision of the future. Ergen turned Dish Network into a multibillion-dollar business by undercutting cable rates with free dish giveaways and focusing on set-top-box technology in one of the most competitive and developed markets in the world.

Recently, Ergen led Dish Network on a quest to ensure the company’s ability to compete in the future with a widespread shift to wireless technology. The journey began in 2011 with the $320 million purchase of bankrupt video rental chain and retailer Blockbuster video and an aggressive $3 billion broadband spectrum shopping spree that included assets from TerreStar Networks and DBSD North America. In 2012, Ergen provided the satellite industry with its most vivid example of adapting to the modern consumer. Ergen and Dish Network then set out on a quest to build a terrestrial network that would give customers service on their mobile devices. He took a regulatory battle directly to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission and, in mid-December, won unanimous approval for its network development plans and spectrum use in the United States – succeeding where the once-powerful 4G LTE wholesale provider LightSquared failed in 2011.

While working on its new wireless network and employing a strategy that balanced focused acquisition efforts against the need to contain programming costs, Dish Network made other market advances to expand consumer choice and control. In August, it upgraded its DISHWorld IPTV platform to deliver content to computers through a new application after launching its over-the-top IPTV international channel service in May. The company also worked to improve its customer service, which is often an area of weakness for satellite broadcasters. In May, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) ranked Dish Network first among large U.S.-based satellite and cable providers for customer experience, including overall value, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty in 2012. Dish Network secured new contract agreements with ViaSat and Univision Communications, released a comprehensive selection of Spanish-language networks and content to Dish Latino subscribers, expanded its Blockbuster home entertainment package and rolled out a next-generation HD DVR system.

Above all, Charlie Ergen has established himself in the satellite industry as a force to be reckoned with, refusing to back down from much larger telecom and cellular competitors with 10 times the amount of available resources. There are not many satellite executives in the industry today who would be as eager or fearless as Ergen in taking up such a consequential fight.

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