Mary Cotton, CEO, VT iDirect Inc.

Mary Cotton cannot be accused of thinking small, which makes her the perfect fit to head VT iDirect Inc.

Cotton joined iDirect as CEO in September 2007 bringing more than 18 years of experience in helping technology companies turn their expertise into revenue. Prior to taking over iDirect, Cotton served as senior vice president with SAP Industry Solutions, a business application software company, and before that she spent 17 years at Aspen Technology Inc., a provider of software and services designed to help companies improve their manufacturing processes.

"The focus in my business has been taking complicated engineering products and bringing them to market to solve business problems," she says. "What attracted me to iDirect was I saw satellite communications as a promising industry. There has been a change in the core element of next-generation carrier networks. The focus now is on great connectivity. At the end of the day, people can’t be without their Blackberrys or the Internet, and people don’t notice it much but satellite plays a key role in that connectivity. It’s necessary for what we need to do."

During Cotton’s tenure at Aspen Technology, she helped the company grow from $6 million in revenues and 40 employees to $350 million in revenues and nearly 2,000 employees, and she sees "an opportunity to do a very similar thing" at iDirect. Through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions, Cotton believes iDirect could reach $500 million in yearly revenues in the next three to five years.

Cotton spoke with Via Satellite Editor Jason Bates about her plans.

VIA SATELLITE: What attracted you to iDirect?

COTTON: Long ago, when John Kealey made a choice of not competing with customers and being a software and product supplier, it opened up a market opportunity and clearly differentiated us. This positions iDirect to be an important solver of business problems for our partners. An example of this is our relationship with Verizon. At Panasonic, we’re working with the aviation division to bring satellite technology innovation to benefit the airline industry, not just solving the technical issues that have grounded in-flight broadband, but designing a system by which airlines can grow revenues through advertising and pay-per-use content.

Interestingly, satellite communications can be an unsung part of many networking solutions, and the industry tends to think of itself as marginalized. I look at satellite connectivity as really not something that just fits in, but something that drives business for our partners. There are more applications we’re finding where satellite plays a critical role. I believe the market may be bigger than people think.

VIA SATELLITE: How do you grow iDirect’s business in the changing satellite marketplace?

COTTON: Since we’re always focused relentlessly on enabling customers to do their business, it gives us a huge advantage. We’re there to provide the technology that allows them to advance their applications. In many cases, our ability to partner with them and develop solutions means we don’t have to let go of any other part of our business. There is no conflict with our customers, so we don’t have to change our business model. As markets change, the hardest businesses to be in are the ones that are held back by their own success. One of the pivotal things that iDirect did from the beginning was to talk to partners and customers about how to use the technology to solve their business problems. From our earliest days of servicing the oil and gas industry we’ve always been doing that.

The other element is the great value we’ve ascribed to the software. Our partners need to use our technology in different ways. Hardware is important, but our software gives us the flexibility to deliver new advantages as the market evolves.

VIA SATELLITE: Do you see a day where you may move iDirect into the services marketplace?

COTTON: We’re not looking at all to become a service provider. Instead, we’re collaborating closely with our partners to advance their services. An example is our relationship with Intelsat in the maritime business. We work jointly with them to figure out how we can apply our intellectual capital to their business objectives as opposed to thinking we need to be the service provider.

VIA SATELLITE: How do your plans for iDirect differ from the former CEO, John Kealey?

COTTON: I really believe in John’s vision. When you look at what John started, what I brought was my own vision of being able to execute on that. Partnering is a huge part of my background as are mergers and acquisitions. I see an opportunity for us to take advantage of a consolidating market. In some ways, I think I’m refining John’s vision. I’m not looking for a strategic direction change, but I have confidence in my abilities to execute the strategy and bring the company to the next level. When companies start to get big they can go one of two ways. You get less nimble and lose your innovation, and I think what appealed to iDirect was that I had a track record of not letting that happen.

VIA SATELLITE: What are you plans for expanding iDirect’s business around the globe?

COTTON: I see a tremendous amount of opportunity internationally. You can’t get away from the fact that we have a global economy. Expanding abroad is an offensive move. There is tremendous growth in the Middle East and Africa. As the markets emerge, if you want to continue to be a leader, you have to be there in the beginning to establish your company. In Asia, we are working more closely with our parent company, which does a lot of integration work. Together, we can logically do more and expand our satellite communications business.

If you look at our commercial business, it’s about one-third to 40 percent in the United States, and the rest is international. We don’t see that changing very much. We’ve got a strong established base outside of the United States, and that would be one we would continue to grow.

VIA SATELLITE: Has expanding internationally been difficult for a company the size of iDirect?

COTTON: We’ve done a great job developing the business to this point, last year opening an office and training facility in Dubai. We just opened another technical support center in Asia. Smaller companies going international sometimes have more of a challenge because of the infrastructure and the willingness to commit to a smaller company that’s distant, but I don’t see us having that impediment. In international expansion, one of the challenges is how you develop. You have to put a lot of emphasis on building the local presence.

VIA SATELLITE: What are your expectations for iDirect Government Technologies and the U.S. government market?

COTTON: Our government business is one of our fastest growing sectors. We have 50 percent annual growth in our government sales, and our innovations related to communications on the move has been the key to much of that success. We have delivered some breakthroughs that have provided opportunities that did not exist a year ago. An example is the work we’ve been doing in direct sequence spread spectrum to enable ultra-small antennas on high speed vehicles.

VIA SATELLITE: How do you see iDirect’s business in the maritime market developing?

COTTON: We’ve been there for quite some time, and I think if you look at the business problems we’re trying to solve, this is probably one of the best examples of how we listen to customers and find a way for our technology to give them a competitive advantage. We’ve developed a technology that enables automatic beam switching for the maritime industry. Intelsat is using this innovation to strengthen its global maritime service. We’re working with MTN, advancing our spread spectrum waveform so that it can operate on a yacht and enable MTN to grow its customer base.

VIA SATELLITE: Do you see the growth of IP in the space sector bringing more challengers to your expertise in the area?

COTTON: Our roots are in IP. It has been our stock-in-trade and our competitive advantage. The competition changes and tries to catch up, but we feel our advantage is that wherever IP goes, we believe we’ll be strongly positioned to advance and dominate that market.

VIA SATELLITE: What new technologies do you expect iDirect to introduce?

COTTON: We’re currently rolling out our next-generation DVB-2 platform — Evolution. You’ll see more of Evolution in the next months as we introduce our expanded feature set. We’ll continue to advance our software applications as networks become larger and more complicated, and we’ll continue to push to reduce the total cost of ownership for our operators. We see our products as part of the larger portfolio that our partners will roll out to continue to differentiate themselves and offer customers advanced services.

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