Iridium Communications CEO Matt Desch continues to build the company into an impressive force on the MSS landscape. After achieving nominee status in 2010 for Via Satellite’s coveted Satellite Executive of the Year, in 2011, Desch has gone one better and won the actual award. Here, he talks about the how all the pieces for Iridium finally came together.
Since taking the reins at Iridium Communications in 2006, CEO Matt Desch has helped transform the Mobile Satellite Service (MSS) operator from a financially shaken mobile phone-focused company on the brink of being de-orbited to a market powerhouse with more than 500,000 subscribers and the fiscal strength to build a second-generation constellation.
Besides leading his company beyond market expectations for revenue, sales and subscriber growth, Desch’s achievements in 2011 included: surpassed financial and technological milestones in its Iridium NEXT constellation project; an appointment by U.S. President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee (NSTAC); the launch of the Hosted Payload Alliance (HPA); and the creation of the Iridium Force product and service roll-out initiative, which opened the company’s core technology licensing, produced a new handset and expanded the capabilities of its existing portfolio to attract the attention of a much larger consumer market.
Desch was also nominated for this award in 2010 after a strong year capped by the close of a $1.8 billion financing facility that ensured Iridium NEXT would become a reality. Many analysts and industry watchers called this moment a catalyst for the company, but Desch and Iridium would follow-up this success in 2011 with a series of catalysts that would impact not only its own plans, but the entire industry as well. It is for this wide-reaching impact that Desch has been named Via Satellite’s 2011 Satellite Executive of the Year.
In an interview with Via Satellite, Desch takes us behind-the-scenes of Iridium’s 2011 strategy to provide both lessons learned from the past and a glimpse into the future of mobile satellite communications.
Via Satellite: What would you describe as your most significant achievement in 2011?
Desch: I think Iridium’s most significant achievement is that we demonstrated the robust quality of our growth platform. For several years, we’ve heard about how Iridium’s business would dry up when a low-cost satellite phone arrived on the market. We were very confident in our understanding of the market — that value in remote communications was about ease-of-use, coverage and features. We could have lowered our prices and still made money, but instead, we made a bold move by going up-market. We doubled down on a strategy that we knew to be right with the new Iridium Extreme handset, and as a result, enjoyed another great year of continued growth. Overall, 2011 was also a year of continued innovation, which drove our growth across the board along with our amazing partner ecosystem.
This past year was also the first full year of Iridium NEXT development. We’re currently hundreds of millions of dollars into this exciting program to replace our satellite constellation with 72 new, more powerful satellites between 2015 and 2017. We’re just about complete with all the preliminary design reviews (PDRs) on the program and we’re now moving into a year where we’ll see the critical design review (CDR) process start. That is a very exciting development for us.