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ViaSat’s Dankberg Personifies Entrepreneurial Engineer

By Staff Writer | March 1, 2004

      The choice of “Satellite Executive of the Year” always is open to second-guessing. A safe choice often is the CEO of a large satellite operator that has had a special year.

      The accomplishments of past winners have taken the form of completing a bold acquisition or leading an intergovernmental satellite organization into privatization and commercial profitability as well as building one’s own satellite manufacturing and launch services company from scratch. SES Global’s [SES] President and CEO Romain Bausch took the first path. Eutelsat’s Chairman and CEO Giuliano Berretta blazed the second trail, while Orbital Sciences’ [ORB] Chairman and CEO David Thompson took the proverbial “road less traveled” when the rocket scientist used his entrepreneurial zeal to win the latter way.

      Berretta and Thomson both are engineers by training. My position with Satellite News gives me occasional opportunities to interview them or hear them speak in public. The traditional business-side CEOs have their strong points, but the dream-weaving engineers always seem to be piecing together technical trends that can help to drive the industry forward. The value of identifying the latest trends and knowing which ones to chase and which simply to monitor cautiously cannot be understated. Billions of dollars can be squandered by choosing the wrong course.

      Last week’s naming of Mark Dankberg, Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat’s [VSAT] chairman, CEO and co-founder, as “Satellite Executive of the Year” is a tribute not only to his engineering training, but also to his employees who help him to identify trends and to develop products to meet expected demand. His company has won a number of significant military and commercial contracts during the past year, and that success did not come from luck. Much as a top chess player thinks many moves ahead to prevail in a match, Dankberg has forecasted the future well enough to boost earnings, notch record new bookings and grow revenues to new heights several quarters in a row.

      In my view, Dankberg is well deserving of the award he will receive at the Satellite 2004 international conference and exhibition early next month. The award, given annually by our sister publication Via Satellite magazine, is a coveted honor. The recipient is chosen by an editorial advisory committee that includes Satellite News and Satellite Today editors and analysts.

      Dankberg personifies the entrepreneurial engineer who tries to anticipate market trends. He often initiates research-and-development efforts in promising areas others have yet to recognize. For those reasons, his company has been among the first to provide key new products in a number of market niches.

      One example is ViaSat’s development of new open-standard satellite ground systems that are based on Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification (DOCSIS) and DVB-RCS, enabling the satellite industry to compete much more effectively in enterprise and consumer broadband markets.

      “ViaSat became a clear cut choice this year because of the tremendous growth in financial strength and industry stature it achieved during 2003,” explained Nick Mitsis, Via Satellite’s editor. “These successes, combined with Mr. Dankberg’s ability to create successful business ventures in an industry still battling some high-profile failures of years past, make him an excellent recipient of the ‘Satellite Executive of the Year’ award, which recognizes sound business accomplishments for the past calendar year.”

      “It’s very gratifying to be placed in the company of past winners such as Romain Bausch of SES Global, Giuliano Berretta of Eutelsat and Hugh Panero of XM Satellite Radio [XMSR],” says Dankberg, who graciously thanked his ViaSat employees for their “dedication, ingenuity and commitment to excellence.” Those characteristics are at the heart of ViaSat’s success, he added.

      “This is really a testament to the level of technology and business innovation ViaSat people are bringing to the satellite communications industry,” Dankberg said.

      The satellite industry would be much the weaker without the visionary engineers who combine technical expertise with business savvy to tap the opportunities of tomorrow.

      –Paul Dykewicz