Managing a high-tech connectivity company in the current environment can be like leading an army into battle.
Executives must consider hundreds of variables, such as funding, resources and their opponents ahead of key decisions in a technologically advanced sector — and use these assets all while summoning the efforts of a host of business professionals and support staff.
The costs of failure are immense: attrition, pressure from shareholders, bankruptcies and failures. It can be exhausting.
But the wins can be exhilarating, and the heights of success some players reach are inspiring.
As 2021 winds down, the Connectivity Business team is proud to salute 12 executives to watch in the coming year — execs whose success filters through their organizations and often spills over into other regions of connectivity.
Tom DeMaria, Executive Director of Global Connected Services of General Motors
Tom DeMaria leads the efforts of General Motors (NYSE:GM), which has more than 22 million connected vehicles on the road. GM’s recent partnership with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and AT&T (NYSE:T) is focused on delivering more connectivity functionality.
While GM plans to invest $35 billion in electric vehicles, the automaker has not disclosed planned investment in connectivity to support that initiative.
DeMaria’s vision encompasses the internet of things (IoT), cloud services, hyperscale edge computing, connected intelligent machines, and the leveraging of digital transformation initiatives at numerous key companies, including IBM (NYSE:IBM), Motorola (NYSE:MSI) and Boeing (NYSE:BA).
Oakleigh Thorne, President and CEO of Gogo
Chicago-based inflight connectivity (IFC) company Gogo (NASDAQ:GOGO) is positioned for success in the business jet market, thanks in part to the leadership of President and CEO Oakleigh Thorne. Gogo enhanced its guidance for adjusted EBITDA and revenues multiple times in 2021. In the second quarter, financial services firm William Blair called the company’s performance “borderline spectacular.”
Gogo is also thinking ahead as IFC grows increasingly competitive by mulling a global broadband solution for AVANCE, its air-to-ground internet solution for business aircraft across the U.S. and parts of Canada. The plan would leverage low-Earth-orbit satellite capacity to serve an additional 14,000 jets.
The idea is ambitious as less than 30% of the 24,000 business jets in North America are equipped with Wi-Fi.
Scott Krohn, Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Verizon
In a year of impressive corporate borrowing, Verizon (NYSE:VZ) stands out for issuing $31 billion in debt in five currencies over five days in March, an effort led by Verizon Treasurer Scott Krohn.
“The Verizon team was very well prepared for this financing window to access all of these global markets in a short period of time with investor demand being strong, including the largest order book in history for our $25 billion offering in [U.S. dollars], further validation of the Verizon strategy and disciplined capital allocation policy,” Krohn told Connectivity Business.
Verizon also holds the record for the largest issuance ever: $49 billion in 2013 to finance the $130 billion takeover of Vodafone’s (LSE:VOD) stake in the two companies’ joint venture, Verizon Wireless.
Lisa Rich, Managing Partner of Hemisphere Ventures
Lisa Rich has bountiful insight about the investment opportunities in commercial space, telling Connectivity Business in an October interview that “every company is a space company.” Given the digitalization of the economy, her approach is perceptive.
Hemisphere Ventures has invested in more than 30 commercial space companies, including those in Earth observation, ground, and space situational awareness.
Rich is also the founder of Washington State-based Xplore, which it says is the first commercial space company to offer space-as-a-service. It provides services — exclusive data, tasking instruments and hosting payloads — via Xcraft, its spacecraft platform designed to gather data, provide power, compute capability, communications and work autonomously.
John Stankey, CEO of AT&T
As conglomerates break into constituent pieces, AT&T (NYSE:T) was a trendsetter in 2021, monetizing over $50 billion in assets and focusing on three core competencies: fiber, wireless and HBO, all while John Stankey was at the helm. If inflation hits home in 2022, AT&T’s focus on efficiencies will seem prescient.
Stankey, who joined AT&T in 1985, has held multiple roles at the company, including CEO of subsidiary WarnerMedia, CEO of AT&T Operations and CEO of AT&T Business Solutions.
Robert Bell, Executive Director of the World Teleport Association
World Teleport Association executive Robert Bell has his finger on the pulse of change, noting in a recent interview that 5G is easing virtualization and the seamless integration of networks.
Bell has pointed to low-Earth-orbit satellite systems as a driver in the growth of commercial teleport operations. And he is underlining opportunities in the environmental IoT sector, one of the fastest growing in connectivity.
The World Teleport Association is also at the forefront of educating its members. The group consistently produces in-depth studies on the top issues facing the industry, including the digital transformation of the economy, and the opportunities in cloud coming out of the Covid economy.
Matt Desch, CEO of Iridium Communications
Matt Desch, CEO of satellite operator Iridium Communications (NASDAQ:IRDM), showed a dexterous touch in the third quarter as the company lifted its guidance amid product rollouts and service introductions.
Along the way, Iridium announced the debut of its Iridium Certus 100 mid-band service for uses that include maritime, land mobile, and IoT; formed a partnership with 20 organizations in Arctic connectivity; and made a strategic investment in a Scottish company that provides enhanced global navigation satellite system accuracy solution.
Iridium has positioned itself for swift growth as demand for IoT — the company’s forte — is riding high with double-digit increases.
Bill Baker, CEO of Nextlink
A wave of rural broadband mergers and acquisitions (M&A) has commenced, and Texas-based Nextlink is leading the way, with CEO Bill Baker at the helm.
Baker advised corporate and private equity clients on M&A for KPMG’s deal advisory practice before starting Nextlink. Baker’s dealmaking experience differentiates him from most owner-operators of rural connectivity providers. Many have a background in technology, but few have his experience working with private equity.
Netlink, like many rural connectivity providers, serves suburbs, exurbs and even urban areas, with plans to grow its fiber base from 3,000 subscribers to 50,000 subscribers in the next 18 months.
Kjell Karlsen, CFO of Astrocast
Switzerland-based Astrocast (Euronext:ASTRO) displayed market smarts through its September listing, thanks to CFO Kjell Karlsen.
The startup and launch costs of small satellites are substantially lower than those for traditional constellations, pointing to the appeal of the public markets over a transaction with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Though SPAC deals have generated tremendous financing for commercial space, they are starting to show fatigue.
Karlsen helps set the strategy for the IoT nanosatellite operator, along with CEO Fabien Jordan and the CTO Federico Belloni.
Astrocast is staying atop other key trends, including L-band connectivity, the global semiconductor shortage and the importance of cost focus as roaring demand for IoT connectivity threatens to translate into runaway costs for services.
Shrihari Pandit, CEO of Stealth Communications
Stealth Communications, a New York-based business fiber provider owned and operated by co-founders Shrihari Pandit and his wife, Jinci Liu, since 1995, is known among network operators for running its own fiber, designing its own hardware and funding its own growth.
New York City awarded it a $5 million grant in 2015, but the company has taken no other investments in its 26 years, according to Crunchbase.
Pandit’s fiber equipment design experience provides valuable insight into ongoing supply chain issues.
Prior to founding Stealth, Pandit was a network security consultant to government and enterprise clients, including MCI, Sprint, Sun Microsystems and NASA.
Clifford Beek, CEO of Cloud Constellation Services
Clifford Beek’s Los Angeles-based satellite data company Cloud Constellation Services has timely plans to reduce the vulnerability of data by putting it in orbit.
Cloud Constellation is expanding its target markets, as the company was originally organized to offer security to the financial services market. Now it is aiming to serve data center clients in government and enterprise, as well as financial services.
Cybersecurity Ventures, a California-based provider of cybersecurity research and market intelligence, predicts that cybercrimes will increase by 75% to $10.5 trillion in 2025, up from $6 trillion in 2021.
Beek also co-founded Star Asia Technologies, which has offices in Singapore and the Philippines. The company competes across aerospace, data management and mobile broadband industry segments. In addition, Beek led the Asian Development Bank’s formation of the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation Information Highway, a fiber-optic communications network.
John Gilbert, COO, EVP of Rudin Management Company
Few real estate companies have a software and connectivity subsidiary, but John Gilbert, EVP of Rudin Management Company (RMC), is executive chairman of RMC’s software company, Prescriptive Data, and is co-inventor of Prescriptive Data’s building operating system, Nantum.
RMC manages more than 15 million square feet of commercial and residential space in New York City.
As the market for commercial real estate becomes more competitive, connectivity innovators such as RMC will have an advantage.
Years ago, connectivity providers amazed subscribers by displaying the caller ID of an incoming call on a home TV, even though the company offered far more complex products. RMC’s customers today might use Prescriptive Data’s Nantum OS on their cell phones to find which elevator is arriving next as they enter a large office building with several elevator banks, just one capability of many on the operating system that connects existing building technologies into a single dashboard.
Alex Goldman contributed to this article.