In its seven-year history, just eight people have passed through Viasat’s Operational Leadership Program (OLP). The program aims to mold employees identified with high potential into company leaders. Participation is not only limited, it requires a nomination, followed by two years of rotating across a variety of company positions.
The goal is to develop leaders with a broad understanding of the company.
“It’s made all the difference for my career,” said Melissa Namjoo, a Viasat product quality manager. “I have been able to grow as a manager of people, rather than just as a project manager.
“Because I went through this program, I had exposure to so many groups and functions. I can work with anyone at Viasat and have a better idea of where they’re coming from, and what they need so we can help one another.”
The program is overseen by an executive steering committee that includes Senior Vice President of Broadband Systems Kevin Harkenrider, Vice President of Operations Kevin Hunter and Vice President of Corporate Quality Simon Kuo.
It takes participants through three core assignments – operations program management, global logistics and after-market services, supply chain – and an elective. Each rotation lasts six months.
Candidates are typically employees who’ve been with Viasat for a few years. While their areas of expertise may be different, all have been identified by other Viasat leaders as demonstrating high performance and/or high potential.
“The idea is that we can put them in any role and they can make an impact quickly,” said senior director of business operations Blake Bolton, among those who launched the program. “They’re expected to drive pretty key business objectives.”
In the past, that’s included managing suppliers’ production ramp to meet demanding installation schedules by our airline partners. Another candidate coordinated with Northrop Grumman on a proposal to help deliver an integrated wideband SATCOM network management system for the Australian Defence Force.
“The goal is to develop leaders at Viasat, not just for the operations department, but for the company as a whole,” Bolton said. “When folks go into the program, the expectation is they will likely not go back to their former role.”
Participants aren’t required to stay at Viasat after completing the program.
“But what we’ve found is through the program, they build a strong network at Viasat, and they make a big impact,” Bolton said. “With one exception, everyone has stayed at Viasat and grown.”
Product manager Jason Guiles, who started with Viasat in 2010 as a supply chain manager, said the OLP is among many amazing experiences he’s had at Viasat.
“If I have anything to say about it, I’m a Viasat lifer,” said Guiles, who now oversees new product development of mobile terminals supporting the commercial aviation and GMB business areas. “It’s been a great 10 years for me.”
Guiles started his Viasat career on the government side, and then worked in commercial segments.
Among his OLP rotations, he worked in commercial mobility as a program manager. He also did a rotation in global logistics on the ADF 5B2 project, helping win a key proposal for Viasat.
“One of the things OLP did was you get comfortable working in cross-functional efforts,” he said, “but it always comes back to the team. Your goal is always to enable your team and have them get the success.”
Guiles said he gained much more from the program than knowledge about processes within various departments.
“The OLP is really good about introducing you to new roles and compelling you to learn them quickly,” he said. “It’s not hard, it’s just new. You have to be open to learning.
“By moving through a variety of roles, it changes your mindset on how quickly you can learn about different organizations, functions, technologies and tools.
“I think it lines up well with our culture of innovation, by allowing people to explore new roles. I’d recommend it to anyone that is interested in a leadership role.”
Learning and growing
Laura Harrell, a Viasat product quality engineer, learned about the program during her initial 2016 Viasat interview and was immediately interested.
“I always want to keep learning and growing,” she said. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to gain an enterprise-wide knowledge base that would be beneficial in almost any role.”
The program did that and much more for Harrell, who started it in 2017.
“The world is at your fingertips at Viasat, and as an OLP candidate, the opportunities are endless.” she said. “I ended up on some really challenging projects and I thoroughly enjoyed each one.”
“You’ve had so much exposure and worked in so many different areas, you become a highly desirable employee because you are able to see the big picture,” she said.
Harrell took a position in strategic sourcing, which is part of operations. The position requires understanding the strategic needs of the business to grow and develop sourcing strategies that expand Viasat’s overall value. “I found that after the knowledge I gained from the program I had the ability to foster the communication needed between supply chain, the technical environment and our executives,” she said. “I think presently that’s where I am able to bring the most value to Viasat.”
Quality manager Melissa Namjoo started at Viasat as a quality engineer in 2008. In 2013, she enrolled in the OLP. The experience taught her everything about Viasat, she said – from how it orders employee desks and chairs, how costs and schedules are driven, and how it processes and repairs products aftermarket.
“I chose to go into a manager type role where I could influence and train others in what I’d learned about the broader business so we can work more cohesively with these other groups,” Namjoo said. “I started as a quality engineer, and I went back into quality as a manager with all this additional knowledge.”
Namjoo became more familiar with Viasat’s executives.
“I used it as an opportunity to get to know other leaders at Viasat,” she said. “I set up a lunch meeting with (CEO) Mark Dankberg, and we talked about how he sees operations growing within Viasat, how he sees Viasat growing as a company, and the leadership attributes he thinks are important. It was such a great opportunity to get to more about Viasat, and it left me with such a good impression that the company is in good hands.”
Namjoo now serves on the OLP steering committee. The experience has inspired her to encourage others along their career path.
“I see so many challenges and exciting opportunities ahead, and I’ve had a lot of great opportunities to work on some really cool projects,” she said. “All of it has helped me evolve as a leader. Now I’m working on paying it forward to help other people grow in their career also.”