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Following the Stars of Satellite’s Past

These six former Satellite Executives of the Year are long gone from the industry where they made big impressions. Here’s what they’re up to now.

There are more talented, hardworking, innovative individuals in the satellite industry than there are constellations — and every year, Via Satellite honors those who made the biggest mark with our “Executive of the Year” award. Those who receive Via Satellite’s highest honor are true innovators and disruptors, and have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to the industry.

For this issue, Via Satellite sought out six former award winners who have since left the satellite industry to learn more about their new venture and adventures, and listen to them reflect on what the award meant — and still means — to their legacy.

Steve Dorfman, former CEO, Hughes Communications; Vice Chairman, Hughes Electronics (1995)

Steve Dorfman, former CEO, Hughes Communications; Vice Chairman, Hughes Electronics (1995)

In the mid-nineties, when residential satellite dishes were largely limited to the affluent, Steve Dorfman led the team at Hughes, which would ultimately become one of the world’s leading builders of communication satellites and a provider of space systems for NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force. But the company is best known as the creator of the enormously popular DirecTV.

These days, as Dorfman recalls the article that was written to chronicle this honor, he seems pleased in his ability to predict the future of satellite.

“I predicted that there would be 100 million Direct-to-Home (DTH) satellite dishes worldwide in the near future, and now it is much greater than that,” says Dorfman. “In 1995, Hughes only had a handful of subscribers — now it has 20 million. I also talked about the possibility of using the Ka-band, and that’s happened. And the number of service providers has grown enormously!”

Dorfman stayed with the satellite industry until his official “retirement” in 1999. After that, he took up a teaching gig at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), served as the Chairman of ProtoStar and joined the president’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.

Eighteen years later, his life shows no signs of slowing down. When he isn’t spending time with his various charities, contributing to research at the City of Hope for Cancer Cures, among other things, Dorfman enjoys investing in new technology start-ups like Active Life Scientific, which makes a device for measuring bone strength (he is a member of the board of directors there).

Perhaps the most surprising of his interests is his role in the horse racing business. He currently co-owns several horses — including his two favorites, Giant Expectations and Pinot — which he takes to high-stakes races like the Breeders’ Cup (“the Pinnacle of Races”).

“In the satellite industry, I learned the importance of balancing risk and reward. And I think I did a good job,” says Dorfman. “For a person who enjoys great risks and rewards, maybe horse racing is the place to be.”

Hugh Panero, former CEO, XM Satellite Radio (2002)

Hugh PaneroClarke University

It wasn’t too long ago that satellite radio’s core market consisted of a small but devoted legion of music and entertainment fans willing to pay for premium, commercial-free content. Today, it seems like every soccer mom, sports lover and political junkie in America relies on satellite radio to get through their drives and days.

For helping to push XM Radio and commercial satellite radio into the mainstream, Hugh Panero was honored as Executive of the Year for 2002. It was a long time coming: Panero helped launch the company in 1998, shortly after it received its Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license, and spearheaded the launch of XM’s satellite radio service, which eventually grew its subscriber count to 8 million.

“It was appropriate — or very, very ironic — that I got the ‘Satellite Executive of Year’ award,” Panero says. “The award was really a validation of all the hard work of our XM employees who got us to a point where we could be considered for such an award, especially my team of real-life rocket scientists and a satellite industry veteran named John Dealy, who recently passed away. Without John, there would not have been an award or an XM.”

After departing XM with the SiriusXM merger in 2007, Panero has stayed busy. He now spends his days investing and consulting with young entrepreneurial start-up companies like GeniusRocket, and sits on the boards of several nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

“I have always been in the media tech business whether it was in cable TV, satellite radio or in my projects today,” says Panero. “I never defined myself as being in one industry. I was really in the business of packaging entertainment content in subscriptions and other forms. In the early days of my career I did it using cable and fiber lines with video content, and at XM, I did it using a satellite system and audio content. Today. I work with various companies using the internet and Over-the-Top (OTT).”

John M. Kealey, former CEO, iDirect Technologies (2004)

John M. Kealey, former CEO, iDirect Technologies.

When John M. Kealey won the Executive of the Year award, iDirect Technologies (now VT iDirect) had made its mark as one of the most competent and innovative providers of satellite-based network access solutions, targeted at the enterprise, government, carrier and educational sectors. Its first product, the iNetModemVSAT platform, which was introduced in late 2001, quickly became one of the most dominant platforms in the market. Yet to this day, Kealey refuses to refer to himself anything more than a team player.

“It was the company who won the award, and although Via Satellite didn’t want me to do it, I asked that we put the entire company on the magazine cover, not just me,” Kealey recalls.

A few years after winning the award, Kealey found himself craving new challenges, and so he left iDirect for a new career in Big Data. In 2012, he was tapped to lead Decision Lens as the company’s CEO.

“Decision Lens was bringing powerful analytics to solving problems that could leverage what was happening with big data technology,” says Kealey. “What they were doing was essentially capital allocation — portfolio analysis, tradeoff analysis — and I thought that’s really fascinating because capital allocation is a really big challenge.”

In his limited spare time, Kealey enjoys boating, kayaking, hiking and relaxing at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. While Kealey doesn’t keep close tabs on the satellite industry, he has an eye on one particular organization.

“There have been many attempts to bring satellite communications to the everyone in an affordable way, but I believe OneWeb is really the first company to address the entire challenge,” says Kealey. “I believe they are revolutionizing the satellite industry’s role in communications. Keep an eye on them.”

C. Patrick DeWitt, Space Systems Loral (2006)

Men and women are often defined by the glory days of their careers, but it is the challenges that they surmount that are the biggest testaments to their character.

C. Patrick DeWitt, who had held management positions with Space Systems Loral (SSL) and its predecessor companies for 34 years, won’t ever forget parent company Loral Space & Communications’ descent into bankruptcy in the wake of investments it made into Globalstar. While uncertainties loomed among investors and employees, DeWitt dug his heels in, determined to push SSL back to its status as one of the premier commercial satellite manufacturers.

His grit and ambition helped secure his Executive of the Year status in 2006.

“Winning the award was of the most significant events of my career and I remember it like it was yesterday,” recalls DeWitt, who retired in 2009 and relocated to the Sierra foothills outside of Sacramento. “Because of the great people at SS/L, and customers who stood by us, we survived and prospered.”

Today he lives on a 40-acre ranch with his wife, a property filled with sheep, cattle, pigs and other animals, the use of which he donates to local kids from the 4-H program (one of the nation’s largest youth development organizations).

While it’s a dramatic shift from a life filled with constant travel, it’s one he appreciates. In retirement, he’s enjoyed spending more time on his hobby of home winemaking, which he took up in the early 1980s.

“I flew over 2 million miles while at SSL and went all over the world and I don’t have as much desire to travel anymore,” says DeWitt. “I do some traveling, but not as much as my wife would like.”

Peter Shaper, former CEO, CapRock Communications (2009)

Peter Shaper, former CEO, CapRock Communications (2009)

In the satellite industry, Peter Shaper is a bit of a Renaissance man, a guy likes to dip his toes into different market segments, seeking out innovative business models until something piques his interest. His introduction to the satellite communications sector, which began when he was a partner in a private equity firm, continued into 2002, when his firm snapped up CapRock Communications. At the time, CapRock’s business centered on providing communications to remote locations, such as energy companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico, Europe and West Africa.

Both his ability to grasp the potential of what he once called the “fragmented” satellite industry, and his ability to adapt to marketplace realities, earned CapRock recognition for its exceptional communications services for the military, maritime, oil and gas segments. His performance ultimately led to him winning the Executive of the Year award eight years ago.

After then, other industry stakeholders took notice.

“The biggest difference [winning the award made] was in how CapRock was received … how our company was perceived,” Shaper recalls.

After departing from CapRock, he shifted his energies back to his private equity firm, where he is exploring investments and joining boards of organizations like Greenwell Energy Solutions, in his home base of Houston. The result is a life that has him working more, not less. However, his satellite days may be getting an encore as he eyes potential investments.

“I don’t know if I’ll go back to satellite, but I’m definitely interested in it,” says Shaper. “The industry is a little bit addicting. It has such a steep learning curve that not a lot of people want to jump in and jump back out.”

Petra Mateos-Aparicio, former chairwoman, Hispasat (2010)

Petra Mateos-AparicioInstituto Internacional de Ciencias Politicas

When Petra Mateos-Aparicio won the Executive of the Year award in 2010, she set a new bar for the Madrid-based company, which expanded its international footprint under her leadership and saw increasing profitability. While many remarked on the award as representing a major achievement for a woman in a technical field, Via Satellite awarded Mateos-Aparicio the highest honor because of her dedication to the industry and her company’s success.

“We are very happy for this award. It’s a great honor and also for us, it’s a recognition that comes from the sector,” she said at the time, in a 2011 video interview with Via Satellite.

Today, Mateos-Aparicio is just as busy as she was seven years ago — so busy, in fact, that she insisted through an email exchange with Via Satellite in November that she did not have time to answer questions about what she’s been doing since leaving satellite, or offer advice to new entrepreneurs in the industry, before the publication’s deadline. The two-page resume she emailed us, in lieu of an interview, notes that she served as a board member for several groups, and is currently a member of board of directors of Técnicas Reunidas and of Unicaja Bank and Vice President of the Spain-US Chamber of Commerce. We wish her the best of luck in all of her future business and personal endeavors. VS