My definition of resilience is the ability to overcome changes. Particularly with early-stage companies, that quality defines the resilience of the team and certainly the chief executive. I would add, however, that resilience traits are not uniform among individuals, as humans and the conditions their enterprises operate in can differ vastly. That said, I would suggest some general actions to foster resilience. When responding to change, one will be informed when they listen, clarify, think independently and then act. One should also have strong fundamentals in the vision that supports being resilient, as the vision follows first principles in economics and science and is not driven by beliefs.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases, it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market. I had the pleasure of interviewing Barry A. Matsumori
Barry Matsumori is CEO of BridgeComm, Inc. His extensive background in the mobile wireless and Space 2.0 sectors spans numerous leadership roles, among them, serving as senior vice president of business development and advanced concepts at Virgin Orbit, senior vice president of sales and business development at SpaceX and nearly two decades at Qualcomm, where he was vice president of wireless connectivity. He has also worked with several early-stage technology companies in development and management capacities. Barry holds a bachelor’s degree in business from Arizona State University and earned his master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Arizona.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
I have had the good fortune of being part of a few significant companies from their earlier periods. Joining Qualcomm in the early 90s, when it was a small company in San Diego and the cellular telecom unit was in early development, enabled contributing to the future of telecom. Just as important as gaining insight into the possibilities of mobile telephony from the 2G that existed back then to the 5G capabilities that are being realized now.
Now fast forward to 2011, when I was recruited for a burgeoning company called SpaceX. SpaceX had some early successes, but the real growth took place over the next few years, and I’d like to think I contributed to that phase. In an environment focused around a single vision of getting to Mars and doing what it takes to make that happen, being part of the leadership team meant experiencing daily challenges that led to SpaceX becoming a global presence in space launch.
Being part of early-stage companies has lots of benefits, but the most significant one for the CEO is to set the vision and direction of the company. For example, being at SpaceX has the clear direction set by Elon Musk of colonizing Mars, but in BridgeComm’s case, we are making terabit-level wireless communication systems possible.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I recall being in many meetings with partners and competitors discussing the capabilities of the Falcon 9 rocket and specifically realizing reusability of the first stage. The timeframe was 2012, so it was before we had landed the stage. A specific instance was being in Europe and talking to a team of space agency leaders about what SpaceX was accomplishing. The level of skepticism of our ability to recover the first stage was very high. Then, we landed a stage and now the notion of recoverability went from an impossible task to one that several companies now strive to do because the possible was demonstrated.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
BridgeComm and optical wireless communications are part of a base of technologies that drive long-term innovation. The combination of memory storage, processing speed and communication speed require continued improvement to support all new innovations, whether they are in digital imaging or new experiences such as virtual reality. Beyond higher speeds, BridgeComm has developed techniques to make optical applications even broader. It’s pretty clear though, that the backbone of modern society has a lot to do with communications through light.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have two quite different references. One is Irwin Jacobs, as he not only was innovative and visionary but also supportive of my specific projects. Most importantly, he cared about his employees as people in meaningful ways. The other reference is Kara Chaprynka, who at the time was under 30 years old and was wise beyond her years in understanding social issues and bias that are broadly applicable. She represented the intelligent youth that all of us with experience need to consider collaborating with to gain new perspectives.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
My definition of resilience is the ability to overcome changes. Particularly with early-stage companies, that quality defines the resilience of the team and certainly the chief executive.
I would add, however, that resilience traits are not uniform among individuals, as humans and the conditions their enterprises operate in can differ vastly. That said, I would suggest some general actions to foster resilience. When responding to change, one will be informed when they listen, clarify, think independently and then act. One should also have strong fundamentals in the vision that supports being resilient, as the vision follows first principles in economics and science and is not driven by beliefs.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Elon Musk is an obvious choice, as a number of instances can be cited. Pivoting from Falcon 1 to Falcon 5, and then to Falcon 9 rocket designs in short order, represents responsiveness to the changes predicted in market needs. The convention was — and is — that once a rocket works, minimize the changes. Elon recognized that the modern innovation world embraces change as part of what keeps an enterprise competitive.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
During the 1990s, for cellular systems, Qualcomm was supporting the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standards, and the majority of the rest of the world was supporting the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard. Three of us invented a way to combine CDMA and GSM in a cellular network, and I led the program to implement the design. It was going to be impossible to get an operator in Europe to even consider the design, let alone support a public demonstration of it. There was lots of negativity around moving this forward, with pressure from incumbents in Europe. But I was able to get an operator, Vodafone, implement the design, do a network demonstration and then prove the system worked. Everyone directly involved was pleased with the results.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Post university and four years of working in advanced positions for the Southern Pacific Railroad, I decided to stop my career and go back to engineering school (with a business undergraduate degree). So, transitioning from being a district operations manager and division-level staff member to getting a graduate degree in electrical engineering and starting my career over was challenging in the short run.
In the long run, the pivot made all the difference in the world, as technology is the real passion of what I do.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Growing up on a farm in Phoenix, Arizona will contribute greatly to resiliency. There’s always more work than can be done, yet it has to get done. Patience and temperament were required as there was a lot of tedium in tasks, but multiple disciplines ranging from repairing tractors to harvesting crops. On top of all this is the wonderful heat of Arizona. This background provided context for any other occupation I would have throughout my career.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
There are certainly more than 5 steps an individual can take, but I will highlight some of the key ones to consider. Further, these are not mechanical steps, rather ones that involve embracing in one’s character:
- Keep perspective. In my past, it was easy to get caught up in the moment, such as when a rocket failure occurred. But perspective allowed management of the situation.
- Confidence, with the ultimate confidence in yourself and tempered always with humility. This step has applied in every position I have held. As your peers and team need trust, you will persevere as long as you are not blind to the circumstances due to obvious arrogance.
- Find your meditation. Mine happens to be running, and I can solve most any problem during a long run.
- Move through whatever adversity by trusting the future will be positive. In a couple of early-stage companies, I have seen the fundamentals of the enterprise I was managing erode, and there was not a clear future for the next steps. As it were, the experiences all helped me grow.
- Grow by new challenges and learnings — it is part of training for change. Learning new technologies that will disrupt current businesses, such as virtual reality, is where I spend spare time.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement I have in mind is simple, yet so challenging:
🡪 Ending bias 🡨
It is as simple as that, yet undue bias clouds our decision processes to treat others fairly, to manage effectively and to make clear decisions.
So, the next best step is:
🡪 Be aware of your biases 🡨
At least know when one is practicing undue bias. That’s a start.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Lots of choices here. I have been fortunate to have spent time and work with some amazing people, but if I had to choose one it would be Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of The Boeing Company. I work with many folks at Boeing, and currently, he represents a person that not only is facing adversity but also has a creative vision for the company and has personally sponsored a number of innovative initiatives.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow me through Twitter: azbammer.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!