Game Changer: Brent Perrott, Hunter Communications Inc.

Meet our latest Game Changer – Brent Perrott. Brent is the founder and president of Hunter Communications Inc., a satellite bandwidth and teleport provider which has been around for 15 years. In his company, Brent said, “a title doesn’t necessarily define the job, like everyone working for Hunter, we all do whatever is needed to satisfy our clients.”

Learn more about Brent and his game-changing role within the industry in the following Q&A.

How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?

I started in the commercial satellite industry with a firm called PanAmSat. PanAmSat was a fascinating place to begin – founded by a media executive, Rene Anselmo, who risked most of his fortune to launch the world’s first private international satellite. It was a daring and bold move, and the firm faced extreme resistance from monopolies worldwide. What really defined that company was an entrepreneurial spirit and a stubbornness to overcome challenges. So it was a terrific place to learn as a young executive.

What was your worst moment?

I can’t recall any specific moment. Hunter has been in business for more than 15 years, so there certainly have been periods of frustration and doubt during that time. But I also value those difficult periods – they can be a silver lining because it forces you to re-evaluate your decisions from time to time. And that’s a strength that has kept us strong and profitable over the years. These past years have shown us quite a number of large firms that failed to question and adapt their firm’s direction, and are no longer here as a result.

What was your aha moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?

Four years ago, when we were exploring the design of the E115WB with Eutelsat, we realised there was a unique opportunity. It was a confluence of factors – a satellite with un-used resources, an orbital position that is arguably the best for all-Canada coverage, and a “small” technical detail of having neighbouring satellites twice the distance away compared to normal. That detail was critical for being able to deliver service to small antennas at a fraction of the cost over Canada. With in-flight connectivity (i.e. Wi-Fi internet services on planes) being the industry’s biggest growth market, and all clients in general, preferring smaller satellite antennas, the timing was perfect for us to invest in this beam and to invest in Canadian satellite services.

Step back and analyse your journey, what is the takeaway you want to give to our audience?

The satellite industry has really not been around for all that long, but the impact on our armed forces and the Canadian public in general, has been remarkable. Just 40 years ago, no television signals were available over much of Canada, minimal weather data existed and long-distance communications in general, were quite limited. Fast-forward to today, satellites play such a key role in so many areas of communications, earth observation, reducing or controlling armed conflict around the globe. We, of course, have serious issues to address in Canada and the world today. Given that, it’s easy to forget sometimes that our world is so much healthier, safer, and wealthier than it was just 100 years ago. If you really delve into it, satellites have played an important (and often unseen) role in making that happen, so I’m proud of my industry and I’m excited about all the upcoming advances.

What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?

The satellite industry is experiencing unprecedented growth with new entrants and new types of satellite constellations. As an industry guy, I can’t help but be excited by this – but I also strongly believe that some of these projects will fail financially, and that will create a lot of turbulence. But on the whole, it’s a terrific thing – all this innovation will remain in the industry regardless of whether their creators make a go of their business model.

What is the best advice you received?

I credit a former boss with helping to mould me from a sales person to a business person, and he had two mottos:
1. Your instincts will be right most of the time – and most of the time is all you need.
2. Every 1 dollar saved equates to 4 dollars that you don’t have to earn in revenue.
Simple, perhaps, but if you apply that to every decision, your chances of success are much greater.

What is a habit that contributes to your success?

Dogged persistence, and I also try to pick up every call on the first ring.

What people or organisations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset?

Definitely, Elon Musk and his varied businesses come to mind – SpaceX, Tesla, SolarCity. It’s significant that he started all three of these firms in just the last 16 years; it’s significant that all three took on some of the largest and most entrenched businesses in the world, and it’s very significant that they are not only still here but growing significantly and arguably doing it much better than those formerly entrenched competitors. By no means has he done this by himself – but it takes a vision and a leader of women and men to execute that vision, and what he’s been able to accomplish in such a brief time is hard to overstate. 16 years ago, his initial vision for SpaceX was to colonise Mars. He never spoke of it publicly then, in part because the idea would have been ridiculed. But SpaceX does now speak publicly about that goal, and I have not heard much in the way of ridicule anymore – quite the opposite.

How is your organisation changing the game within your industry sector?

Hunter has a unique approach. Most firms essentially look to sell the most and at the highest rate possible. But Hunter’s approach is really in direct opposition to that. Our goal has always been about giving our customers an edge. If we can sell to our clients a better service, using less satellite capacity at a cheaper rate, then they have a competitive advantage – the more they win, the more we do. If our first approach is to ensure that our clients are making money, then Hunter’s success will follow.

What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your organisation or industry sector?

Our industry has definitely advanced a great deal in 40 years, but much of the early advancements were accomplished with government and military funds. With more commercial companies leading the way these past 20 years designing and launching a satellite at $300m to $400m with a payback of 10 or more years – well those economics made our industry cautious and reduced the speed of innovation. But in just the last few years, we have seen a rash of new satellite operators and new tech advancements, and that is set to drastically increase supply and lower costs in just the next five years – by 10x or more. So right now, the industry is not at all being slow to innovate.

What are the biggest impediments to innovation in today’s enterprise?

Satellites are inherently a long-term business cycle. They take a long time to design/finance/build, and a long time to achieve payback. That is evolving and getting faster and better. But we are still launching spacecraft that have no ability to be upgraded or changed once in orbit. When we change that dynamic, it will be a revolutionary improvement.

How has innovation become engrained in your organisation’s culture and how is it being optimised?

Hunter makes every effort to be service minded – it’s engrained in our DNA – so if we can give our customers an edge by employing new methods or technology, then we are quick and decisive to implement them.

What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?

The satellite industry is going through a significant expansion in new players using new types of satellites, and investors funding their business plans. We saw the same thing happen with the industry in the late 90’s with a lot of new satellite constellations being proposed and funded. That time, it all came crashing down, like Iridium version 1 and Globalstar as two of many examples, and new investment slowed to a crawl for the next 15 years. I believe we will again see a number of these new industry players fail, but I am hopeful this time that the improvements in market demand and lower costs of supply will see a number of them succeed. A turbulent time coming up, for sure, but an exciting one.

What is your parting piece of advice?

The pace of technology is advancing exponentially. I stress that because it’s difficult for the mind to easily grasp the practical impact of an exponential advance. So if a technology doubles every 2 years, then after 10 years it has advanced 32 times, and after 20 years it has advanced 1024 times.

As a country, our ability to take advantage of new advancements will define how we succeed or not. It will define whether we are leading or following in all areas: communications, climate monitoring, health care, materials and manufacturing. It will have a massive impact on whether our population is well-employed, in numbers and in quality, and ultimately whether our country is a lion or a mouse on the world stage 20 years from now. Our government plays a key role in all of this through both regulation and procurement, and I am concerned that the current structure of procurement is just not set up to handle this exponential growth and the integration of these advances.

Frankly, I don’t think any government has it all figured out, but we have a chance to be out front. To do so, much of the process and procedure that seems to stifle things needs to be eliminated. I’m not advocating free reign, but for speed and less minute scrutiny of the decisions from our civil servants so that they feel empowered to do their job. The public, entrepreneurs, inventors and industry will find solutions to government and public needs – and at an ever-faster pace. But we need a system that can take advantage of the pace.

Author: Marcello Sukhdeo

Marcello is the managing editor of Vanguard, IT in Canada and Canadian Government Executive and the host of Vanguard Radio and WRLWND Radio podcasts. He is an avid technology and security enthusiast, who has worked on content leadership strategies for a number of industries including the public sector, life science, technology and defence.

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