To Infinity and Beyond, MBA Graduates in Aerospace

MBA graduates taking roles in aspiring space programs and the growing demand for MBA talents in the aerospace industry

We’ve all dreamed about becoming an astronaut at one point in our childhood. Although it mostly ended up as a mere childhood memory, this is becoming a reality or rather an optimistic career opportunity for adequate MBA graduates. Barret Schlegelmilch, a graduate of MIT Sloan in 2018 majoring in both Master in Aeronautics and Astronautics, is one of the epitome examples of the MBA talent taking further steps towards space.

With his previous experience ranging from working at NASA to being an officer on a nuclear submarine, his career path directed him to join Blue Origin, where his primary role is to integrate both engineering and business into program management in nuclear thermal propulsion.

Multiple billionaires are influencing the space industry and setting up different milestones for launching ambitious space expeditions. Blue Origin is a commercial space expedition company created by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, with the intention of making space flights a commercially viable option. Another billionaire, Richard Branson, who is the founder of the Virgin Group, experienced a similar experience by completing a space flight around the outskirt of space through Virgin Galactic.

Business figures grabbing the attention of the students to the space industry is creating the ‘barnstorming effect’. Schlegelmilch compared the effect of the current growth of the commercial aviation industry around the world through the roles of mesmerizing pilots from World War I to the public figures nowadays. “We’ve seen the effect of how people’s interest in aviation uprising which leads to an explosion in the market growth. Influences from programs like Blue Origin’s New Shepard and Virgin Galactic are enthralling the minds of MBA students and giving them new career ambitions”.

The surge of interest in the space industry by MBA students can be seen through the rise of the student’s interest in space programs in business schools. Founded in 2017, Astropreneurship and Space Industry Club at Sloan reached over 300 members, and Harvard Business School is including more case studies about space in its syllabus. Matt Weinzierl, a space sector professor at Harvard, emphasized the importance of the role of critical thinking business in the private space sector. “We will see further follow-ups of intellects and academic developments for space as the industry grows, allowing professors to provide a higher standard of teaching,” says Weinzierl.

However, there are still limitations to the research and teaching conducted on the business and economics of space. The majority of the focus is currently put on innovation or public policy. Business schools are aware of the difference in opinion on this subject considering the great importance of space in many of the vital technologies upon which the world economy depends on.

Entering space industry without a degree in rocket science?

Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business

An MBA club in Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business called STARs was launched by Mike Provenzano and Anna Lawrence in 2017 to bridge students into career opportunities in the space industry.

The club held a Space Innovation challenge to highlight the ideas of students and apply them to real-world space problems through innovative methods. Positive feedback of the event and the reputation build up a network with major corporates such as Boeing, Planetary Resources, LightSpeed Innovations, and Bessemer Venture Partners who sponsor them with funds.

Opportunities to visit places with major ongoing expeditions such as Seattle for Blue Origin and Los Angeles for Boeing’s satellite system facility were arranged to provide insight and experience of the space industry. Sridhar Tayur, a professor in Tepper School, acknowledged the growing interest of MBA students with aerospace expertise to enter the industry. Furthermore, he says “It is no doubt to underline the importance of engineering in aerospace but having a competent product and business management is the key to success. We can see this by companies like Tesla luring MBA graduates into the industry.”

The viable trend of growing interest in the space industry is for the leading companies to open up their doors for more opportunities.
“Space companies need more than engineers. They need skills and talents in areas like business sectors for finance and strategy to the entirety of logistics chain for operation,” says Schlegelmilch. This can be seen with Blue Origin establishing programs to attract MBA graduates to take roles in sales, strategy, and operations.

Additionally, he recognized the potential concern that problems can arise from the lack of engineering expertise and that it is unnecessary to
have this fear. “An engineering background was essential in the past but it is not considered a ‘must have’ trait in the current space industry. Roles with no engineering background are needed more than ever with companies transiting into the operational phase,” explains Schlegelmilch.

“In the end, passion is what we desire most in the industry. Missions we conduct in space are time-consuming with financial
burdens. It requires endurance with a high motive for rewards. Having faith in a tomorrow for mankind among the cosmos, recognizing the positives that the future can provide for those of us here on Earth, and can support you go through tough times,” added Schlegelmilch.

Weinzierl agrees and further elaborated on the prosperity that MBA students can bring into the space industry. “Space is still
underdeveloped in many ways. A challenging but rewarding venture if you’re a talented and ambitious MBA graduate. The space industry has the potential to eradicate the major problems in our society like global hunger and climate change. It’s a field that you can contribute to a larger change in our world more than ever.”

Employment opportunities in space industry

Not all jobs in the aerospace industry require you to have to background in science or engineering

Working in the space industry simply doesn’t limit an individual to launching a space shuttle. Schlegelmilch noted that MBA graduates
can practically work in any department just like how you would expect in other industries. It can range from business operations, logistics chain, marketing, R&D, and other areas. Kristen Fitzpatrick, a managing director of MBA at Harvard Business School, suggested that employment opportunity is blooming in larger companies like Northrup Grumman and Lockheed Martin with more autonomy guaranteed.

According to Fitzpatrick, many MBA graduates are looking to secure a position at various space companies like Blue Origin and a well-known
a company like Elon Musk, SpaceX to smaller but expanding companies like First Mode and Anduril to apply their skills and knowledge. Further branches from the industry into drones and autonomous flight are becoming a new area of interest for MBA graduates as well with graduates favoring areas like management positions in product, mission operations, and business development.

Read More: The MBA Labor Market is on the Rise

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