Spotlight

BRET JOHNSEN AND THE BUSINESS OF ROCKET SCIENCE

Bret Johnsen

SpaceX has gained worldwide attention for a series of historic milestones. It is the only private company ever to manufacture, launch, and return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which was first accomplished in December 2010. SpaceX made history again in May 2012 when its Dragon spacecraft attached to the International Space Station, exchanged cargo payloads, and returned safely to Earth – a technically challenging feat previously accomplished only by government entities. In October 2012, Dragon again successfully delivered cargo to and from the space station in its first of twelve cargo resupply missions for NASA.

The California-based company also has the lofty goal of being the first private sector organization to put humans into outer space. The Dragon spacecraft is currently being outfitted with the necessary refinements to carry seven astronauts.

With all the excitement surrounding the organization, someone has to attend to the day-to-day financial operations that drive the company forward and enable it to succeed with its history-making objectives.

That someone is company Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and San Diego State University grad Bret Johnsen (MSBA, 98), who oversees all corporate finance, purchasing, and facilities functions.

Johnsen, a native of the San Fernando Valley, didn't start his career in the aerospace industry, but as a public accountant for Coopers & Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) in Los Angeles. He transferred to the San Diego office and soon afterward decided to attend San Diego State to get his masters degree.

"I heard [SDSU] was the best M.B.A. program in San Diego."

By the time Johnsen earned his Master of Science in Business Administration degree from SDSU in 1998, he had left the world of big accounting firms and had moved into the electronics industry with a position at Qualcomm. He moved up the corporate ladder with positions at Broadcom Corporation and Mindspeed Technologies Inc., where he was the corporation's CFO.

In early 2011, Johnsen received a call from a SpaceX board member letting him know that the company was looking for a CFO. A tour of the rocket factory and meetings with the company's CEO and the president convinced Johnsen that this was where he needed to be. "That was all it took for me to realize that this was an incredible opportunity to work with one of the top entrepreneurs of our lifetime who was set to revolutionize the space industry," said Johnsen.

Johnsen also applauds the fact that SpaceX is employee-owned. "I have always believed in the benefits of strong employee ownership," he said. "It is so refreshing to see the direct alignment of the goals of the employee and the shareholder."

SpaceX Dragon spacecraft orbiting Earth

View from the International Space Station of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft as the
station's robotic arm moves Dragon into place for attachment to the station.
May 25, 2012. Photo: NASA

 

 

As for advice to today's SDSU business student, Johnsen believes that it is critical

"to emphasize how important communications skills are to a student's future success."