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New at the top: He followed his calling

If “career” literally means path, then a calling is what inspires you to go forward. My calling is to always be learning and loving what I do. That happens to be in the technology space.

One of my earliest memories set me in this direction. I remember staying up and watching the Apollo 11 launch. I was like many kids — a NASA- and space-obsessed little guy who would build model rockets. It’s a thrill to now be working in the satellite industry.

I never pursued it directly. I came to it through telecommunications as the industry moved from terrestrial to wireless to space.

I began at MCI back in the early 1980s when it was a high-growth telephone company in an industry with lots of change and lots of technology.

I started in sales and did well. I enjoyed the sportslike culture at MCI in sales. I got to represent the company at conferences and train different sales offices on different kinds of industries. That’s when I realized that I wanted to get my MBA.

David Hefgott was recently named the president of Inmarsat. (Courtesy of Inmarsat)

Then opportunity hit. It was the mid-1990s and the whole world exploded with the Internet.

Some friends from graduate school asked me to join them in a startup where the idea was to hybridize the Internet with the public switched telephone network through a series of software applications. It was a cool idea. These guys had some great backers, including AT&T and Microsoft. I jumped in.

I lived on no sleep and global travel.

Then I was recruited to work in the satellite industry for GE. It was just at the end of the dotcom boom.

Everything I had done up until then had been traditional land-based telecom, so the transition from land-based to space-based was an interesting one.

Eventually they asked me to run their government business a few months after September 11th.

It was at that moment that I remember feeling a serious passion for my work.

For all the new satellite missions, we had to find the market requirement and the communications payload that went on each of those. That was a very interesting task because it required close work with the engineering, regulatory, sales and finance teams.

Launching a satellite is a very strange and interesting commercial business. The idea that you’re launching a multi-hundred-million-dollar satellite on a U.S., Russian or French launch vehicle that will go into orbit for the next 20 years is an interesting prospect.

As I ran that government business, I grew it very quickly to become a real player in the government satellite communications and telecom market. From 2001 to 2006, we built all kinds of networks, won all kinds of contracts, grew it by four times.

When the opportunity at Inmarsat arose, I felt like I won the lottery. My job is to grow the business as quickly as I can and prepare for the launch of a new satellite constellation.

Interview with Vanessa Small

David Helfgott

Position: President and chief executive of Inmarsat Government, a Herndon company that provides telecommunications to U.S. military and civilian organizations.

Career highlights: President, ISR technology business unit, Cobham; president and chief executive, DataPath; president and chief executive, SES Americom Government Services.

Age: 49

Education: Bachelor’s degree and MBA, University of Virginia.

Personal: Lives in Arlington.

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