Believe it or not but my parents didn’t have a phone until I got to college. We didn’t have a television until I reached middle school — and we only had three channels. I grew up in a very rural village in the northern part of France.
I had an affinity for engineering. I loved to take things apart and I was also very good in math. I grew up thinking I would build bridges or dams in Africa.
Suddenly I went to college and realized I was fascinated by technology. It was the 1980s, during the fiberoptic technology and the telecommunications revolution. I was fascinated by the whole thing.
I discovered early on in my career that I was really good at spotting business opportunities. I was in charge of business development with France Telecom, and I looked for ways to expand the company.
We ended up buying a video broadcast company that rented space on satellites to broadcast video signals between Europe and the United States. We bought it right before the Gulf War because I knew news gatherers would need to bring back video feeds from all over the world.
Because of the curvature of Earth, you had to have two satellite hops — from the Middle East, to a satellite over Europe, down to Paris and back up to a satellite over the Atlantic, down to Washington or the Midwest. The only way to do that was with the company we had just bought in Utah. So we became the go-to company for that service and achieved double-digit growth for multiple years.
After I went to business school, telecom, media and technology was exploding. All these companies were looking to raise money to back a new business plan. Wall Street was looking for business grads with a technical background who could understand the market. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn about all of these companies and help them achieve what they wanted to do.
When the tech bubble blew up, a lot of companies were in the middle of building technology. Suddenly, capital dried up, forcing them to shut down. Some of them had great ideas and business plans but were caught at the wrong time.
By the time I joined Nextel, its stock had gone from $80 per share to $2.50 in less than a year. When I joined, we rebuilt the company. I spearheaded the merger between Sprint and Nextel, which was a very complex transaction, but I put together the integration plan and the boards approved the deal.
When the opportunity came to join Lightsquared, I knew it was a wonderful chance to change the structure of the wireless industry. Lightsquared will allow any tablet- or device-maker to buy capacity from us and sell it directly to consumers. It’s a wonderful business model because we’ll have a low selling and marketing cost and low bad debt, so our margins are going to be very good. It’s a wonderful opportunity.
— Interview with Vanessa Small
Position: Chief financial officer of LightSquared, a mobile-communications company based in Reston.
Career highlights: Member of the board of directors, Cogent Communications; managing partner, Dupont Circle Partners; executive vice president of sales, marketing and strategy, SkyTerra; managing director and co-head of the global telecom, media and technology merger and acquisition group, Banc of America Securities; senior vice president, corporate development and merger and acquisition, Sprint Nextel; managing director of media and telecommunications group; Morgan Stanley.
Education: MBA, Columbia University; MS, Electrical Engineering, Ecole Nationale Superieure des Telecommunications.
Personal: Lives in Georgetown with spouse. They have two girls.