Meet the Scholar Host - Spire

We're delighted to welcome host company Spire to the 2021 Saltire Scholar internship programme. Today we hear from VP, & General Manager - Global Data Services John Lusk on the importance of embracing fresh, entrepreneurially minded talent in their organisation, and industry.


ES: Please tell us about Spire

JL: Spire is a space-powered data company that tackles the world’s most unpredictable business challenges with truly global data solutions. By providing unique data from points all over Earth and by applying our deep Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) expertise, Spire offers a competitive advantage for organizations that require insight into areas such as global trade, weather, shipping and supply chain, illegal fishing, and maritime domain awareness.

We believe that our work can lead to a world of sustainable GDP growth, and research shows that when you increase GDP, economies thrive, energy abounds and opportunity exists for all.

At Spire, I lead our Global Data Services organization, which compromises our Maritime, Aviation and Weather product units and our commercial organization.

ES: What have been the main leadership challenges you’ve faced in the last few years?

JL: As a scaling technology company, it’s hard to narrow down any of the challenges that we’ve faced to just a few. It’s been such a whirlwind of a ride over the past few years and challenges exist on a daily basis. If I were to narrow down to three, I would highlight Focus, Hiring and managing scale ‘chaos’ as the biggest challenges.

Focus: Our Global Data Services organization includes three of Spire’s data businesses: Weather, Maritime and Aviation. And each of these businesses is in a different stage of scale growth. Understanding what to prioritize within each business, how to deploy resources, where to change direction, etc. is one of the biggest challenges that I’ve faced in my career. In Silicon Valley, you’re typically focusing on making one business successful. At Spire, we do things a bit differently and are focused on scaling 4 businesses (Space Services is our fourth). Launching and scaling 4 businesses at the same time is a massive challenge.

Hiring: As you might expect, hiring is always a challenge. And regardless of what stage a business is in, hiring will continue to be both the biggest challenge and the single most important factor in sustainable growth. Spire is growing so incredibly fast and one of our challenges is not only finding the right people, but finding them fast. How you find talent, ensure that they’re the right cultural fit, and then successfully onboard them into the company is always a challenge.

Managing the chaos: When you are in scale mode it can oftentimes feels like you’re losing control. It feels like chaos on a daily basis and trying to manage that chaos is a constant challenge. From my personal experience, I know that this stage of the business is always a challenge. While it’s incredibly exciting to be a part of a huge growth company, I know that at this stage, when things are out of control, employees tend to get burnt out. And being able to identify the signs of burnout, and proactively address with employees and Teams, is one of the most critical responsibilities of any leader at this stage. Leaders don’t have an option here…..they absolutely have to stay on top of managing this chaos.

Spire is growing so incredibly fast and one of our challenges is not only finding the right people, but finding them fast. How you find talent, ensure that they’re the right cultural fit, and then successfully onboard them into the company is always a challenge.

ES: What have been your major successes over the last few years?

JL:There have been many successes at Spire over the past few years, especially on the technology and innovation front. On a more personal note, launching and scaling three separate businesses at the same time, Maritime, Aviation and Weather, has been my biggest success. Calling those successes at this point honestly seems way too premature, but simply getting three businesses off the ground, simultaneously, is a challenge that I never thought I would face in my career. I’ve learned tremendously in terms of prioritization, motivation and organizational structure and feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity.

Another major success is seeing the growth of the employees in my organization. As you scale, leadership opportunities are constantly surfacing. In some cases, you must hire outside the company to find those leaders while others can be found within the company. At Spire, we’ve done a great job of cultivating and nurturing our talent and it’s always of great personal satisfaction when I see individuals on my team stepping into bigger leadership roles.

ES: Do you have any particular goals you’re focusing on for the year ahead?

JL: Yes! Growth, Growth, Growth, Hiring and Onboarding! As a high-growth technology company, the demands for constant 100% annual growth are persistent. How we continue to sustain that growth requires impeccable strategic planning and almost flawless execution. It also requires an immense amount of focus on hiring the right people and hiring those employees ‘fast’. As mentioned above, hiring is so critical at this point and making sure that you not only find the right folks, but successfully welcome and onboard them into Spire is so so important.

ES: You’ve just become a new host company with the Saltire Scholar Internship Programme and will be hosting two interns this Summer, what specifically attracted you to sign up to the programme and what do you hope to get out of it?

I’ve known about the Saltire Programme for almost three years, and was initially introduced to the program by Sandy Kennedy. At the time, I was working at The Kauffman Foundation as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence and had reached out to Sandy to garner more insights on Scotland's entrepreneurial ecosystem building activities. Through numerous conversations, and in-person visits with Sandy, I was able to gain a deep appreciation for the program, the impact it could have on students and the long-term vision of how the programme could benefit entrepreneurship. Ironically, through Sandy and his network, I was also introduced to Spire, my current employer!

At the highest level, I want to give back to Scotland. I believe that Scotland has so much potential in terms of entrepreneurial innovation and I have a deep desire to see entrepreneurs in the country succeed. If I can provide insights, learnings and experiences to candidates joining a Spire internship program, I will feel like Spire is doing their part to give back to a country that has provided so much for us. My hope is that I feel immense personal satisfaction in helping aspiring entrepreneurs build the knowledge, confidence and desire to forge their own paths and to follow their dreams and passions.

I believe that Scotland has so much potential in terms of entrepreneurial innovation and I have a deep desire to see entrepreneurs in the country succeed.

ES: When looking for new talent in your business, what are the most important qualities that you look for?

JL:At Spire, we truly live by our company values on a daily basis. And as such, we hire on these values as well. So when looking for new talent and when sending candidates through the interview process, we put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the following values:

Global: We look for candidates who have diverse viewpoints, skills and experiences

Unbounded: We look for candidates who tackle challenges head-on and who aren’t afraid of the unknown

Faster: We work with a sense of urgency and believe that there isn’t a moment to lose

Reliable: We look for candidates who hold themselves accountable for their results and who strive to consistently deliver excellence

Relentless: we look for tenacity, grit, and candidates willing to put in the effort to get things done

Collaborative: We look for candidates who love to work with teams, who recognize that other employees, partners, customers, etc. working together can solve the most complex problems

ES: Do you believe there is a winning formula for being a successful entrepreneur /business, what’s yours/your organisations?

JL:Honestly, I don’t know if there’s a single winning formula. Every entrepreneur is different, every business is different, and there are always multiple ways to win. I’ve started three separate technology businesses and been involved as an operator or investor in 10 start-ups. Every single experience is completely different. So I don’t believe a winning formula necessarily exists.

I do know that in order to succeed in building a successful business, an entrepreneur must have extreme dedication, passion and vision. Essentially, every entrepreneur must believe in their mission and must be able to motivate, inspire and attract talent who also believe in their mission. Without that mission and without the passion, an entrepreneur will never survive the extreme highs and lows that exist with every new business.

Our mission at Spire is simple: we want the information we collect and analyze to help make our world a safer, cleaner, more prosperous, and more equitable place.

ES: What are some of the mistakes you wish you could have avoided, and have learned from?

I make mistakes on a daily basis, so if multiplied over the ~1000 days that I’ve been at Spire, I’ve made way more than I can count. But if I were to point to a single mistake that is currently top-of-mind, it would be the impact that COVID has had on mental health. As we enter year 2 of COVID, it’s painfully obvious that employees and leaders (including myself) are struggling with our own mental health. Whether that’s anxiety, lack of energy, depression, a sense of loneliness, etc., I don’t think a single person at Spire hasn’t experienced some kind of negativity with COVID. As a company, we are now starting to put much more emphasis on mental health, discussing it openly and trying to work with employees at an individual level to address it. But I wish I would have started focusing on these types of issues when COVID first started. In hindsight, I should have anticipated these issues knowing that all of us would be impacted.


If you want to find out more about the value and fresh perspective a Saltire Scholar Intern can bring to your business, please visit the Host a Scholar page.

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