He knows three things well: Physics, Mexican food, and Kelly Clarkson’s music. Oh, and he’s kind of a big deal.
Last week I was able to schedule an interview with the ever-so-busy CEO Dr. Douglas L. Hendrix. I would like to note that not only was it extremely difficult to get in contact with him, but his fluid schedule made it even more difficult to pin down a time and location to chat. Douglas fostered his humble roots in the Bay Area which led him to the defense industry straight out of his PhD program at UCI. For those who do not know he is an avid California Golden Bears fan (hint-hint he may have attended school there as well) and even through their worst seasons he will still claim “it’s a comeback season”. Somehow he trusted me enough to give me some insight to the quirky things that make him Douglas (I am still very shocked at how candid he was able to be in this interview). All joking aside, there are very few men like Douglas who advocate for and love what they do as much as he does.
The nature and discourse of this conversation truly display how low the power distance truly is between the CEO and an intern, so thank you Douglas for giving me your time and utmost respect. Below is the all access interview where Douglas entertains us with his wit and vast knowledge of North American Mexican cuisine. Oh, and a little bit about Exo’s start as well.
Tell us five things people might not know about you.
That’s a lot of things. I don’t think there are five interesting things about me that people don’t know. I play the trumpet. I used to live in Holland where the mean Dutch kids beat me up, a lot. I lived in North Carolina for several years-that’s not that interesting. I am from the Bay Area. I am not a native Southern Californian, despite how awesome and cool I look in my flip flops. I used to blow up bombs in the desert for my job. That was cool.
What made you interested in physics?
I was really interested in the space program, the Apollo moonshots, and really every space mission. I read every book in our local library about space flight when I was a kid in Pleasant Hill, California. I thought I wanted to do astronomy, maybe computer science, but it seemed like Physics was a major where you could make a lot of money. That’s what I thought at least. I wanted to drive a Porsche so I figured I could buy a Porsche with the money I made from my physics job I had after I graduated college.
When did you know this was something you wanted to do?
My senior year of high school I kind of made up my choice. That’s when.
When did you know starting Exo would be the right career move for you?
Back when I worked for Greg [McNeill] at Nichols Research, we talked about starting a company, but it wasn’t the right time. When we moved to SPARTA [I] thought it probably could have been the right time, [but] none of us were brave enough to do it. During my time at SPARTA I was kind of always working on ideas and plans for a company, [so] I started a consulting business as a way to practice. Then when they announced the sale of SPARTA, I knew that it was the right time, though, I was mostly just creating the plan. When our from the Air Force was cut in half, that is when I knew for sure it was the right time. I don’t know if you know this, but we were in Huntsville when we got the news that our budget had been slashed. I was driving down the road with Holly [Bertrand] and Mike [Bantel] and they were dealing with my driving. Holly said, ‘what are we going to do?’ and I said ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. What are we going to do?’ She said, ‘our funding got cut. What are we going to do?’ I said ‘you’re kidding right? We are going to start a company.’ Then that’s the moment she said, ‘Ok that’s what we’ll do. That’s a great idea.’ I was pretty excited.
Were there any doubts to starting a business during the recession?
Never had any doubts. I was too stupid to be afraid. I do remember when I came home and I told my wife and my kids I [was] going to start a company they all looked at me like ‘why would you want to do that. Are you crazy?’
What are some key elements to Exo’s success?
We only hire the best people. We were never given anything [and] nothing was ever easy for us. We had to fight for everything. So once we started having success we were all battle tested. We had a lot of fight in us. We found that the competition we were going up against had not been battle tested, because maybe they were a part of a ‘business as usual’ crowd, and they weren’t prepared to compete the same way we were ready to compete. We are like the SPARTA warriors versus the various tribes in Greece (that were weaklings kind of like Athens and the like).
How do you feel about the low power distance you operate under?
I think that it allows me to really understand people’s strengths and weaknesses. My goal is for people to achieve all of their career and life goals here and the better I know the people at the company, the better I understand when things are not going well for people. Often there are things we can do to help them and usually there are things we can do to help people that they could never think of. Really understanding and getting to know the people I think is key. The other thing is I don’t-I feel every day I have to work to earn the right to be the CEO. In order for that to be the case, people have to be able to tell me when things-when I am not doing things well. I feel that-not that I really know what a low power distance is, but I really value the fact that people are partners in running the company rather than just followers.
How did you convince people using telescopes (for business purposes) was the right thing for Exo? When did you decide that no matter what you were going to try and make it work?
So Bill [Therien] and I were convinced no matter what, and we spent our nights and weekends doing it on our own time. I spent my own money. I bought my own equipment, myself-with your college fund and we were determined to make this into a success no matter what. Just to show you my commitment, there was one night at home when I came home and Bill and I had a bunch of new equipment that we were going to try out on the roof-maybe it was the balcony. That night we were really excited and he stayed [at work] to prep things while I went home to have dinner. At home the power was out in the whole neighborhood, so my wife and the kids were there saying ‘what are we going to do?’ I said, ‘Oh, well I am going back to the office. You guys should come with me since we have power there.’ They didn’t really want to go, so I just left. I abandoned my family during a power outage when there could have been chaos and riots in the streets. I left them unprotected. That’s how much I love this company.
How do you feel about Exo being branded on Social media?
I think it is awesome. I would like to get to the point where we are posting really cool things that are happening in space, every day or every week, that we can release so people are coming to our site first to see what has happened in space.
Favorite Mexican restaurant?
The places I like are: Rosa Mexicano (Los Angeles, D.C., and New York); Javier’s (Orange County) especially the tablita and the chips and salsa; El Ranchito it’s not as good as the other ones, but I like it; and Cantina Laredo’s queso-meat dip. That’s pretty good stuff. I like that. It mostly has to have good chips and salsa. Oh! I like the chips at Casa Ranchero.
Why do you love Mexican food so much?
I have always liked Mexican food. In fact when I was offered a job at Taco Bell one of the highlights of my application was when they asked if there was ‘anything special about you that we should know’at the end of the application. I wrote ‘I really like Mexican food.’ Everyone joked about that the entire time I worked there. When I was a kid we used to have this place called ‘El Taco’ spelled E-L Taco. I would go with my dad and he would buy us food and we would take it home. I really liked El Taco. Oh! And in Los Gatos there was this really awesome Mexican restaurant, the name I don’t know, in Old Town. It is actually a bar now, but I remember that place too. Who doesn’t love Mexican food? It is the best food in the world. I mean the best food is just the best food.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
We will be flying satellites. Looking at asteroids via our autonomous space craft and we will be flying stuff around the moon doing a bunch of cool stuff. It sounds crazy, but it is true. I am going to have a fleet of autonomous space explorers.