The business of space travel

December 16, 2022

Franz Viehböck about his experiences and "Economy of Space”

A recent Financial Times article discusses how more and more business schools are embracing space. In a time of privatized space travel, new programs offer business knowledge to an industry filled with engineers and technical experts. Franz Viehböck, who can look at the topic from both sides, also had his say: as Austria's first and (so far) last astronaut, he has gained space experience himself, and as Chairman of the Board of Berndorf AG, he knows about the importance of leadership and business know-how in the technical sector.

Astronaut instead of management: Franz Viehböck in a space suit
Franz Viehböck learned a lot as an astronaut that he can still use today as a leader. Photo © Berndorf AG

We have summarized the most important insights from Franz Viehböck for you.

What did you gain and learn from the experience of being an astronaut?

I learned a lot, not only as a person but also as a leader. Some aspects are particularly important for business as well:

  • The view of the earth from space was overwhelming. You no longer see artificial geographical boundaries, but the big picture. Taking the view from above, deciding holistically and being open to other opinions is essential for modern management.
  • The importance of teamwork and all the criteria that go with it - how a team should be composed, what kind of personalities are needed, how to set up the team. It is important to recognize the different characters together with their strengths, but also weaknesses, which, in turn, can then be compensated for by other team members. You learn all this in a very practical way in aerospace.
Image of the MIR station
A view of the big picture from above - literally in space, figuratively in modern management. Photo © CC0 Licence

On the other hand, I myself have benefited from the experience in space travel as a manager:

  • When everything is going well, leadership should be designed in such a way that there is broad discourse and all opinions are heard. In contrast, crises require strong crisis management with clear decisions - then there is no time for long discussions. For me as a leader, how I deal with stress is also crucial. For an astronaut, there are many extreme situations, and I was able to take a lot away from that.
  • Another positive aspect is the privilege of dealing with people from many different disciplines, but also from many cultures and countries. This diversity is important for companies in a global economy today, and I was able to adjust to this early on.

And what do you think business schools and students would gain from taking a greater interest in the business of space?

There has been tremendous momentum in space in recent months with new rocket systems, new internet satellites and private human spaceflight initiatives. In such an environment, there are visionaries and great opportunities to get involved through new business ideas. I like to compare this field with the beginning of the Internet age - a lot of things came into being back then that you just couldn't imagine before. There is a spirit of optimism in the aerospace industry, and that means that with courage and commitment, you can make many things happen. Innovations are highly welcomed and appreciated here - in contrast to many other sectors.

This courage is a factor that is also addressed in executive education. After all, courage does not necessarily mean having to fly into space yourself - it's about entrepreneurial courage, enthusiasm and the ability to overcome setbacks.

Executive education is important as part of lifelong learning. Whether it's about the human psyche or new technologies - such as the Internet back then, IoT, robotics, Web3, etc. - there are constantly new insights that executives should be aware of. Here at Berndorf, we have been doing this very successfully for many years with the WU Executive Academy - in different formats, topics and for different management levels at our company.

One more sentence on HR: When selecting employees and staff, I pay particular attention to how a person's personality fits in with our corporate culture and values.

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