Telesat chief Dan Goldberg named Ottawa's 2019 CEO of the Year

Dan Goldberg
Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg speaks at the Mayor's Breakfast Series on Thurs., Sept. 5, where he was named Ottawa's 2019 CEO of the Year.

Through five decades of steady growth, Telesat has long managed to fly under the radar despite making products designed to soar thousands of kilometres above the Earth.

But if Dan Goldberg’s bold plans turn out the way he hopes, the global satellite services provider might want to get used to seeing its name in the headlines more often.

Telesat’s chief executive is spearheading a drive to make the downtown Ottawa tech firm the world leader in low-Earth orbit satellites that will deliver high-speed internet service to the most remote areas of the planet. Goldberg believes the LEO satellite program is poised to lift Telesat ​– which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2019 ​– to new heights.

“In some ways, it’s the largest undertaking the company has ever done in its history,” Goldberg, 54, said of the ambitious multibillion-dollar plan to build nearly 300 LEO satellites, which are expected to start entering service within the next three years. 

“But on the other hand, it’s a continuation, I think, of what we’ve been doing for a long, long time – which is kind of watching where the market’s going and innovating to try to stay ahead of the competition and deliver what the market wants.”

In 13 years on the job, Goldberg has never been one to sit still. He has become one of the city’s most respected C-suite executives, thanks to his bold vision and relentless desire to keep pushing the boundaries of satellite technology.

And now, Goldberg’s impressive body of work has earned him the 2019 CEO of the Year Award from OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade.

It’s an honour that’s bound to elicit considerable applause from the Ottawa business community. The Harvard Law School graduate says he considers himself “genuinely lucky” to work at Telesat, which has about 450 employees worldwide – including 260 in Ottawa – and last year posted revenues of more than $900 million. 

“I think the key to Telesat’s success ​– this will sound trite, but I totally believe it ​– it’s our people,” he told OBJ in a recent interview. 

“It goes back to I think just paying really close attention to what our customers want, trying to understand where the market’s going, and then innovating to keep up with all of that. I think it’s in the DNA of the company to do that, to be very customer-focused. Engineering done right is all about trying to come up with an elegant solution to the problem of the day using the best tools that are available.”

By that definition, Telesat certainly appears to be doing all the right things.

Earlier this year, the firm inked a deal with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s space flight company Blue Origin to use its rockets to send Telesat’s LEO satellites into space. In late July, the federal government announced it was pumping $85 million worth of R&D funding into the new technology and will pay Telesat $600 million over the next 10 years to produce bandwidth aimed at providing high-speed internet service to rural customers in Canada. 

Praising Ottawa’s deep talent pool, Goldberg says Telesat expects to double the size of its workforce over the next few years as the LEO program ramps up. He adds that the firm, which moved from its former home in Gloucester to a new 76,000-square-foot headquarters on Elgin Street last year, is poised to grow its revenues dramatically over the next decade, with the LEO program alone expected to generate as much as $1.2 billion in sales during that time.

"If we’re successful, we should be the leading satellite services company in the world, and we’ll continue to be headquartered right here in Ottawa."

“If we’re successful, we should be the leading satellite services company in the world, and we’ll continue to be headquartered right here in Ottawa,” Goldberg said.

Telesat first started working on the LEO program almost seven years ago after Goldberg and the company’s leadership team realized traditional high-orbit satellites wouldn’t be able to satisfy the growing demand for broadband internet access. 

Residents in far-flung regions such as the Arctic as well as industries such as mining, energy and agriculture that have operations in hard-to-reach locations aren’t well-served by current satellite technology, Goldberg says, but LEO will change that. 

Unlike traditional satellites, which orbit tens of thousands of kilometres above the Earth, LEO satellites are designed to operate at a distance of about 1,000 kilometres ​– allowing for much faster internet connections.  

“The reality is it’s not modern, advanced, affordable internet connectivity, and that’s what you really need,” Goldberg said of existing technology. “LEO will fill that gap.”

Since Telesat launched its LEO program, high-profile competitors such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX have begun pouring considerable money and effort into developing their own low-Earth orbit satellites. 

Goldberg says he has no problem battling for market share with the billionaire founder of Tesla and other business heavyweights, suggesting that attracting that calibre of competition means Telesat must be doing something right.

“It in some ways reassures us that, yeah, we’re fishing in the right part of the lake,” he said. “In some ways, they have an advantage in regards to being high-profile and able to command the attention of the market, and there will be some benefits to them from that. I’d say, though, we have the greater advantages. We understand these markets, we understand this technology. We’ve been doing this for 50 years.”

Before joining Telesat in 2006, Goldberg was CEO of Luxembourg-based satellite firm SES New Skies. He and his wife, well-known community volunteer Whitney Fox, have three children ​– Grace, 18, Claire, 16, and Jack, 14 ​– and live in Rockcliffe Park. 

Although Goldberg and his wife were raised south of the border and his children were all born in Europe, he says they are now proud Ottawans through and through.

“I feel incredibly fortunate that we came to Ottawa and that the kids had the experience to grow up here. It is just a phenomenal place to raise a family.”