Top NASA official pursues MBA as space economy booms


For David Maurodeputy head of the spaceflight division at NASA’s Ames Research Center, returning to school for an MBA was necessary to keep up with the burgeoning demands of the space industry.

He started his MBA with the Rotman-SDA Bocconi Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program last year – a month into his current role – with the aim of capturing the business fundamentals that were needed more than ever in his career.

The program is offered jointly by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and the SDA Bocconi School of Management at Bocconi University in Italy.

“We’re going through a renaissance in the space economy, and I knew I had to change with it,” says Mauro, a 12-year industry veteran. “We need people who know both the technical side and the business side of the space.

“I wanted to learn more about the business side, so I joined the GEMBA program to equip myself with that knowledge.”

Mauro has what many space enthusiasts would consider a dream job: he works to bring space missions to life with a team of scientists, system engineers and project managers. From missions beyond our atmosphere to measuring the wind on Mars, he works on complex projects with significant stakes and budgets.

There have been huge investments in space in recent years, including Elon Musk’s ambitious SpaceX; Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the world’s first public commercial spaceflight company; and NASA’s state-of-the-art James Webb Telescope. Hundreds of smaller space tech startups are also entering the arena, such as Milan-based D-Orbit, the first space logistics company to work on space debris mitigation.

“Many startups and private sector companies continue to invest in the space, and what is now a US$400 billion industry is expected to grow to around US$1 trillion by 2040,” Mauro says.

At Rotman, the Creative Destruction Lab has a lively space stream to support startups looking for space-related business opportunities. CDL Space mentors include experts in the field such as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and academic experts like Franco d’Avrilprofessor of economic analysis and policy at the U of T Scarborough and Rotman.

It’s this rapid transformation that puts leaders like Mauro in a more strategic position than ever before, from overhauling internal strategies to carefully allocating large budgets and scouting for potential partnerships with startups.

“My experience in the GEMBA program changes the way I think about problems,” says Mauro. “I started looking at things in new and creative ways thinking about internal strategy at NASA Ames Research Center or how we can improve certain processes.”

He adds that his Strategy Implementation course will be especially relevant the next time his division undergoes an internal change.

During the 18-month program, learners from around the world meet in Toronto, Milan, Mumbai, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Shanghai and San Paulo for immersive modules that cover business fundamentals for leaders across industries. .

More recently, Mauro’s class returned from San Francisco, where they met with technology industry leaders to learn more about M&A strategies. In other cities, participants delve into topics ranging from innovation management and business strategy to ethics and sustainability.

“It was like learning to read again,” says Mauro. “I build so many bridges in my understanding of how everything is connected, and I bring those thoughts into my work.”

While the fun part of his new job is managing space missions, Mauro says managing different types of people forms the bulk of his role.

“Machines are predictable, but humans are human – they have different skills, personalities and needs,” he says, noting that the courses he’s taken on leadership, mobilizing diverse teams and strategic change contributed to his confidence as a leader.

As barriers slowly dissolve for non-astronauts to participate in spaceflight, Mauro says he’s often surprised by the huge changes in the space landscape from just a decade ago.

“Before, spaceflight required intensive and highly technical training and was largely only available to professional astronauts, but now it’s all about the money,” he says. “It’s breathtaking. It makes you realize how the space industry will continue to transform as the private sector seeks to make a return on its investments.

Through his studies, Mauro says he hopes to set an example for his young children, aged five and seven.

“I want to show them that you should never stop learning,” he says. “I’m 47 and it doesn’t matter if it’s your third or fourth degree – we’re never done.”


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