The head of an entrepreneurial empire is always a Dream Chaser. In fact, those words could be used to describe anyone who has ever aspired to build a business from the ground up. For the Turkish American power couple Eren and Fatih Ozmen however, Dream Chaser describes a much more tangible entity.
Through their company Sierra Nevada Corporation, the Ozmens are revolutionising space aeronautics with the production of the Dream Chaser, a manned spacecraft selected by NASA to serve as a cargo vehicle transporting items to and from the International Space Station.
With Eren Ozmen at the helm as company president, the Sierra Nevada Corporation has been recognised with several awards. It was ranked as one of the World’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in Space by Fast Company Magazine, given Aerospace Company of the Year and designated a Distinguished Business of the Year.
It’s not just the Dream Chaser that’s capturing the attention of the space industry- it’s their eye for streamlining and efficiency as well.
“We always look for innovative solutions. Our model has been to provide an 80 per cent solution for 20 per cent of the cost and schedule,” Eren recently said in an interview with spacenews.com. “By applying this model to space, we feel we can make big things happen…We are saying hey, you don’t have to spend that kind of money. Hey, you don’t have to spend so many years in development. Things can happen for a fraction of the cost and time.”
First Steps of an Entrepreneurial Journey
Eren Ozmen was born and raised in Turkey and moved to the United States in the early 1980s to pursue her education. She attended the University of Nevada in Reno where she earned an MBA. In 1988, she joined what could loosely be called an aeronautics mom and pop shop called the Sierra Nevada Corporation.
SNC was started 25 years earlier by John Chisholm who ran the fledgeling business out of an airport hangar in Stead, Nevada. When Eren joined the company as a financial consultant, she was one of only 20 employees. She could see right away the company was struggling financially. A few years later, she and her new husband Fatih orchestrated a management buyout and immediately sought to shake things up.
“We quickly realised we could not continue if we did not start to do things differently. That’s when we started purchasing [other companies,]” Eren said in a Forbes Turkey article.
Among the first of many acquisitions were Advanced Countermeasure Systems, Spectral Systems Inc., and Plano Microwave Incorporated. Eren observed, “Purchases had a lever-like effect for us. Within the next 5-10 years, we reached the billion-dollar mark.”
Since they took the reins, SNC has grown from a humble business with 20 employees to a multi-billion-dollar enterprise. SNC operates in 33 locations in 4 countries, employs more than 3000 staff and has acquired 19 companies along the way. They are innovators in several fields including economic space vehicle development, reconnaissance, surveillance, communications security, electronic warfare, navigation and guidance.
Their crowning achievement has been the development and production of the Dream Chaser. “When we were young, Fatih and I both dreamed of travelling to space,” Eren said.
The Dream Chaser will have an important if yet to be defined role at the International Space Station. While it’s almost certain to be used in transporting cargo, it was originally imagined as a rescue vehicle. “Just park it up there and if some crisis happens, you can rescue the crew and bring them down to land at an airport,” Eren explained.
The capability to land at any major airport around the world is one of the key features of the Dream Chaser.
“We see bringing a crew to any runway where a commercial aeroplane can land as a huge advantage over the capsules. There could be other circumstances where people don’t want the high-G reentry of capsules,” Fatih said.
Progressive Company Culture
It’s not just science and tech innovation that has positioned SNC as a global leader and made it a highly desirable place to work. Eren believes company culture is as important as anything else they do. To this end, she initiated an on-site daycare program to make life easier for SNC employees. What’s noteworthy about this accomplishment is that it occurred in 1991 while she was still an employee – three years before she bought the company.
After taking over in 1994, the Ozmens instituted a strong employee benefits program and stressed the importance of work-life balance. All of these efforts have led to SNC being designated “Best Place to Work” in Nevada, Colorado and Florida.
Eren Ozmen is unquestionably one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in American business history. She arrived in the United States barely able to speak English and is now worth almost $1.5 billion according to Forbes. Her personal accolades include being named one of America’s Richest Self-Made Women by Forbes in 2017, receiving the Great Immigrants award, being given the Great Americans award by the Carnegie Corporation, and getting a second-place ranking on the Most Influential Turkish-American Women’s list.
Despite the limelight, one of Eren’s passions is ensuring others have the same opportunities for success that she’s had. In 2014, Eren and Fatih created the Ozmen Foundation. She describes it as, “A charitable nonprofit organisation dedicated to helping humanity make the world a better place, caring for people and paying it forward to future generations. Areas of focus include Pay It Forward, Education, Entrepreneurship, and Community.”
Eren and Fatih Ozmen are more excited by the prospect of creating opportunities for others than by simply acquiring personal wealth.
“Leaving behind a huge capability is so much better than leaving behind a bunch of money in the bank. That’s what we are doing, converting everything to a capability that the next generation can benefit from,” she said.
In this way, the Ozmen’s legacy will be launching more than just one Dream Chaser.