Stellar Solutions' innovation is found in its exemplary role of women and its unique business model. Stellar solves two of the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals: first, it promotes women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunity for leadership at all levels of decision-making and second, it promotes job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourages the formalization and growth of small- and medium-sized enterprises.
The company founder, Celeste Ford, developed a career as an aerospace engineer when few women were in the field, and now she has paved the way for many other women in aerospace. Celeste recalled “standing alone as a female engineer in the mission control center, acutely aware of the sound of my feminine voice over the loud-speaker and the importance of delivering an impeccable job performance. I knew I needed to strive not only to advance my own career but to ensure that the doors would be open to other women who followed.” People approach problems differently and specifically in engineering, women tend to be more people oriented. Stellar uses this difference to encourage women to excel.
Loyola Marymount University
Stellar also distinguishes itself from the rest of the aerospace industry with its vision to “satisfy its customers’ critical needs while realizing its employees’ dream jobs”. In other words, where most companies have a policy of putting the customer first, Stellar has broken the mold and recognizes the two very important stakeholders as equals. Though it operates largely as a virtual company with employees dispersed across the country, frequent two-way communication with its leadership, workforce, customers, and partners is always encouraged.
As a company, it looks for areas where clients have the most difficult problems and finds the people best motivated and positioned to tackle them. Open engagement between leadership and the Stellar workforce ensures employees are working in an area that fits their abilities and meets their desires. If employees are not doing something they love, Stellar leadership helps them get there. This policy results in improved employee efficiency and greater career satisfaction. This has allowed Stellar solutions to be a model for sustainable, yet innovative, small to medium-sized businesses.
Stellar Solutions was founded in 1995 by Celeste Ford. Her goal was to create a company with the vision to satisfy customer needs while hiring employees into their dream jobs, all while tackling problems in one of the most challenging technical domains imaginable – the aerospace industry. Celeste sought to harness the brilliance of engineers and visionaries, those who were ready to blaze new paths for the future.
Celeste’s realization of being a standout female voice in a satellite mission control room in the 1980s is akin to a scene from the film Hidden Figures, based on the true story of women mathematicians and their untold contributions to help the U.S. win the space race. Realizing the vastness of the future in space and the potential in harnessing diversity to achieve greatness, Celeste knew that she needed to do more than advance her own career, and was inspired to open doors to other women who followed.
In order to succeed as a small company in an extremely competitive field, Celeste knew retention of extraordinarily talented, diverse people (both men and women) with skills in high demand would be key. This realization drove her philosophy to take jobs beyond the idea of “just a job” and helped her build a passionate workforce. At a time when top-down leadership hierarchy prevailed, Celeste empowered her people to do the right thing and solve tough problems. She continues to do that today.
As the world of space exploration has ignited in recent years, Stellar Solutions is at the center of it all. Unlike other Silicon Valley companies that are built to sell off to investors, and operated with only the bottom line as a consideration, Stellar Solutions is a company that was built to compete as a standalone enterprise while maintaining a culture of inclusivity, empowerment and growth opportunities for all employees. Today, Stellar is involved in all aspects of space development. They work directly with visionaries and engineers in NASA, the Department of Defense, Intelligence Sectors, and commercial “space start-up” companies.
Stellar Solutions is founded upon scalability and replicability. The company maintains an environment where employee satisfaction is a priority and has created a place for women to compete in a male dominated industry. The Stellar model has been successful because employees are trusted to solve their customers’ critical problems in accord with their individual talents and strengths. Additionally, Stellar employees, women and men alike, are placed in roles where they can use those talents and strengths to do what they love. Employees are empowered to contribute with passion, promoting full and effective participation for all employees.
Stellar also has a unique pay structure. Employees agree to an annual salary that is broken down into an hourly rate. They are then given flexibility to plan their own working hours. Instead of the traditional five-days per week, employees can schedule work hours around their own needs and those of the customer. A Stellar employee can choose to work extra hours Monday through Thursday with every Friday off, or they could work a normal schedule for ten months and take a two-month paid vacation. The flexibility helps create a positive work environment where employees are encouraged to take ownership and pride in their roles, fostering creativity, innovation, equality, and growth. Notably, it also allows mothers and fathers the flexibility of schedule needed to raise children, and still be productive members of the workforce.
The business benefit of Stellar Solutions' innovative vision is that its employees are solving the world’s toughest problems, enthusiastically. As a prime example, one Stellar employee came to the company with an interest in earthquake prediction. The company supported this individual to first develop an electromagnetic detection sensor for deployment onboard a space-based satellite, and then to develop and deploy ground sensors in earthquake-prone regions around the world.
This project, known today as QuakeFinder, operates as a humanitarian R&D project with the goal of developing technology and methods for detection and analysis of electromagnetic earthquake precursors, to produce earthquake forecasts. The Stellar philosophy of supporting the passions of employees has the potential to revolutionize the world’s ability to predict earthquakes, and in turn, save lives.
While Quakefinder is just one example of how Stellar’s vision is fulfilled, the company has proven itself with results time and time again. In 2018, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce named Stellar Solutions a recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the highest honor in the United States for small business performance excellence and sustainability. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program examines applicants around leadership, strategy, customers, measurement & analysis, workforce, and operations, as well as their results related to each of these categories. Only 110 organizations have received the award (out of over 1,600 applicants) since 1987 when the Baldrige program began. Stellar Solutions has also made Fortune Magazine’s “Great Places to Work” list for the past five years running and Celeste was recently awarded the first ever Silicon Valley “Woman of Wisdom” award.
Stellar recognizes that women have unique abilities and experiences and that they are invaluable to the workforce. Celeste has been working to expand the role of young women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and has been an inspiration to many others. Stellar has also shown its willingness to bring women back into the workforce after they take years off to raise families. While other companies may hesitate to rehire them, Stellar does not. Betsy Pimintel, Vice President of Defense for Stellar Solutions, shared that at least four women had been rehired after taking 10 to 12 years off to raise families.
As an example of solving the U.N. goal to advance female leaders, Betsy Pimintel, Stellar Solutions' Vice President of Defense, got her start in the first U.S. Air Force Academy to include women in 1976 and later served as the Director of Defense Policy in the National Security Council at the White House. Today, with Stellar Solutions, she is a nationally-recognized leader at the forefront of aerospace engineering, space exploration, and defense systems development.
Stellar Solutions has created a sustainable small business and set an invaluable precedent for the role of women in male-dominated disciplines. “Not only has it proven sustainable for us as we have expanded globally, it has also created a rewarding pathway for women. I am proud that Stellar Solutions cultivates a robust pipeline of female engineers, scientists and strategists from entry level to senior management, all making significant contributions to our innovative solutions and our customers’ outcomes.” – Celeste Ford .
Betsy Pimentel, Vice President of Defense
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Palo Alto, California, US
Business Website: https://www.stellarsolutions.com/
Year Founded: 1998
Number of Employees: 51 to 200
Founded in 1985, Stellar Solutions is a woman-owned, global systems aerospace engineering service provider solving the most complex issues faced by commercial and government clients. Stellar created a pathway for women to make significant contributions in a mostly male-dominated industry. The Stellar vision has always been to help employees achieve their dream job while satisfying critical needs of customers in systems engineering and integration, mission operations, program management and strategic planning. Stellar is a 2018 national Malcolm Baldrige Award winner and has been listed by Fortune Magazine as a Great Place to Work every year since 2014.