Jason Kim (’09) Is a Leader for the Millennium
Among his essential responsibilities as CEO of Millennium Space Systems is establishing the corporate culture
January 30, 2023
- Jason Kim is CEO of Millennium Space Systems, which designs satellites for critical missions related to national defense
- Among Kim’s essential responsibilities as CEO is establishing the corporate culture
- The Air Force Academy graduate says UCLA Anderson courses taught by Professors Corinne Bendersky and Bill Cockrum continue to inform his career
After seven years serving as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, Jason Kim (’09) joined the civilian workforce as a manager at a traditional aerospace company based in Southern California. An Air Force Academy-trained engineer, Kim says he learned about both himself and the industry from that experience, while also navigating the transition from a military career to the private sector.
When he retired from the military, Kim felt that he needed to fill some gaps in his knowledge and experience reservoirs. He says, “When I was in the Air Force deciding to separate and make a career in industry, I decided to take this job with a traditional aerospace company. And to fill out my skill set, I decided to go to Anderson.” Kim enrolled in Anderson’s Fully Employed MBA (FEMBA) program because he wanted to keep his aerospace job, opting to attend night and weekend classes. He believes that decision was the right one. “I learned from my classmates, from my professors and from being on the job,” he says.
Kim remembers FEMBA’s director of admissions, Assistant Dean Dylan Stafford, as particularly welcoming when he began his studies. “He met up with me and really appreciated the fact that I was in the military. He was in the ROTC at Texas A&M and he had an appreciation for veterans.”
What’s true of Anderson today was true then, Kim recalls. “There was a large population of folks like me in the program. I had classmates from the Navy and the Army — it’s one of the reasons why I think Anderson feels so welcoming to veterans.”
Kim graduated from Anderson in 2009, and two months later made the leap from that traditional aerospace company to Millennium Space Systems. Kim volunteers that his time at Anderson gave him the confidence, knowledge and skills to take a risk and join what was then a startup in the satellite industry. “The rest is history,” he says. That history includes the sale of Millennium to Boeing in 2018. “I think back to the risk I took coming to this company, but it all worked out,” Kim says. Kim stayed with Millennium for a year to ensure a smooth transition; he then joined Raytheon as a business development executive. A year later, when Millennium’s CEO retired, Boeing recruited Kim to return. “Boeing wanted to keep the culture. They wanted to keep the company running smoothly,” he says. “And I decided to come back.”
Millennium Space Systems was founded in 2001 right after 9/11. According to Kim, the company saw the opportunity for small satellites to support high-stakes critical missions, including missions related to national security. They set about developing such satellites more affordably, more rapidly and with the latest innovative technology. At the time, Kim says, the space industry relied on very large, complex satellites to perform these types of missions. But smaller satellites were becoming more mature and more reliable, allowing a company like Millennium to disrupt the industry. Today, small satellites are mainstream and very much in demand, not only for national security space missions but also for commercial and international missions as well.
Today, Millennium doubles down on national security, supporting missions such as missile warning and missile tracking. “We’ve got a lot of adversaries trying to counter the U.S. and our allies. It’s important for us to put small satellites in space that can track those types of missile threats so that decision-makers can best defend our nation,” Kim says. (For the uninitiated, a “large” satellite might be the size of a school bus. The spectrum of “small” satellites that Millennium has launched range from the size of a Chevy Tahoe on the larger end to two shoeboxes on the smaller end.)
Though he’s an engineer by trade and education, Kim isn’t intimately involved in the day-to-day building of satellites. “You don’t want me building satellites,” he jokes. “Having an engineering background certainly helps, but my role at the company is really coming up with the vision, the strategy and developing a team that can get us to that vision.”
Also among Kim’s responsibilities as CEO is reinforcing — and living — Millennium’s corporate culture. He describes the company’s culture through its first two decades as one of speed and calculated risk-taking, combined with mutual respect and an emphasis on collaboration.
“Those are all things that were part of the Millennium culture for the first 20 years. When I came back to the company, I wanted to take it a step further,” Kim says. “I focused on aspects that enhanced the environment so people were excited to come to work every day, comfortable with bringing their full selves to work.” Kim says he strives to provide opportunities for growth on his team and to foster a culture in which his staff continue to develop themselves. “People come to Millennium and they get handed a lot of responsibility from Day One compared to our traditional counterparts, where it could take people 10 years to do the job they want. Here, they could do it in two years. We had a great culture before. Today, we’re trying to double down on it and improve it.”
Kim says he learned the importance of company culture while at Anderson.
“One of the most influential and consequential classes that I took at Anderson was Derek Alderton’s (’93) strategy class. That’s where I learned that culture is super important in making sure that your company is growing and on track.
“Another class I took that was very influential was Organizational Behaviors with Corinne Bendersky,” Kim says. “Her class taught me about organizational design. I learned that it comes down to the team that you build, the people that you recruit and the design of that organization so that you can operate efficiently and keep improving. The third influential class that I took was Entrepreneurial Finance with Bill Cockrum. Finance is the underpinning of everything at the company, so a good understanding of finance was key to my understanding of how to operate a company. I think these three things are very valuable and are the kinds of things that I’m shaping at the company, and they were introduced to me by Anderson.”
Millennium’s current focus is on developing satellites related to national security. As a result, one can’t help but wonder how Kim sleeps at night: Do the things he knows cause him to toss and turn?
“I think as long as we continue to prioritize national security, as long as there are companies like Millennium Space Systems and Boeing, we’re going to be in good shape,” Kim says, putting those fears to rest. “So I’m not losing sleep over that.
“What keeps me up at night is … I just want the company to be successful. What can I do to help our workforce be successful? What can I do to remove constraints, remove roadblocks that might keep us from being successful? How do I work with customers to make sure that we hear their feedback and keep improving and delivering on our commitments to them? At the end of the day, can we move faster as a company to deliver these national security space systems to our customers so that they can keep ahead of the threats? That’s the name of the game.”