After 12 years of helping a Lanham aerospace company grow from 200 to 640 employees, Mauricio Peredo is assuming a larger role in its operations.
Peredo, 49, takes over as COO just as Science Systems and Applications celebrates its 35th anniversary. The company saw record revenues in 2011 at $80 million and hopes to surpass $100 million this year, said vice president and CFO Anoop Mehta. About 300 of its 640 employees work at various locations in Prince George’s County.
In a recent interview, against a backdrop of statuettes and artwork from his native Mexico — including a miniature woodworking of the Aztec calendar — Peredo spoke disarmingly of the allure of the space program.
“It’s learning how the universe works,” he said.
With 24 years in the industry, including stints with Hughes and Raytheon, Peredo has learned how the aerospace business works, too.
His latest role sees him following in the footsteps of Ronald Estes, who retired as COO in March after 45 years in the industry and with whom Peredo worked for 22 years. Peredo formerly was director of business development and before that, a program director.
Peredo picks up where Estes left off, looking to expand Science Systems’ work with NASA beyond its usual contracts at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The company has been involved with more than 130 NASA missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the future James Webb Space Telescope. Some of its major contracts support NASA’s program to monitor forest fires, NASA’s disaster relief data and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s system to monitor emergency beacons.
Peredo also is seeking more federal work, with agencies such as the Geological Survey and the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.
As part of his own vision for growth, Peredo also wants to broaden Science Systems’ capabilities beyond the research support services it currently offers to NASA.
For many years, the company has focused on scientific support, but now is looking to support instrumentation and engineering at federal agencies and a higher end of information technology services, he said.
Science Systems also has been called on more often to build atmospheric simulators and come up with ways to display and visualize the data in fully immersive ways.
The company has worked over the years to diversify its portfolio from primarily Goddard contracts to 45 percent Langley, 35 percent Goddard and 20 percent NOAA, Peredo said.
Peredo described himself as a problem-solver, joking that people problems are always more challenging than technical ones.
“There’s a huge cultural diversity in this industry. Learning to work together is not always easy,” he said, recalling his time right after graduate school when he had to present to representatives from a dozen different countries. Because his team was charged with reviewing the quality of data from the countries’ instruments, he faced some opposition due to his age, he said.
Fascinated with solar corona
Much of Peredo’s career has involved NASA and solar-terrestrial research, now known as space weather. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a master’s and doctorate in physics and a fascination with the solar corona and its heating properties. Following that interest, he discovered the former STX when it was still in its independent small-business stage. STX, which was later bought by Hughes and then acquired by Raytheon, contracted with NASA to develop mathematical models to describe the effect solar wind has on the magnetic field protecting the Earth.
Peredo said his initial years with STX remind him a lot of working with Science Systems, with both companies conveying a friendly, close-knit atmosphere. He moved from being a support scientist to eventually a department manager. While Peredo regretted that the move required him to do less on-site research work with NASA, which he loved, he said it was an important advancement step.
“It was a little bit of a decision point. If I stayed on the technical work side, I would not move as far up the chain. I could grow on the management side,” Peredo said.
David Stern, a former researcher at Goddard who worked with STX, described Peredo as “absolutely dependable.”
“He does not put on airs, but he’s very direct,” Stern said, adding that he and Peredo also developed a Web course on the magnetosphere.
“When people work for Peredo, you know he spends a lot of time with them. He’s a natural,” said Jim Slavin, a former civil service department head and division director at Goddard.
Slavin, now chairman of atmospheric space science at the University of Michigan, collaborated with Peredo for 15 years, including on a research paper that has been cited more than 100 times.
“He’s an extremely skilled manager and leader. He delivers what he promises,” Slavin said. “You can tell good stories about people, but what it comes down to is getting the job done.”
‘Breath of fresh air’
With STX’s acquisition by Raytheon, Peredo saw his company losing some of its early flexibility as it conformed to Raytheon’s more structured approach, driven by Raytheon’s prominent military contracts. When Science Systems won the contract STX has been working on in 2000, Peredo and about 200 others shifted to Science Systems, he said.
“It was like a breath of fresh air to be back with a small business,” Peredo said, pointing to the accessibility of Science Systems’ president, Om Bahethi.
But his experiences in watching a small business become part of a major corporation allow him to understand both worlds, he said.
“The flexibility of small business is important, but larger business has a better ability to leverage resources,” Peredo said. “Here at Science Systems, we want to be robust but not as bureaucratic.”
Mehta emphasized that one of Peredo’s best qualities is being able to understand both the science of the industry and the people behind it.
“When we were talking to the senior management and staff about his appointment, everyone was extremely happy for him,” he said.
Peredo added that throughout the economic downturn, Science Systems has remained in good financial standing and continued Bahethi’s practice of never borrowing money. But he said the company is also keenly aware of the challenges federal science programs face in being funded through discretionary accounts.
The U.S. space industry generated $45.5 billion in sales in 2011, flat with 2010, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. About $21.27 billion of that came from NASA-related contracts. Space industry sales are projected to average a 2.5 percent growth through 2015.