July 31, 2023

An Inspiring Interview With New Board of Directors Member, Jason Artner

The Board of Directors for any company is made up of hard-working individuals who have strong principles regarding the mission of the organization. A Board of Directors will typically meet to make important decisions regarding the future direction of projects, events, and overall mission of the organization. The large responsibility of the position requires Board members that have a breadth of qualifying experience, responsible insight, and a keen interest in the mission of the organization. Higher Orbits has recently welcomed new members to their Board of Directors! One of these members is Jason Artner, an expert in business development and a long-standing executive at Scot Forge, a company that forges mechanical parts and is deeply involved in the aerospace industry and project realization. Artner has held a notable career with Scot Forge for over 30 years. He was brought on as a Senior Account Manager in 1990 and, after 20 years, assumed a new position as a Director of Aerospace Business Development which he has held since 2010. This position has allowed Artner to work closely with numerous businesses in the aerospace industry giving him a detailed understanding of the inner-workings of the flow of the market. In an interview detailing many aspects of Artner’s motivations, thoughts, and aspirations as a member of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors, Jason Artner gave incredible insight into his perspective on his involvement in the future of Higher Orbits, his personal leadership strategies, and advice for students who are inspired by STEM.

What influenced you to join the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?

When asked what influenced him to join the Higher Orbits Board of Directors, Jason Artner recalled his first meeting with Michelle Lucas, Higher Orbits Founder and CEO, at the Space Symposium in 2016. He described her “energizing” dedication to the mission of Higher Orbits and immediately took an interest in the Go For Launch! programs.

“I have four kids, and my youngest was in the right age group to participate, so I got firsthand experience four years in a row,” Artner explained. “Being part of that really helps you to get a better idea of a couple things. One, how amazing and transformational that program can be, and, secondly, how much work it is to put it together. So when Michelle and I talked later about me coming onto the Board I was pretty excited about that!”

He explained that he was initially surprised at the amount of work that it takes to run the 501-c nonprofit, but was swayed by the mission statement of the organization. He took on the position as a Board member for a preview first year, then made an educated decision to accept an extension for an additional three-year term.

“It's not the same as being a board member of a big company where you just get to show up once a quarter, offer your opinions, and move on,” Artner divulged. “You're a working board member. So, initially my first tour of the board, I did a one-year tour, and with my current schedule and traveling and everything, it was a challenge. Getting the first taste of that was what that was all about, and understanding that was very helpful. I’m coming back around, this time for a three-year term fully aware of what that’s going to be as a commitment. The first-year term really prepared me for doing it again and making sure that I can make it as good as possible. I’m going to carry the water for the team.”

Working as a board member for a few years now, what are some of the nuances that you have picked up on that have made this whole experience better for you?

Artner highlights the importance of diversity as an essential factor for success in turning ideas into reality, even in the Board of Directors in an organization.

“We’ve got a very eclectic group and that usually works out very well, which I’ve found in my experience at work too,” Artner said, describing the composition of the Board of Directors. “You’ve got a lot of different opinions and different thought processes and that generally creates overall better experiences for people. That way we come up with more ideas and different ways to tackle things.”

Michelle Lucas’ value of diversity has spread throughout the ideals of the Board of Directors. The members consist of industry professionals from all walks of life.

With this in mind, Jason Artner explained that in his experience with the Board of Directors the most essential factor is that, “Each board member needs to be self-motivated and really work to be a part of the team and be a player on that team.”

This allows for the collaboration of ideas to be fuelled by each individual’s combined passion and creates a group synergy that drives the motives of the organization forward.

What are you hoping to accomplish as a member of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors?

A large part of Jason Artner’s goals is to establish the Higher Orbits Galactic Golf Outing as a recurring staple for the organization.

“That’s something that we want to establish as an anchor that we can have always in the same place and people can be aware of it and get accustomed to going there and then we can grow that bigger and bigger.”

He highlights the importance of securing funding for a non-profit organization such as Higher Orbits. “Accomplishing that and getting that really to become a mainstay over the next three years to be a decent income generator for Higher Orbits is a pretty high priority for me. After that, it's really just trying to make sure that I am contributing to the team and that we are all working together and trying my best to help Michelle to wrangle any kind of answers or any kind of things that are open-ended.”

What inspired you initially to work in the STEM industries?

“I’ve always been interested in those fields.” Artner stated, on his personal STEM journey. “Science, without a doubt, was my favorite all throughout grade school, high school, college, everything. So, I really enjoyed science and loved astronomy, but as you get into higher-level astronomy that–unfortunately–just becomes math. So, I don’t really enjoy the math part of it, but I love the concepts behind it.”

Having come to this conclusion in his own educational life, Artner gave insight into his opinions for students who pursue STEM regardless of initial difficulty and offered encouragement saying, “I have an appreciation for just how difficult those choices can be for young people to pick up those careers. Really in anything, if you are in the upper 1% of your capabilities you’re going to be successful. Whether that's an athlete or a politician or a magician, it doesn’t matter, you’re going to do well. But not everyone is in that upper 1%, so for me STEM is a big draw because there are jobs that often pay very well because it is a challenging thing to do and you can do well and be prosperous with a STEM job at don't have to be in that 1% as you would as a musician or an actor or an artist.”

He further described the impact of the Higher Orbits mission on his life describing that, “Meeting someone like Michelle and seeing how hard she’s pushing and how it affects the kids, that really all clicked together for me.”

You have had a successful career with Scot Forge for over 30 years, how has your experience working with the large range of STEM companies over the years influenced your view on encouraging students to become future STEM workers?

“I would work quite a bit with student learners here at Scot Forge,” explained Artner. “I worked a bit with supporting grade schools and elementary schools and we would have students all the way through eighth grade coming in. Seeing those students and the way they would light up when they would come in to hear about space and then to see physical hardware has been very impactful.”

Artner described a particular instance where a group of fifth grade students were given talks on various aspects of mechanical processes. The students had been learning about how to calculate basic volume in their regular education, and the speaker used this concept as an example of the company’s detailed part construction. As the speaker presented problems with increasing difficulty, fewer and fewer students had the confidence and knowledge to understand how to calculate the volume of the intricate tanks that they compose. However, one student persisted and insisted that she could figure out the volume of the most difficult compositions and presented her sound logic to the highly-qualified speaker. In this instance, Artner was compelled to see the talent and aspirations of the younger generation.

“Seeing things like that make it really easy for me, for anyone really, to get charged up and excited.” Said Artner. “And I think that’s why we do things like that. It's also about being a good steward for the community and that’s another reason that I’ve stayed with this company for so long because they have always been a good part of the community and have done great things.”

As a Director of Aerospace Business Development you have had incredible experience working with leaders across many highly technical fields, what are some qualities that you would encourage students to focus on developing to become effective workers in the future?

“Some of the things that come to mind right out of the gate is collaboration with people and making sure that you are always working together and not taking anything for granted,” said Artner. “’It’s something that you can never stop learning, so when you see someone in your life that can influence you in a positive way and or think that there is something you can learn from them, always reach out to them.”

Artner further elaborated detailing his personal career history saying, “I started here in my early twenties, and was thinking that I am the best salesperson who had ever lived, just so confident in my ability. And then it took a while for me to learn that just because college is done and highschool is done you are never done learning. That is how we grow and how we help others grow. So, the number one for me is to always be learning. Support that collaborative nature and then foster that with other people, pass it to others and share your story, just like how I am sharing it with you. That way it continues throughout your organization and your whole network, whether that's a social network or a business network. I think that’s just the way it should be.”

Further relating his personal experience to his recommendations, Artner explained, “Another thing is to make sure you’re planning and thinking where you’re going. That’s a really important piece of what you want, especially with younger people nowadays. They want to have a path to success, whatever that might be, and they may not even know what that is, but your organization or your network can help you develop that. If you don’t have a path and you don’t know where you’re going it’s harder to be successful.”

Artner explained that there is no one path to success. There are so many different careers and necessary specializations in the world that people from any education level and any industry can make a meaningful impact in the world of STEM.

“Some of the most impressive conversations I’ve had have been with people that are not in my peer group and have not been with the scientists at conferences,” Artner explained. “It’s been the conversations with what most people would call the ‘Regular Joes’ out there, regular men and women who are still amazing and may not have even gone to college. Some of them may not have even graduated high school. And they’re still incredible, smart people who have a lot to contribute. To me that’s a big part of it, making sure when you see someone who’s working well and contributing, those people need to be rewarded as well.”

Jason Artner also discussed the importance of individual character as an effective member of the workplace.

“A person’s character is critical,” insisted Artner. “The whole point is back to the integrity and quality of the individual, and that’s what I think all of us in our lives should always be fostering in ourselves and in the people around us. If those things are in place all of the other things just become a lot easier.”

Finally, he mentioned the essential inspiration that is necessary for those who aspire to enter the STEM workplace.

“I think it's very important to dream and to have those big aspirations,” Artner discussed. “No matter what you do, dream it because that has inspiration and power in it. If you think you can do it, if you can dream it up, go for it. And, it’s the truth right? Having those big aspirations and dreams. This industry that we work in wouldn’t exist without them. I would be amiss if I didn’t include that in some of the criteria.”

How important is the capability for teamwork in a professional setting?

When asked this question Artner paused, attempting to think of any profession that he knew of that did not require effective collaboration with others. He could not.

“I can’t think of a single job in the world that you can do without engaging with others, even if they don’t see you and the connection is electronic,” said Artner. “So, I would put collaboration right at the top of the list, and along with collaboration is just the entire suite that goes with that, communication, listening, and being open to things.”

Artner continued, “Oftentimes people joke about CEOs being egomaniacs or worse, and in some cases that’s because they have lost sight of that ability to collaborate, to realize that you can’t just be the dictator and say that things come down from up top and just get done with an iron fist. Because no one wants to work for you if you’re doing that, those companies bleed people out. So, my point there is that no matter who you are, that remains important all the time, throughout your whole life. So, for me as far as ranking it's probably in the top one or two.”

What are some keys to your personal leadership style that you think you would personally highlight and have worked for you?

“For one, when I bring people on or hire them whether that’s internally or externally I definitely look for self-starters,” listed Artener on his values for his subordinates. “When they need the help, I want to be there for them, but I do have that level of expectation that they are self-starters and self-sufficient. It’s a matter of finding that trait because it makes it easier not only for me but for my whole team. So, if everyone is able to do that in a fairly small team of about six people, when we start up there is definitely that challenge of training so there’s a lot of engagement, but I typically have a seven-year plan for my teammates that work with me and under me to get them into a position where they will be leaders themselves.”

He credits his leadership style being influenced by Terry Wilson, former President of Kilby Jorgenson Steel and brother-in-law, who recommended that a leader train subordinates to meet his own skill level and have the capability to replace him in his own position.

“And I think I’ve tried to echo that here at Scot Forge by building people that will be better than me,” elaborated Jason Artner. “Ironically, I will be retiring in about six months from Scot Forge and my team of five individuals have worked very hard so frankly I hope they miss me as a person, but I hope they don’t miss me for the job I was doing. I worked hard to bring them all up to the point where they are literally better than me, Jason 2.0, whatever you want to call it. And it’s hard to do that. A lot of people probably struggle with accepting that, and I don’t know if that’s due to ego or concern about the competition. I am fiercely competitive, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to develop people and bring them up to a level better than what I was capable of.”

“There’s influence when you are being what we call in the industry a servant-leader,” Artner explained. “You’re there to help them and develop them and not be afraid that they’re going to take your job. Because if you’re doing that, frankly, your managers above you– and everyone’s got a boss as they say–they will also see the better person that you are, that you’re doing a great job and that bringing on that next generation is going to help the company be sustainable. And if you’re working for a company that doesn’t care about that next generation, then you should get out of it because it won’t be there for you if they’re not.”

What encouragement would you give to students who are interested in STEM but unsure of how to pursue their interests professionally?

“Especially at the high school level that is so common!” Exclaimed Artner. “So, that’s something that is so perfect about the Go For Launch! program is that it’s hitting at the exact right time, around 8th, 9th, and 10th grade even into 11th, and 12th. Sometimes they’re decided, but oftentimes they’re not, so it could be juniors and seniors come in and still haven’t picked. And that’s hard! Because especially if you’re going into undergrad study or beyond that, you’re making a commitment when you barely know what you want in life!”

Jason Artner related to the struggles of young students in his own educational journey. He originally attended college and earned a degree in Applied Computer Science, then shifted to a career in part manufacturing and became enamored with that path.

“It was completely different from where I was going!” Artner pointed-out. “Again, the beauty of the STEM fields is that there is overlap there. You are not necessarily pigeon-holing yourself, is oftentimes what I tell other people that are not sure or are deciding between two things. Maybe they can make both of them work. Will it take you another year of school to do that? Will you need to go for a double major?”

All of these questions give insight into the myriad of different solutions for students searching for their career in STEM.

“I would recommend that you don’t just think in the traditional way,” he insisted. “Don’t be worried if you got a degree in Mechanical Engineering and then want to go into space that you can’t do that. They may seem like very different things, but it’s still possible to find a degree that can do both of them.

“Picking the school is really important too,” Artner continued. “Which is something that I’ve seen Michelle Lucas be very helpful with and very influential and honest with kids about. As an outsider it’s really nice to give some advice, and you want to make sure their parents are involved because they’re the ones paying the bills. I would definitely always encourage a student to go after a career that they’re going to find rewarding. Take the money out of the picture, because if it's rewarding and you’re happy to do it then you’re going to make money and you’re going to get into that upper percentile. The money is just going to come at that point”

Further advising, Artner concluded, “I tell everyone who comes in here and everyone that I work with that one of the goals they should have is that they make their indelible mark on the company, that you’ve done something, maybe dozens of things, maybe hundreds of things that have changed the way the company behaves. You’ve made an improvement that you can be proud of when you walk away.”

In his wealth of advice, Jason Artner proved himself to be well-versed in the strategies of business, the character composition of an effective employee, and the necessary actions needed to be taken to further inspire students through STEM. It was an absolute pleasure to interview Mr. Artner and understand his perspective of success and leadership. As a member of the Higher Orbits Board of Directors, Artner has provided great advice and planning, and has dedicated his time and career to creating opportunities for the next generation of STEM professionals to thrive. It is an honor to have Jason Artner on the team of the Board of Directors, and it is exciting to imagine what comes next for this organization under the influence of such inspired leadership!

About the author

Jodie is a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University pursuing an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. She has always been fascinated by space and STEM, and has been fuelled by the strong aerospace community at Embry-Riddle. This interest in STEM and a love for writing have pushed Jodie to apply these passions as a Communications Intern at Higher Orbits in 2023.

Jodie Cory

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