APEX in Profile: Shawn Duffy

Shawn Duffy, senior vice-president and chief financial officer, Viasat.

Shawn Duffy, senior vice-president and chief financial officer, Viasat. Image: Vance Walstra

Shawn Duffy
senior vice-president and chief financial officer
Viasat

Shawn oversees everything from finance to insurance, taxes and contract dealings at Viasat. She is a certified public accountant with a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration (Accounting) from San Diego State University. Shawn is a supporter of Athena, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in leadership, and recently moderated a panel about empowering female executives in the airline industry at APEX EXPO.

Fun Facts:
Location: SAN
Now watching: The Blacklist
Years in the aviation industry: 15
Seatback or PED? PED
Passport stamp you wish you had: South Africa
The future of flight in one word: Connected

What’s a typical day at your job like?
Meetings make up most of my day – sometimes I even take meetings in hallways between meetings. The rest is spent thinking about our strategy and how we’re working on longer-term deals with our customers. Between talking about things happening in space and things on the battlefield with our government customers, there’s not really a typical day. I also tend to be a night owl. If I think of something, I’m going to wake up, even if it’s at midnight, to put out that e-mail to get things going. 

Did you choose the airline industry or did it choose you?
It probably chose me. Coming to Viasat was my ticket into the aviation sector. The nature of this company is about solving tough problems. It’s what drove me to the company and what inspired me. And with in-flight connectivity, we realized if we’re going to make a difference and solve problems, we have to do it in space. This ties right back into the global constellation we’re building today and the high-capacity satellites that we built before them. Connectivity is a good fit for me because I like solving hard problems and things that people tend to shy away from.

“We’re also solving connectivity and communications problems in unserved and underserved areas around the world.”

Every job has a cool factor. What’s yours?
Being involved in space technology is just cool – flat out. But there’s another dimension outside of the whole space business. We’re also solving connectivity and communications problems in unserved and underserved areas around the world. Today, we are rolling out or trialing advanced satellite-based connectivity services, like Community Wi-Fi, in emerging markets across Latin America. With this service, we’re connecting people for the first time to e-learning tools, telemedicine applications and e-commerce programs. The connectivity we’re providing is life-changing. We do the same thing in our government segment by bringing broadband capabilities to the most elite senior leaders. In fact, we were recently ranked 12th in Fortune’s Change the World list for companies making a positive social impact through their core business strategies and operations. 

Through your work with Athena, what have you learned about the roadblocks for young women pursuing careers in leadership? Many young women look at possible careers, and the leaders within those careers, and they just don’t see many women role models. We’re working to change that. To make the biggest impact, we need to reach out to women at a younger age, when they’re a bit more open to career exploration. We want to encourage them to take on careers in fields where they have a passion and help them understand how they could lead teams and organizations. If we can do that, then we can create a funnel for that passion, and that’s what will make them unstoppable.

If you could sit next to anyone on a plane, who would it be?
Albert Einstein. There’s a quote from him where he says he doesn’t think he’s particularly talented, just passionately curious. I completely love the relentlessness of his problem-solving.  

APEX in Profile: Shawn Duffy was originally published in the 9.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.