While our Leadership Perspectives series has been very successful, it will culminate. Seems this thing called “College Football” will take over next week and continue through the New Year. And I fully understand… this is Alabama, isn’t it? …home of the last four National Champions! But before we “Roll Tide and War Eagle,” we have one more exciting guest!
Week eight focuses on Dr. Deborah E. Barnhart and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Dr. Barnhart took over the CEO reins in December 2010, and she brings a “unique perspective” to the position. The Space & Rocket Center, with over 550,000 visitors last year, is Alabama’s number one tourist attraction.
When I moved to the Tennessee Valley in 1988, one of the first things I did once settled in was tour the Space & Rocket Center. A history buff all my life, I was mesmerized, reading about the space race and seeing the artifacts displayed throughout the facility. A few years later I returned, this time to visit with my high school buddy Michael Waltrip (the NASCAR driver), who was signing autographs under the shuttle. Walking the facility afterwards we both agreed… it really didn’t get much cooler.
As with most of you, I have since watched the facility grow and mature. Only after becoming Mayor did I regularly attend functions at the center, and maybe the most incredible thing I was able to do as Mayor was give three State of the City addresses under the Saturn V Rocket housed in the Davidson Center.
In early 2011 I went to see the new CEO of the center, Dr. Barnhart, in her office. Two things immediately stood out. First, the view out of her office window (you are eye level with the Shuttle) was amazing. Second, her enthusiasm for the center and its mission was contagious. I left 100% sure that whatever she decided needed to be done would be achieved.
Fast forward to our interview and as with our other guests during the first seven weeks, Dr. Barnhart must use her business expertise of past positions in management roles with Honeywell International, McDonnell Douglas, and United Technologies to minimize expenses. She also draws on an impressive educational vita with a doctorate from Vanderbilt University, degrees from the University of Maryland, the University of Alabama Huntsville, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she was a Sloan Fellow MBA. She is working with her team to develop unique programs/exhibits that will generate top line revenue.
While budget management is the short-term fix, Dr. Barnhart knows true success hinges on the center’s long-term focus. Meshing our past space and rocket history with the ever-changing space world offers opportunity and challenge. Add to that Alabama’s need for a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) center of excellence and you can see the sky is “not” the limit for the center.
As I close I want to thank the Madison Chamber for their sponsorship of this series and WHNT for allowing me the opportunity to interview our leadership. I hope each segment gave you a better understanding of why decisions are made and where each city, county, or center is headed. Hopefully, once the State of Alabama has secured its 5th straight National Championship, we can resume where we left off.
Watch my interview with Dr. Deborah Barnhart: