As employers go, say engineers Marielle Chabot and Ian Hemphill, MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates Ltd. is out of this world. “I mean, look at this thing,” says Hemphill, 47, unrolling a schematic diagram of Canadarm2, a recent, high-profile success for the Richmond, B.C.-based company. “I grew up in the heyday of science fiction and to be actually working in the space industry is such a thrill.”
Both Hemphill, a 17-year veteran, and Chabot, 26, who joined two years ago, work for the company’s space missions group. Hemphill is involved in planning new ventures. Chabot is part of the Radarsat-2 project to design, construct and launch (in 2004) a high-resolution
satellite capable of seeing through cloud and darkness. Hemphill also worked four years on the robotic Canadarm2, now circling the globe on the International Space Station. Such ambitious projects attracted Chabot as an electrical engineering graduate from Quebec. “I feel lucky to be able to participate in expanding our horizons, both of technology and of our universe.” MacDonald Dettwiler bills itself as an “information company.” Its products range from global mapping and surveillance to databases for land registry and property assessment. While the technology it employs is cutting-edge, Hemphill also appreciates MDA’s bottom-line discipline. It has had 72 consecutive profitable quarters, and hasn’t laid off an engineer in
its 33-year history. It invests heavily in training. Staff, some of them world leaders in their field, run an in-house MDA university. Employees also get a share of the training budget to spend as they wish on professional development.
“Experience is critical,” says president and CEO Daniel Friedmann, who places a priority on retaining key staff. “Our biggest motivator and attractor is the exciting work we do. You cannot do this work in other places.” A case in point: a recent contract to help define Canada’s role in future missions to Mars. The project inspires the entire company, say Chabot and Hemphill. Neither is working on the contract—yet. But one day, they predict, Mars will be within their grasp.
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