Rather than playing catch-up, Sky-Skan’s products for planetariums innovate and lead

Have you ever wanted to travel in outer space? How about to another galaxy or two? Perhaps you’d be more interested in the bottom of the ocean, or a rainforest, or the intricacies of the human body? Or perhaps navigating through a carbon molecule would be less intimidating?Interestingly, we can do many of those things without leaving New Hampshire. The planetarium at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord has a Definiti full-dome theater capable of producing such shows.Such theaters are made in an old mill building in Nashua. From the outside, you would never guess the high-tech creations within, which are delivered and installed all over the world. Indeed, Sky-Skan won the SBA Exporter of the Year Award in 2010.Founded in 1967 in Rochester, N.Y. to produce special effects for planetariums, Sky-Skan has had to adapt to massive changes in its industry. As the effects became more complicated, they developed the SPICE Automation to run them more precisely. Split-second timing is everything.And when the digital revolution started in the ’90s, the company developed SkyVision. But today, its flagship is the Definiti Digital Fulldome Theater system, along with the software for many of the shows and exhibits. (The company will even design your theater for you or build it to your design. They can also manage the entire project or just provide consulting services to take care of the pieces with which you aren’t comfortable.)Sky-Skan integrates a fair amount of equipment made by others, but the unavailability of a necessary component doesn’t stop them. They have a full machine shop for fabricating unique hardware. They even produce multi-layer circuit boards in small quantities. All of this with only 50 employees.Gone through changes?Steve Savage, a former employee, bought the company in 1984 and moved it to Nashua. I wasn’t fortunate enough to meet him, as he travels all over the world about 40 weeks a year.Grant Dugan and Marcus Weddle, two of his lieutenants, gave me the grand tour. It was like going to Disney World without Mickey Mouse. We traveled through constellations faster than the speed of light, checked out a few sea monsters and a number of other things in little more than an hour.Astronomy is the binding force, and it’s obviously a passionate labor of love that begins with Mr. Savage as president. It’s like you can feel his presence, even when he’s not there. They speak about many things in terms of what Steve wants.I’m a sailor, and there’s a natural bond that develops with fellow sailors. I used to fly airplanes, and it’s true for pilots as well. This is true for people in many functions, industries and hobbies.Well, guess what? It’s true for astronomers and planetarium folks as well. These people were working for a living, but it would be hard to imagine a kid with a video game having more fun.Even the washroom was interesting, with a number of quotes on the wall from such notables as Sophocles, Galileo and Buzz Aldrin, among others. The challenge is to match the quote to whoever said it. Embarrassingly, I didn’t recognize any of them — but, yes, we can even learn in the washroom.Like many other industries, continuous learning is part of the job. They have to stay current, and the rest of the world — or should I say universe? — doesn’t wait for them to catch up. Rather than catching up, they innovate and lead. Why not be first and let the competition try to catch up?The economy is pretty bad, but Sky-Skan is booming. We need more companies like them to try to balance our trade deficits.What about your company? No doubt, you’ve gone through many changes as well, but do your employees love what they do? Have you taken the fun out of the job with austerity programs that rob you of profit as well? How can you put the fun back in?Your customers will never be happier than your employees.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque@myfairpoint.net.