Dario Valenza is the mastermind behind Carbonix’s vision, design, and composite manufacturing excellence. Keenly interested in aeroelastic structures and vehicle design, his creativity found an outlet early on in competitive radio-controlled yacht development. Coming of age at a time when the promise of advanced composites was beginning to look obtainable, Dario was part of the first wave of developers.
He has a background managing technology projects in a competitive environment. This experience includes America’s Cup teams where technology is used to gain a competitive edge in highly time-critical and performance-sensitive applications. Dario has demonstrated the capability to manage teams and complex manufacturing projects.
His passion for design has led him to experiences in other related fields as diverse as feature film production and architecture.
Dario enjoys communicating the interesting aspects of design. This has found expression in television commentary, regular magazine writing, and blogging during periods of intense development.
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Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Dario Valenza: Dario Valenza, founder and CTO of Carbonix – A Sydney company providing advanced aerial data capture solutions enabled by revolutionary long-range drone systems.
I have always been fascinated by how things work and with elegant engineering. Finding, adopting, adapting new materials and techniques to complex problems that are performance critical.
This passion saw me become involved in developing racing yachts at the beginning of my working life and joining several America’s Cup teams.
I then started a business spinning off design and manufacturing technology developed in the America’s Cup. After some success in the marine sector, we began applying the technology to drones, enabling unprecedented endurance and payload-carrying capacity. We saw and created a market in commercial ‘eye-in-the-sky’ surveying and surveillance applications.
2020 and 2021 threw a lot of curve balls into business on a global scale. Based on the experience gleaned in the past couple years, how can businesses thrive in 2022? What lessons have you learned?
Dario Valenza: Remain flexible. Use downtime productively by progressing things that may have been planned for later. Shuffle priorities in service of the longer-term.
Diversify your supply chain and balance resources with respect to cost, increased lead times and disrupted logistics.
Before COVID, we had local disruptions like the New South Wales bushfires. Since, we’ve had pervasive supply-chain shifts, war in Europe, and recently flooding. The lesson is to be mindful of the macroeconomic/geopolitical situation, do what is possible to de-couple dependencies and be resilient, but ultimately press on – there will never be a perfect time. I’m reminded me of the saying that one can complain about the wind, hope for it to turn more favourable, or adjust one’s sails.
The pandemic seems to keep on disrupting the economy, what should businesses focus on in 2022? What advice would you share?
Dario Valenza: Inevitably, some industries are more directly impacted than others so advice that is applicable to some may ring hollow to others. For example, though there’s a pent-up enthusiasm to travel, it seems countries that had stricter lockdowns are causing hesitation on the part of would-be tourists. So, tourism and hospitality are likely to still have it tough.
Certainly, being proactive in engaging with community and government about policy makes sense because the reaction to crisis determines its ultimate impact.
With lingering restrictions still present and some remaining hesitation, as well as geopolitical uncertainty, perhaps focusing on local capability would be wise.
Staff development and retention is important too. Keep the core team motivated, secure, and increase skills for the future. We’ve found the workplace and relationships at work can be a sanctuary of stability and emotional support, as well as keeping people focused on positive goals.
Plan for increasing costs of energy and assets and invest in strategic positioning to make gains while conditions are tough. Meaning invest now to be well positioned when sentiment shifts to a more positive outlook, hopefully within a year.
How has the pandemic changed your industry and how have you adapted?
Dario Valenza: The notion of contactless has massively accelerated the adoption of automation.
Our autonomous platforms for data capture offer a compelling solution to remote operations. Recently we’ve seen that adoption accelerate.
The need for independence in manufacturing and sovereign capability in defence has also become starkly obvious even to those who have overlooked it in the past.
Though it has had some effect on our supply chain, it has validated our historical choices to manufacture in-house and source as much as possible of our product from within Australia.
What advice do you wish you received when the pandemic started and what do you intend on improving in 2022?
Dario Valenza: Don’t underestimate how radical policy response can become when polling signals fear. Though you don’t think it possible now, allow for border closures and lockdowns to drag on for years instead of weeks.
Also don’t expect people to sit on the sidelines the whole time. Expect them to spend where they can. For example, money otherwise destined for overseas travel will be spent on toys and holiday homes, so those markets will actually boom amid the chaos.
Online business surged higher than ever, B2B, B2C, online shopping, virtual meetings, remote work, Zoom medical consultations, what are your expectations for 2022?
Dario Valenza: I expect some high percentage of such online activity will continue as it is convenient. Many businesses will rightly ask ‘why commute when you can work remotely?’ But the fundamental advantage of in-person interactions (to productivity and wellbeing) will reassert itself to rebalance things.
Automation and remote operations will remain and become the norm in tasks that aren’t reliant on the personal touch. As already mentioned, drone adoption has been spurred on and I expect it will continue to rise.
How many hours a day do you spend in front of a screen?
Dario Valenza: Though spread over different tasks (emails, calls, assessing work schedules, reviewing designs). I deliberately make sure to spend time in the workshop and with the engineering team face-to-face as much as possible.
The majority of executives use stories to persuade and communicate in the workplace. Can you share with our readers examples of how you implement that in your business to communicate effectively with your team?
Dario Valenza: At Carbonix we are very conscious of our story. The journey we are on is baked into the culture. We reinforce this everyday by referring to our mission statement and development goals when evaluating progress and new initiatives. Throughout our manufacturing, design, sales, marketing, admin, and executive teams we interact always with reference to our story and goals. We make time for social events where we share our respective stories, and learn from each-other. We share experiences that are distilled into stories and represent common memories and hard-won knowledge.
As the founder I’m constantly reminding the team about how far we’ve come and where we are trying to go. This can put things into context, give reassurance (like ‘we’ve been here before’) and hopefully inspire the team to bond and pull forward together. Stories are how the vision is conveyed so that others may buy into it.
Story also helps to understand the course of the outside world. What has driven current events? What will they lead to? Where are we in the cycle? Story is a way of understanding cause and effect.
Business is all about overcoming obstacles and creating opportunities for growth. What do you see as the real challenge right now?
Dario Valenza: The supply chain! Decades of ‘just-in-time’, offshoring, and consolidation made vast sectors hugely reliant on some large single-points-of-failure. We’ve been seeing the consequences in chip shortages affecting electronics across many industries. Then various specialised goods, airfreight (that had relied on sharing cargo space in passenger airliners that were grounded) and finally backed up ports.
Conflict in Europe will only exacerbate this as low-cost manufacturers in the East go offline (already biting in the German auto industry). If the instability spreads to the Asia Pacific, disruptions will be even more far-reaching. Rising energy prices will make transport even more expensive, changing the cost proposition of things made far away.
Australia is lucky in having the resources and scale to be largely independent. We just have to work on rebuilding the skills and incentives to get back in a position where society can keep functioning without massive reliance on importing value-added goods. Anything that offers savings in energy will also be well-received. Again, our drones are a case in point as they replace helicopters and small manned aircraft, using under 1% the fuel to get better data.
In 2022, what are you most interested in learning about? Crypto, NFTs, online marketing, or any other skill sets? Please share your motivations.
Dario Valenza: Crypto and NFTs are certainly coming of age and will be fascinating to watch as the concept of the metaverse becomes more mainstream. Personally, I’d like to share what I’ve learned in my career so far with other entrepreneurs and help enrich the Australian tech scene, realising the potential of efficient autonomy.
A record 4.4 million Americans left their jobs in September in 2021, accelerating a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation. 47% of people plan to leave their job during 2022. Most are leaving because of their boss or their company culture. 82% of people feel unheard, undervalued and misunderstood in the workplace. Do you think leaders see the data and think “that’s not me – I’m not that boss they don’t want to work for? What changes do you think need to happen?
Dario Valenza: It’s interesting to parse this headline figure for confounding variables. How much was voluntary? How much was skewed by subsidies and border closures? How much was out of fear?
Evidently there has been cause to re-evaluate priorities. Many have taken the chance to pursue more fulfilling interests while the world was on hold. Whether they genuinely had unsympathetic bosses or they simply weren’t a good fit with their job to begin with must vary considerably.
Carbonix has gone through a growth spurt recently and we have had consistent feedback during interviews that workplace culture and interesting fulfilling work figure highly in the priorities of those fortunate enough to be able to discriminate.
Given our roots (back to the company’s story) in the America’s Cup, the culture at Carbonix is passionate and ambitious. We’re doing interesting work and have a ‘work hard/play hard’ atmosphere that is high-energy but also very collaborative. This is critical now more than ever to enable the attainment of ambitious technological and business goals.
Businesses can’t afford to coast or neglect the intangibles. Measuring key metrics such as retention (though retention alone doesn’t tell the full story as shedding team members that aren’t a good fit is better than dragging things on after having tried to address the issue) is very important. It is vital to have regular reviews where team members can give feedback that is genuinely taken on board.
Communication is key between management and employees. As well as having a clear vision and genuine values. It’s incumbent on bosses to be observant, see the dynamics and subtleties of workplace interactions, and offer fair value to employees.
On a lighter note, if you had the ability to pick any business superpower, what would it be and how would you put it into practice?
Dario Valenza: The ability to make wires invisible! I’d hide the cords from all the monitors, laptop chargers, USB hubs, and conferencing systems around the office and rejoice at the tidiness.
What does “success” in 2022 mean to you? It could be on a personal or business level, please share your vision.
Dario Valenza: Make a dent in the world of aerial data capture! Significantly increase adoption of our autonomous aircraft to generate high-fidelity digital twins of critical infrastructure and national parks.
After five years of R&D we have an elegant proven solution. As we roll out more features and build the data sets that will make our data processing ever more powerful, we’re now focused on getting systems in the field with customers.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dario Valenza for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dario Valenza or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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