Internship tips from an intern who became an owner and CEO


Posted: July 17, 2019 | Word Count: 866

Internships can be a valuable opportunity to start your full-time working career, and change your life.

Fatih Ozmen went from intern to owner and CEO of multi-billion-dollar aerospace and national security leader, Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC).

Starting at SNC as an intern almost 40 years ago when it was a tiny and struggling engineering company, Ozmen and his wife, Eren (now the company’s chairwoman and president), had the chance to acquire the company a few years later. Today, SNC is an agile, cutting-edge disruptor in government contracting with a workforce of 4,000 that supports and protects explorers and heroes. Ozmen has been SNC’s CEO and owner for a quarter century.

Of his journey from intern to CEO and owner, Ozmen said, “I credit a lot of good luck and some good choices, starting with how I approached my internship.” Here are his three tips to help you get the most from yours:

1. Look for companies with missions and values that inspire you.

“As a student or intern you can feel independent, like you’re holding your future in your hands. A lot of business people will tell you to consider an internship a transaction to meet your needs. I would encourage you to turn that focus outward.

“Ultimately, once your basic needs are met, it’s the deeper rewards that keep us going. Things like the feeling of being part of a team and making a real impact. I’d encourage young people first to identify companies or teams that are addressing challenges that really interest you. Read the bios of the people you’d work with or for. Do their stories, and the company’s story, inspire you? Are people there working in their individual interest or in the interest of the team, and the overarching mission?

“It's more rewarding when you see a whole group within the company working toward a larger goal. Let me give you an example. On a number of occasions, people have come up to Eren and me to tell us how we saved their lives in the battlefield. There was one time our holiday party was crashed by people who wanted to meet the SNC people who built our technology that jams cell signals and prevents IEDs from exploding, protecting our servicemen and women. These people thanked us and cried, and we cried with them. They shared heartfelt stories about how our technologies enabled loved ones to come home safely. This is priceless.”

2. Always look for an opportunity to understand the core need, to look beyond the “what” and truly understand the “why.”

“As a young engineer, working to enhance jet landing systems so they work in all conditions, including rain, was the biggest privilege for me.

“One of my first experiences early on was being on an aircraft carrier at 2 a.m. Standing next to F-18s and working among sailors day and night was fascinating and inspiring. I was sleeping right below the deck and hearing the roar of the aircraft engines, and tires skidding upon landing. They operate 24 hours a day.

“It was invaluable to see firsthand the problems pilots were facing and the environments sailors had to work within. It was eye-opening to see that while we are often comfortable in our homes and warm beds, servicemen and women are deployed months at a time away from their families working within dangerous conditions with poor visibility. Imagine being an F-18 pilot, finding the ship — a postage stamp-sized object off in the distance — and landing on it. That would be difficult to do in even ideal weather and visibility conditions.

“Our engineering task was straightforward: fix a strange flaw on the existing landing system that didn’t work as expected when it rained. We made it work and it’s amazing that 30 years later the Navy still uses the technology we created. Importantly, I was able to witness the challenge and solution, to work alongside the sailors and see it from the pilots’ perspective. This helped me to go beyond the what of our mission — a flaw in technology — to really understand the why — to save lives.”

3. Embrace newness and change as a journey, not an obstacle.

“When Eren and I first came to the U.S., we were young, didn’t speak much English and didn’t have money. But we did have goals and an unrelenting passion to chase our dreams. Was it easy? No. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t days when it seemed impossible or challenges that we faced along the way seemed insurmountable. But this is our American dream. None of it would have been possible if we didn’t look beyond the uncertainty and challenges. It's a great country that made it happen. I couldn't do it anyplace else in the world.

”We live in a world where the American dream is in reach for everyone. Don’t take it for granted.”

With the power of dreams, innovation and inspiration, there is no limit to what you can accomplish once you get your start, Ozmen says. Learn more about internship opportunities at www.sncorp.com/careers/students/.

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