Chris Keall: Why CNN’s Rocket Lab Report Bothered Me


Speaking to Chris Keall of the NZ Herald, Peter Beck talks about Rocket Lab’s growth strategies and why New Zealand will remain at the heart of the business.


Rocket Lab’s first commercial flight took on a bit of shine when I saw a CNN report describing the company as “a rambling American startup.”

The New York Times and Forbes also claimed Rocket Lab as an American company, while the BBC called it an “American start-up”.

Our success story of Kiwi ingenuity has been claimed by the Yankees. And the most annoying thing is that they are right.

There is constant background noise about Rocket Lab ownership.

When I suggested on social media that it would be better for New Zealand’s image for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to visit Rocket Lab’s new factory in Auckland rather than toss rubber boots, the Auckland man Vaughn Davis drawn back, “Dude, they’re British royals, so why would they visit an American company?”

And outgoing Vector chairman Michael Stiassny said yesterday that while his company has withstood criticism for its smart grid technology partnership with mPrest (which provides the technology for Israel’s Iron Dome rocket anti-rocket system ), Rocket Lab – as he saw it – escaped scrutiny.

“It was stated that mPrest was involved in the manufacture of military equipment – bombs, etc. In no way, while I was at Vector, would we have tolerated this, and they don’t,” he said. Stiassny told shareholders.

“What they’re doing is creating a defense system that doesn’t kill anyone – completely different.”

He added: “It’s a little sad that it was discussed in the press so negatively when, for example, Rocket Lab – which we all think is the most wonderful thing – and it is – actually is. owned largely by Lockheed Martin, which produces weapons that kill people. But nobody really cares. “

When I asked Peter Beck if his company was Kiwi or American, he didn’t hesitate to wave the star-spangled banner.

“Look, we’re an American company and we’ve been proud of it for many years,” he said.

“The New Zealand element is very important and very special to us, but we have never tried to hide the fact that we are an American company and this is where New Zealand companies go wrong that if you want to be a big, successful global company, it’s very difficult to be out of New Zealand as well. “

Twin flags inside Rocket Lab's new assembly plant in Auckland.  Photo / Supplied.
Twin flags inside Rocket Lab’s new assembly plant in Auckland. Photo / Supplied.

He added: “Instead of bemoaning the fact that we have lost a New Zealand company, we should celebrate the fact that a company has grown so big it has to go global.”

This morning Beck had nothing to add to that, but one of his reps noted, “We’re still working through the 700+ global stories, so I’m sure we’ll come across many different descriptions. “

Beck did not comment on Stiassny’s Lockheed Martin gun jibe.

Rocket Lab has raised US $ 148 million from investors and has a private equity valuation north of US $ 1 billion – breathtaking by Kiwi standards but tiny next to Elon Musk’s Space X ($ 20 billion US dollars) and a rounding error for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who puts part of his $ 141 billion fortune in space company Blue Origin.

Last month, I asked Beck about the size of Lockheed Martin’s stake and the size of the holdings of the Silicon Valley heavyweight trio on its stock ledger (Khosla Ventures, The Data Collective, and Bessemer Venture Partners).

He declined to say who owns what percentage, but admitted that he now has a minority stake. However, he said his holdings and those of Sir Stephen Tindall were still “substantial”.

Rocket Lab is now incorporated in the United States and its rockets are manufactured at its plant in Huntington Beach, California, which is much larger than its recently opened assembly plant in Auckland.

Rocket Lab's new mission control center in Auckland will host launches in New Zealand and the United States.  Photo / Chris Keall.
Rocket Lab’s new mission control center in Auckland will host launches in New Zealand and the United States. Photo / Chris Keall.

And yet most of Rocket Lab’s 330 employees are in New Zealand, and half of its 180 hires in the coming year will be in New Zealand – all high-value jobs.

The company has just named its first launch site in the United States (NASA’s Wallops Launch Facility in the US state of Virginia) and Beck says it is actively seeking a site in the UK, with a possible one in Asia at to follow.

But he adds that as Rocket Lab continues a pipeline of more than $ 3 billion satellite launches over the next four years and switches to weekly flights, the Mahia Peninsula will remain its most frequent launch site. high. Our relatively liberal regulatory environment helps, says Beck, but that’s mainly because our airways and seaways are, by international standards, nearly empty.

R&D is based in New Zealand and Beck plans to keep it here (which is good, considering taxpayers have contributed through Crown agency Callaghan Innovation, which has provided matching R&D funding worth up to $ 25 million).

And all flights, anywhere in the world, will be run from the company’s new mission control center in Auckland.

So in many ways, Rocket Lab is a Kiwi business, or at least a Kiwi-American business.

But try to tell CNN.

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