Joel Madison '86 (mechanical engineering)
Joel Madison received his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1986. Being a native Nevadan originally from Elko, The University of Nevada was a natural fit, particularly since he was the first member of his family to attend a university and be awarded a degree. After graduating from Nevada he went on to receive a master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University. A primary reason for leaving Nevada at that time was due to the fact that there was not a degree available in Aerospace Engineering, which had always been an objective.
Following graduate school, Madison embarked on a career that would start in the aerospace industry but see him transition to a completely different industry, only to return “home” to aerospace years later.
His first job was as a member of the technical staff with the Rocketdyne Division of Rockwell International (known today as Aerojet-Rocketdyne), an American rocket engine design and production company headquartered in Canoga Park, California. There, he played a key role in the company’s hypersonic engine program—designing and testing hypersonic scramjet components to be used in the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) X-30 single-stage-to-orbit engine concept. One of the goals of a future NASP was a passenger liner that could take off from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., accelerate up to 25 times the speed of sound and fly to Tokyo within two hours.
After seven years at Rocketdyne, Madison left the company to go into the oil and gas industry.
The aerospace industry, in general, was facing some uncertainty and change in 1995. It did not look likely that the hypersonics program would transition to full production, and as a result of the strategic treaties with Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Rocketdyne was choosing to focus on agreements to produce a different engine. Plus, there was not a next generation of the Space Shuttle in the works. That meant that the opportunities to make an impact at Rocketdyne were diminishing.
As a result, in 1995, he returned home to Nevada and went to work for Ebara International Corporation in Sparks as a project engineer in its Cryodynamics® division, where he was responsible for the design, development, production and testing of cryogenic process pumps and liquified natural gas loading pumps for several large international projects.
As the basis for the Ebara product line was submerged cryogenic turbomachinery, it was a natural technical fit for me to move to that industry. In addition, it provided an opportunity for commercial business management growth and extensive international business experience, which are great learning and growth opportunities.
Madison steadily progressed through the ranks at Ebara, being named chief engineer of the Cryodynamics® division in 2000, then taking on the role of president/chief operating officer in 2003. He was named president/chief executive officer in 2006.
He held the position for seven years, and under his leadership, he turned a $4 million operating loss into $35 million operating profit annually, increased total revenue from $63 million to more than $200 million and maintained a 60 percent market share of the cryogenic submerged motor pump industry.
In 2014, Madison made his way back to the aerospace industry.
There were a few factors for returning, and as always, timing is everything. Ebara was at a very stable point with a saturated market, so there were not a lot of growth opportunities left. At the same time, commercial space had been surging, and there was what could be called a renaissance with all of the new concepts being brought to market.
One of the companies bringing those concepts to market was Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), a multi-billion-dollar company that focuses on space systems, commercial aviation solutions and national security and defense, and that employs roughly 5,000 people in 33 domestic and international locations.
SNC was also located in Sparks, and the company was growing rapidly. I had gotten to know the owners, who are great people, and I got to know more about all of the great work they had been doing not only with space but for many areas of defense and border security. The thought of returning to my roots in aerospace was too compelling to ignore, and I worked with the owners to transition into the right role in their company.
Madison took on the role of corporate vice president for SNC, and after four successful years in that position, he was promoted to his current position as chief operating officer (COO). As COO, he oversees the departments of engineering, program management, operations, quality management, procurement, information technology, physical and industrial security, safety, facilities and crisis management.
One of his major responsibilities is overseeing the development of SNC’s Dream Chaser® spacecraft—a multi-mission space utility vehicle designed for transporting crew and cargo to low-Earth orbit destinations such as the International Space Station (ISS). The spacecraft was selected by NASA to provide cargo delivery, return and disposal service for ISS and will carry critical supplies like food, water and science experiments, and provide a minimum of six cargo missions to and from ISS starting in late 2020.
Throughout the years Madison has remained connected to the University and the Engineering Faculty, both participating on the Industry Advisory Board and facilitating where possible with the establishment of an Aerospace Engineering Program within the College of Engineering. It would be fulfilling to provide the opportunity for future students to be able to stay home in Reno to achieve an Aerospace degree rather than being forced to leave the area to achieve their ambitions.
Madison resides in Reno, Nevada, with his wife, Kim