Eccentric OrbitsJohn Bloom
14 June 2016
Published by Grove Press
14 June 2016
Published by Grove Press
In the early 1990s, Motorola, the legendary American company, made a huge gamble on a revolutionary satellite telephone system called Iridium. Light-years ahead of anything previously put into space, and built on technology developed for Ronald Reagan’s ‘Star Wars,’ Iridium’s constellation of sixty-six satellites in six evenly spaced orbital planes meant that at least one satellite was always overhead.
Iridium was a mind-boggling technical accomplishment, surely the future of communication. The only problem was that Iridium was also a commercial disaster. Only months after launching service, it was $11 billion in debt, burning through $100 million a month and bringing in almost no revenue. Bankruptcy was inevitable – the largest to that point in American history. It looked like Iridium would go down as just a ‘science experiment.’
That is, until Dan Colussy got a wild idea. Colussy, a former CEO of Pan Am, heard about Motorola’s plans to ‘de-orbit’ the system and decided he would buy Iridium and somehow turn around one of the biggest blunders in the history of business.
Eccentric Orbits masterfully traces the birth of Iridium and Colussy’s tireless efforts to stop it from being destroyed, from meetings with his motley investor group, to the Clinton White House, to the Pentagon, to the hunt for customers in special ops, shipping, aviation, mining, search and rescue. Impeccably researched and wonderfully told, Eccentric Orbits is a rollicking, unforgettable tale of technological achievement, business failure, the military-industrial complex and one of the greatest deals of all time.
[A] pacey business book... It's worth reading not just for the wild ride that involves secretive Saudi Sheikhs, plucky terrorists, never-say-die businessmen and Bill Clinton, but also as a reminder of how vast businesses can be vastly dumb, how much success is down to good fortune and why if you have tech stocks in your pension fund you'd better make sure that they are the right ones... A thrilling boom-to-bust corporate drama. The sooner someone turns it into a film starring Bradley Cooper as Colussy, the better.
The Sunday Times
A prize-worthy example of the investigative genre... John Bloom has achieved in Eccentric Orbits an admirable balance of the human and the technological in what is at hear an age-old tale of one man's triumph against apparently insuperable odds.
An inspiring history as well as an effective business thriller.
Eccentric Orbits not only offers good corporate drama, but it is an enlightening narrative of how new communications infrastructures often come about: with a lot of luck, government help and investors who do not ask too many questions.
Eccentric Orbits is a remarkable work. I had known about Iridium but not about its fascinating history. John Bloom's writing style is attractive and the level of detail is astonishing. This was a page-turner for me!
Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist, Google
Eccentric Orbits is both a novelistic thriller and a cautionary tale, a page-turner about a reach for the heavens and a business primer on a near-fatal fall back to the earth.
Julian Guthrie, author of THE BILLIONAIRE AND THE MECHANIC
Impeccably researched, and in smooth, easy prose, John Bloom interweaves fascinating historical trivia about the space race, satellites, and global communications with detail-filled personality snapshots and cringingly revealing, often disturbingly humorous, insights about the many ways big business can shoot itself in the foot.
John Brewer, former president and editor-in-chief, New York Times Syndicate and News Service