My Library and Courses
Last Update: Tuesday July 27, 2021

Key Idea: Build Beyond Yourself

Don Wilkes knew when he started AZ Technology that he could not achieve his dreams alone.

Key Question:


Build a team that can function and succeed without you.

Don had 20 years of experience as a space scientist when he founded AZ Technology, but he really didn't know anything about starting or running a business.

You heard Don say that he has enjoyed the business side of AZ Technology more than he thought he would. That's probably due to the corporate culture he has established and maintained since he started his business. He doesn't' think of his employees as people who work "for" him but as people who work "with" him. And he treats his people the same way he thinks of them, as valuable members of the AZ Technology team, each with a specific and important role and responsibility within the business. Scientists, engineers, technicians, and clerical personnel, all are members of the team and it is the team, not the individual, who succeeds.

Q: What benefits can you expect from establishing a team environment in your small business?

A: A team environment fosters creativity and innovation within the business. Each person takes responsibility beyond his or her own role to the overall objectives of the business. Don obviously remembers what led him to establish his own business in the first place and has created an environment where his people are supported as they envision new products and services. Such support led to Jim Chamberlain's development of the education-public outreach and space station voice system, and he didn't have to start his own business to do it!

Think about it

Do you take a team approach to achieve goals?  How do you reward achievement?>

Clip from: AZ Technology

Huntsville, Alabama:   Come to the Marshall Space Flight Center where small business is playing an ever-greater role in commercializing what was once top secret research and the domain of big business.

In this episode of the show we meet Don Wilkes, a scientist who started a business to build machines that no one else would. The year was 1989 when he started the business of his dreams, AZ Technology.

Don was quick to capitalize on a program that leverages our government's basic research to develop commercial products. It is called Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the program is administered by ten federal agencies.

These agencies annually grant over $3 billion to small businesses, mostly through the Department of Defense and NASA.

Go to all the key ideas and videos...
Go to the homepage for this episode...

AZ Technology

Lynn Leeper, CEO

7047 Old Mansion Pike
Suite 300
Huntsville, AL 35806

Visit our web site:

Office: 256-937-9877

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1989

Build Beyond Yourself

DON: (Voiceover) I've been a space scientist for over 30 years, working with space materials and instruments, and that doesn't teach you business. Business has its own interest.

I've enjoyed the business side of this much more than I ever thought would.

HATTIE: Really?

DON: I considered it a necessary evil in the beginning: `Well, in order to do this, I've got to do business.' Well, that's been more enjoyable than I thought it would. In my case, I know that I can only do so much, and I need good employees; I need good people that work with me. And I try to keep in mind that, yes, they work for me, but I try to play that down. They work with me. I hire people of all capabilities, from other scientists to engineers, technicians, clerical people. But we all work together, and it has to be worked as a team. And it's fun for me to see the teams grow.

I like to give the ability for anybody that works here to grow something of their own, within the confines of the definition of our business, to be able to envision something of their own, like I did, and to grow that into something that they can be proud of, that they can grow something that might be in their dreams. For instance, the software that we're talking about for the education-public outreach and the space station voice system, that's grown out of Jim Chamberlain.

Jim's the leader of our software group. These were his ideas that we helped him grow, and you love to see that growth. That's good for the company, that's good for them, and it's fun to see that happen.

HATTIE: And I'll tell you one way you are rewarding him. His name is on everything. Everything that we have in our folder about that project has his name on it.

DON: That's good.

HATTIE: I couldn't find your name anywhere. And I think that's a teaching point for other folks, that there are only 32 people in this company. You're the founder. You started it, but that's Jim's project and his name's all over it.

DON: Yeah. And I'm glad to see it comes out that way. You're never sure how it's seen sometimes. But I'm glad to see that it does come out that way. Because that's the way I feel about it. He has done a great job at growing that, and we want to reward that.

Not a member yet? Learn!  Be empowered! Join us!