Alumni Snapshots: Q&A with Dr. Charlie Pellerin ‘62

Dr. Charlie Pellerin ‘62 and Alumni Director Carrie MacVean Grimes '91 were in touch this fall when the Class of ’62 was researching a Severn Archives mystery. He shared some highlights of his amazing career working with NASA, and the story of his founding of a team-building and leadership development company, 4-D Systems.
Career Highlights:
In 1983, Charlie became NASA’s Director of Astrophysics. He led this multi-billion-dollar program for a decade, building and launching 12 satellites. NASA awarded him the Creative Management Award and an Outstanding Leadership Medal. Charlie invented the “Great Observatories Program” garnering over $20 Billion for space astrophysics; for this, the American Astronautical Society gave Charlie their highest award, the Space Flight Award.

A Challenge and an Opportunity: 
Pellerin oversaw the launch of a dozen scientific satellites, including the Hubble Space Telescope. When a flawed mirror on Hubble prevented the telescope from performing, he launched a successful space repair mission. Before retiring from NASA in 1995, he also received the agency’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

As a consultant to NASA, accounting firms and aerospace companies, Pellerin developed a “four-dimensional” approach to measuring and improving the effectiveness of project leadership, project culture, and organization interfaces. “Simply put, we make three measurements in each of the four social dimensions—directing, visioning, relating and valuing—that we believe are fundamental to effective leadership and efficient cultures.”

How do Stories Impact Leadership? 
“The stories that you carry affect how you make decisions in your life. That’s why I’m very interested in the stories we tell. We all perceive reality through the filter of the ‘stories’ we believe. We create stories to make sense of our experience. And, we act within this context as if it were truth, because to each of us it feels like truth. I collect and study the impact of organizational and personal stories… it’s fascinating to help projects discover some of the stories they carry with them.”

What are some of the stories you tell? 
“When I was in college and running out of money, my roommate and I started a monogrammed sweatshirt business. We made a ton of money in four months. That was what mattered at the time. But the story I learned over the years is that making money is easy. What we need to focus on is making a contribution, and that’s a lot harder…my main story now is that ‘unknown and unnamed’ social undercurrents are at the root of many, if not most, project difficulties. These can be defined, measured, and remedied. Helping NASA projects do this is the most important contribution I can make with my life.”

Charlie’s book, How NASA Builds Teams (Wiley, 2009) sells in English and nine other languages. Charlie’s current passion is supporting human-developers worldwide in using his “4-D processes” to manage team social contexts, enhancing business performance and peoples’ lives. Charlie lives a fulfilling life with his wife, Junko, in Boulder, Colorado.

Please share!

Admiral's Club Podcast

Lower School

Preschool-Grade 5
Chesapeake Campus
1185 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd
Arnold, MD 21012

Middle/Upper School

Grade 6-12
Teel Campus
Severna Park, MD 21146