A Leader Maintaining and Building On 65 Years of Innovation
Sanjeev Weerasuriya serves as a the CEO and President of Systems Technology Inc. (STI), a company renowned for its innovation and leadership within the aerospace industry for over 65 years. We were delighted to recently sit down with him to discuss his career and role at STI.
What is STI? Give us a brief introduction of what the company is today, including its three distinct business units.
At its core, STI is a company dedicated to safety and providing solutions that save lives. Our founders were iconic figures in the Aerospace industry, holding top-level positions at Northrop in the 1940s and 1950s, but they didn’t want to be in Management, they wanted to do the exceptional engineering work that they loved, advancing the forefront of aerospace technology.. So, that’s why this company was formed and since then engineering excellence has been our goal. Throughout the years, we have focused on where two types of complex systems meet: sophisticated equipment that moves and the humans that control them, with the purpose being to create the most valuable human/machine interaction assessments and solutions that support safety and saving lives.. Today, we operate three business units: Engineering Services, our engineering R&D and consulting services; PARASIM®, our virtual reality parachute training simulators; and STISIM Drive®, our interactive driving simulators for occupational therapy, driving research, and driver training.
How did you come to be at STI? Tell us a little about your career journey and why you’ve chosen to stay at STI for over two decades.
I began my career in my home country of Sri Lanka in the field of Business Operations, but my degrees are in Finance, and most of my career has been spent here at STI. I joined the company about 21 years ago, as the Controller, then the CFO, and eventually took on the role of CEO in 2018. It’s been a very positive experience for me, and I wouldn’t want to work anyplace else. As a Small Business, while we are continuing to grow, we have kept the family atmosphere that makes STI resilient and strong.
Your company has an amazingly rich history and accompanying reputation within the aerospace industry. What is the story of that heritage of innovation?
It really is an amazing story. Our founders, Duane T. McRuer and Irving L. Ashkenas, truly were two of the most legendary figures in the history of the aerospace industry. They literally wrote the book – the definitive text, still in use today – on Aircraft Dynamics and Automatic Control. Their legacy of advancing state-of-the-art technology related to flying is second to none, and their work can be found in such renowned aircraft as the P-51 Mustang and P-61 Black Widow fighters from WWII, Northrop’s flying wings, and even in NASA’s Space Shuttle. Their brilliance made us a company acclaimed for specializing in systems analysis of air, sea and ground vehicles and their related human operator dynamics. It’s a 65-year heritage of innovation that very few companies can match.
What do you think has been the key reason that STI has not only survived as a company for over 65 years, but also continues to be relevant today?
It’s very simply, it’s due to the best asset we have – our people. Our team is what has made us successful since day one, and it’s why we continue to thrive today. As I mentioned, we have this great foundation built on 65 years of innovation, but our employees are constantly in motion, in a state of forward thinking. They are always seeking new innovations and efficiencies that can improve our products and services, which in turn contributes to greater levels of safety for individuals and communities. One of the things that I am very proud of is our mix of talent and diversity. While we have a core of brilliant and highly-respected engineers and other employees who have been with us for decades, we also have an impressive group of young innovators that bring fresh ideas and energy to the table every day.
You briefly mentioned your three business units, but tell us more about each one.
Engineering Services is our most extensive business unit. Our ability to simplify complexity to solve seemingly intractable engineering problems creates exceptional value for our customers, with successes across government and industry, spanning a wide range of fields: aerospace, automotive, defense, energy, and astronomy.
PARASIM® is an interactive virtual reality training simulator that enables parachute jumpers to hone their skills and plan missions on the ground before they take to the air. Its primary usage is by Special Forces military personnel for mission planning and rehearsal, pilots and aircrew training for emergency ejections and bailout, and smoke jumpers, for training to parachute into rough terrain to fight wilderness fires. Combining 3-D virtual reality technology with validated parachute dynamics and realistic controls, it simulates what jumpers see and experience, in real-time. The results are lower training costs, improved preparedness and, most importantly, increased safety. It’s truly a technology that reduces injury and even saves lives.
Finally, STISIM Drive® is the world’s leading driving simulation technology for clinical therapy, driving research and driver training. Driving is an ideal test of human functioning because the skill engages so many modalities: cognition, vision, hearing, executive function, psycho-motor. STISIM Drive®, which packages STI’s proprietary software and hardware into interactive simulation systems, is used in a wide spectrum of applications, but we’re really excited about how it’s helping the clinical therapy community better assess and rehabilitate their patients. Again, what we do all comes back to keeping people safe.
STI is interesting in that you are an employee-owned company. How did that come about and are there advantages to that?
When our founders retired, they weren’t interested in selling to a big conglomerate, but instead wanted their own STI team they had grown over the years to take control. Today, we’re a one-hundred percent employee-owned company, and that brings a very different dynamic, because every employee gets to participate in the equity side of it; not only do they earn salaries, but they also participate in an equity sharing program. That means every employee of the company is an owner, responsible for making sure that our customers’ needs are met, as well as both contributing and benefiting from STI’s success.
That 65 years of history is amazing. How do you see the next 65 years going for the company?
The first 65 years have been great, but the next 65 years are going to be even better. There are so many exciting new projects and technologies that we’ll be impacting across various industries, such as autonomous vehicles, eVTOL, AI/machine learning, VR- and AR-based training systems. Building on our engineering foundations, STI will keep advancing the forefront of emerging technologies and incorporating them into our services and simulators, so I am very excited about what the future holds!