Whatever the secret of Peter Beck's success, it doesn't involve the usual 10 hours' shut-eye.

"As long as I get sort of five hours' sleep, I'm good to go," the Rocket Lab founder and chief executive says.

That's 'good to go' for working up to 16 hours a day.

The pyramid-building hours, and a lot of smarts, have started to pay off.


Beck — named Herald Business Leader of the Year today — had a banner 2018.

January saw Rocket Lab's first successful test flight; December its second commercial launch.

In between, his company raised $206 million at a $1.5 billion-plus valuation, chose the site for its first launch facility outside NZ (in the US state of Virginia) and opened a giant assembly plant and mission control centre in Auckland.

Rocket Lab also awarded three medals by the prestigious London-based Royal Aeronautical Society, including a gold for Beck.

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"2018 has been a stellar year for us — I'm having the time of my life," he says.

And although Beck is reaching for the heavens, he also has an eye on the bottom line.

"We'll come out of the end of this year cash-flow positive," he says.


That's good news Rocket Lab's investors, who now include Lockheed Martin, and Silicon Valley venture capital heavyweights Khosla Ventures and The Data Collective — plus, on the home front, Sir Stephen Tindall's K1W1 fund, ACC and Beck himself.

Beck had a banner 2018. Photo / Michael Craig.
Beck had a banner 2018. Photo / Michael Craig.

Beck grew up in Invercargill, born into a family who loved machines. While at high school, he pulled an old Mini apart and rebuilt it part by part, hotting it up with a turbocharger. But even then, his goal was to build rockets.

He never went to university. A tool making apprenticeship at Fisher & Paykel gave him the hands-on engineering skills and access to top of the line machinery and materials after hours.

In 2001 he got a job in Auckland at Industrial Research (now Callaghan Innovation) which had its base at Balfour St in Parnell and continued working on his passion — rockets.

He set up Rocket Lab in 2006 and gained backing from Tindall soon after. Sir Stephen was visiting another investment (clean energy company LanzaTech) when he literally stumbled across Beck's startup, which shared the same Parnell office building.

Today, Rocket Lab has made it to low-Earth orbit, and made it to profit. But there's no slowing down. Beck says team will work right through the Christmas break as his company gears up for its third commercial launch in January.

The New Year will also see Beck continue to hire at pace. His company now has 380 staff.

He wants to add another 100 over the next few months, spread between Auckland and LA.

"We've got some big R&D projects that we're cracking into next year, lots of scaling, we've got the new launch pad coming online in America, some really high profile payloads too — it's just a blast," he says.

Rocket Lab taken the odd jab this year, including from departing Vector chairman Michael Stiasnny, who claimed media give Beck's company an easy ride over shareholder Lockheed Martin's military-industrial links.

Speaking generally, Beck says Kiwis need to be more upbeat.

"One thing I'm very passionate about is entrepreneurialism. And in New Zealand, we produce fantastic entrepreneurs but suffocate them."

That may be the case for some, but the boyishly enthusiastic Beck remains singularly unstifled.

"I'm just getting started," he says. "I'm just getting cracking. This is the beginning."

Mahia: The tiny part of New Zealand that's now the centre of the Kiwi space race

Rocket Lab successfully launches at Mahia Peninsula. January saw their first successful test flight; December its second commercial launch. Photo / Supplied
Rocket Lab successfully launches at Mahia Peninsula. January saw their first successful test flight; December its second commercial launch. Photo / Supplied


Not long into Electron's fight to slip gravity there's an image from an on-board camera that shows me the magnitude of what's happening here.

A close look at a freeze frame the shot of the Mahia Peninsula reveals spots where I tried to surf, with heavy names like Rolling Stones and Last Chance, where friends and I fished and looked for paua, where we lay under the pines in a camp ground and the large area of land at its tip, that was covered in sheep and a no go zone.

If someone had told me then this would be the operational epicentre of a Kiwi-founded space programme - now launching NASA gear into space - I'd have told them to cut down smoking what was apparently abundant in the area.

But with hard-core fisherman, hell surfers, retirees and holiday makers, Mahia is now the place of rocketeers.

Part of New Zealand's most exciting industry is based there, thanks largely to the drive of Peter Beck.

Besides the hundreds employed in Auckland there's a ground crew drawn from locals - they're part of something not imagined in the area or most of New Zealand a few years ago.

Beck saw it from the start. Even though there were knockers waiting for failure - and because space is hard there may well be a some - Beck the restless tinkerer and creator from Southland was never deterred.

Throughout Rocket Lab's short life he's been confident but not cocky - and always cautious. With the media, he gives just enough to convey a sense of who he is but never really laying it all out. He'd much rather talk about rockets than his personal life.

Investors have loved what they've seen. There's a relatively small sum of taxpayer funding he can draw on but its private money from here and Silicon Valley that's powered this budding industry.

Venture capitalists and aero-space giants have seen what's achievable, launched from a farm on the eastern edge of New Zealand.