FLORENCE — U.S. Space and Rocket Center CEO/Executive Director Deborah Barnhart had a few tips Wednesday for the Shoals Chamber Women in Business.

The guest speaker for the group's quarterly luncheon, Barnhart shared her experiences in business and the Navy, offering suggestions on what makes women successful in business.

Using naval references throughout her presentation, Barnhart told the women to honor their instincts and know they are influenced by the space and galaxy around them.

"Just as I had to follow my instincts during my time in the Navy, as one of the first women to serve aboard ships, you have to follow your gut in business, from hiring to firing to all the inner workings of that entity," Barnhart said. 

Barnhart, who served 23 years in the Navy, is qualified to fight and drive ships.

She has been CEO of the Space and Rocket Center since 2011, and is the recipient of the Distinguished Public Service Award for her support of NASA, the highest award offered to a civilian outside the federal government.

She said her life experiences have led her to a job she calls "the best job ever."

Currently, there are over 1 million space camp graduates from numerous countries, and for the past 30 years there has been a space camp offered for the visually impaired. 

"When I first came (to the Space and Rocket Center), we were $20 million in debt, had a $6 million line of credit, and had about $22 million in revenues," she said. "Today, we've doubled the revenues, the debt has been cut in half, and there's no credit line."

Barnhart advised those present to "pick your crew wisely," adding that business owners bear the hiring responsibility but must also acknowledge when they've hired the wrong person.

"You're going to have the wrong person in the wrong job sometimes," she said. "Men are the worst at not acknowledging that and keeping (poorly performing) employees. You have to cut the person off and move on. Then, everyone around you gets better because, believe me, they know the problems that exist because of that employee."

For those new to business, she offered some advice as well: "Take one more step daily in the direction of your vision and dreams and be persistent."

Barnhart said her life at sea taught her many lessons, including to not be so judgmental of herself and to forge forward in taking the time to recreate herself when necessary.

"Execute your mission boldly and you will be taken seriously," she said.


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