Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Jeff Bezos Replaces Blue Origin CEO

Two years and two months ago (July of '21) my daily piece was to relay a story from Ars Technica's Eric Berger that I called "Is It Too Late for Jeff Bezos to Save Blue Origin?"  That piece was written the day after what was the company's peak moment; their first manned launch with Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, octogenarian astronaut Wally Funk, and 18 year old Oliver Daemen. 

On Monday, the story broke that Bezos had fired the chief executive of Blue, Bob Smith and replaced him with a former vice president from Amazon, Dave Limp, who stepped down as Amazon's vice president of devices and services last month.  Writing for Ars Technica is Eric Berger who summed it up this way:

To put things politely, Smith has had a rocky tenure as Blue Origin's chief executive. After being personally vetted and hired by Bezos, Smith took over from Rob Meyerson in 2017. The Honeywell engineer was given a mandate to transform Blue Origin into a large and profitable space business.
As a space reporter, I have spoken with dozens of current and former Blue Origin employees, and virtually none of them have had anything positive to say about Smith's tenure as chief executive. I asked one current employee about the hiring of Limp on Monday afternoon, and their response was, "Anything is better than Bob."

The company has grown enormously, from 1500 people to nearly 11,000.  On the other hand, growing a company isn't terribly difficult, in the sense of adding warm bodies who may or may not know what they're doing.  The problem is that Smith has been significantly late on a number of key programs, including delivering the BE-4 rocket engines to United Launch Alliance.  Delivering them relies on making them manufacturable which Blue needs as well, for getting the New Glenn to fly routinely.  Adding people without adding income and building your product line just doesn't mean much.   

Smith received consistently low marks for his performance as chief executive of Blue Origin on Glassdoor.  I didn't remember until looking up that July '21 story as a starting point that just over two months after that first flight, a group of current and former Blue Origin employees wrote a blistering letter about the company under Smith.  The reason behind both of those may well be that Smith came from an old line engineering company, Honeywell, while Blue was selling itself as New Space.  It's true that they beat SpaceX to reflying rockets, but they haven't extended that past their "New Shepard" suborbital tourist flights.  As always, in any company that lives on innovation, the question is, "so what have you done for me lately?" 

As for the new Blue Origin CEO, Dave Limp, pardon me if I don't really see anything that indicates he'll be super.  Originally a computer scientist, he began his career at Apple in the mid-1980s directing the North and South American PowerBook division.  He worked in venture capital and was chief strategy officer of Palm before joining Amazon in 2010.  

At Amazon, Limp had a high-profile job overseeing the development of the company’s consumer electronic devices, including the Kindle, Fire TV, and Echo, as well as the Alexa voice assistant. Some of the shine on Limp's star seemingly wore off in recent years, as Alexa has been perceived to be a "colossal failure" by some accounts and, partly at least, led to Amazon shedding 10,000 jobs

The only thing approximating space experience that gets mentioned is that his consumer electronics division also oversaw the development of the Project Kuiper satellite constellation, designed to compete with Starlink.  ULA is about to launch the first two experimental Kuiper satellites next month on an Atlas V.  

He arrives at Blue Origin with a lot of work to do. The company has major programs, including the heavy-lift New Glenn rocket, the Blue Moon lunar lander, and the Orbital Reef space station in the development phase. He must balance these initiatives with the company's ongoing work to scale production of the BE-4 rocket engine as well as the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft.

After the first New Shepard tourist flight, Bob Smith (black ball cap and sweatshirt) walks alongside Jeff Bezos (blue flight suit and floppy white hat) near their flight range in Texas.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images 

Let's wish Blue Origin luck.


  1. They're gonna need it!
    I'll stop there...

  2. Dear Bezos, he kept his own income flowing smoothly, that's career success, what else do you expect? Want him to act like an owner, you have to give him risk/reward like an owner. Whereas if you micromanage him he will be happy to collect your paycheck each week and parrot back whatever you say. What, were you expecting to hear: 'Let's move geographically outside of USA regulatory authority area so we can invent our own flavor of fail early/fast. How about moving adjacent to the Panama canal so we can get next-day delivery of anything from the amazon of shipping flowing by. Or move next to a steep mountain and we'll build a rocket sled track to do ground-powered launch.' No, what you were expecting to hear was the same old stuff just magically with much better performance due to magic. Dear Bezos, let's just say you aren't having children with music entertainers and movie stars. Maybe you should work on that first before you poop on a non-CEO.

  3. Why did it take 2 years to remove him?
    Makes me wonder if Bezos didn't know, or if his contract required at least 2 years in place?
    Inquiring minds want to know...

    1. Two years is only the time from the last article. Smith was CEO since '17.

      So now the question is why did it take six years? My personal guess: Bezos is inept. Doesn't know what he's doing, doesn't know what he's looking for. He lucked into hiring some good people at Amazon and hired the right person at the right time.

  4. Bezos has been distracted. Divorced 2019. Bezos has a new girlfriend and lifestyle now. Older too. Not the same man that built Amazon.