Bob Smith, chief executive officer of Blue Origin LLC, (L), and Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services for Amazon.com Inc.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin will replace CEO Bob Smith with outgoing Amazon executive Dave Limp, CNBC has learned.
Smith is retiring effective Dec. 4 and will remain with the company until Jan. 2 for the CEO transition, according to notes to Blue Origin staff written by Smith and Bezos that were obtained by CNBC.
Limp joins Blue Origin at a key phase of the company’s multiple space projects. Blue needs to ramp production of its BE-4 rocket engines, return its space tourism rocket New Shepard to flight, and launch its next-generation New Glenn rocket for the first time – as well as deliver on a recently-won NASA contract for a crewed lunar lander.
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In a statement to CNBC, a Blue Origin spokesperson praised Limp as “a proven innovator with a customer-first mindset” who has “extensive experience in the high-tech industry and growing highly complex organizations.”
Amazon announced last month that Limp would be stepping down later this year. As Amazon’s devices and services chief, Limp oversaw Amazon’s Alexa, Echo and Ring units, as well as some of its more experimental divisions like Zoox autonomous vehicles, and the Project Kuiper internet satellite business.
Limp’s Amazon success
Dave Limp, Senior Vice President, Devices & Services, speaks at Amazon’s HQ2 in Crystal City, Virginia on September 20, 2023.
Eric Lee | The Washington Post | Getty Images
Limp’s resignation came as a shock, as he spent more than 13 years at Amazon. He became a top lieutenant of CEO Andy Jassy and a member of Amazon’s vaunted S-Team, a tight-knit group of senior executives across almost all of its businesses.
Additionally, Limp and Bezos worked closely together when the Amazon founder was still CEO. Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant and Echo smart speakers were pet projects of Bezos’, and Limp steered both of the high-profile launches.
Amazon has not announced a replacement for Limp yet, but Bloomberg and other outlets have reported that the company is expected to hire Microsoft product chief Panos Panay.
Smith’s few Blue Origin results
Billionaire American businessman Jeff Bezos walks with Blue Origin’s President and CEO Bob Smith after Bezos flew on the company’s inaugural flight to the edge of space, in the nearby town of Van Horn, Texas, U.S. July 20, 2021.
Joe Skipper | Reuters
Smith took the reins at Blue Origin in 2017 after 13 years at aerospace conglomerate Honeywell, with Bezos annually spending billions to transform his space venture into a sector powerhouse.
Under Smith’s leadership, Blue Origin heavily built up infrastructure across the U.S. – adding a key rocket engine manufacturing and testing site in Alabama, expanding its rocket production and launch facilities in Florida, and opening locations in California, Arizona, and Colorado.
The most high-profile success during Smith’s tenure came in July 2021, when Bezos flew with the first crew of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket to the edge of space and back.
But delays and setbacks marred each of Blue Origin’s major programs under Smith. Both its marquee New Glenn rocket and BE-4 engines – the latter of which is also needed for fellow rocket company United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan vehicle – are years behind schedule. It lost out on a lucrative round of Pentagon launch contracts in 2020, and needs to fly New Glenn to show the U.S. Space Force is can be awarded military missions in the upcoming round of awards.
Earlier this year Blue Origin won a $3.4 billion NASA contract to build a lunar lander for the agency’s astronauts. But the competition was a second-chance contest that NASA organized after Elon Musk’s SpaceX was the sole winner of the first lander contract in 2021 – an award decision that Blue Origin took to federal court and lost.
Those schedule slips were compounded by allegations from current and former employees that the company had a toxic and sexist workplace. Smith addressed those claims by saying Blue Origin had “no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind,” but the company suffered from an elevated turnover rate in 2021. However, Blue Origin has since hired aggressively. Bezos on Monday noting noted the company had grown to more than 10,000 employees, from around 4,000 about two years prior.
Read Bezos’ message to Blue Origin employees on Monday:
I’m excited to share that Dave Limp will join Blue starting December 4th as CEO, replacing Bob, who has elected to step aside on January 2. The overlap is purposeful to ensure a smooth transition.
Before I provide some background on Dave, I’d like to take the time to recognize Bob and the significant growth and transformation we’ve experienced during his tenure. Under Bob’s leadership, Blue has grown to several billion dollars in sales orders, with a substantial backlog for our vehicles and engines. Our team has increased from 850 people when Bob joined to more than 10,000 today. We’ve expanded from one office in Kent to building a launch pad at LC-36 and five million square feet of facilities across seven states.
Our mission has grown too – we’ve flown 31 people above the Kármán Line, almost five percent of all the people who have been to space. Flight-qualified BE-4 engines are ready to boost Vulcan into orbit. New Glenn is nearing launch next year, and, with our recent NASA contract, we will land Americans back on the Moon, this time to stay. We have also engaged and inspired millions of children and educators through our Club for the Future efforts. We’ve made tremendous progress in building a road to space for the benefit of Earth, thanks to each of you and Bob’s leadership.
I’ve worked closely with Dave for many years. He is the right leader at the right time for Blue. Dave joins us after almost 14 years at Amazon, where he most recently served as senior vice president of Amazon Devices and Services, leading Kuiper, Kindle, Alexa, Zoox, and many other businesses. Before Amazon, Dave had roles at other high-tech companies, including Palm and Apple. Dave is a proven innovator with a customer-first mindset and extensive experience leading and scaling large, complex organizations. Dave has an outstanding sense of urgency, brings energy to everything, and helps teams move very fast.
Please join me in welcoming Dave and thanking Bob. Through this transition, I know we’ll remain focused on our customer commitments, production schedules, and executing with speed and operational excellence. I look forward to the many exciting and historic milestones ahead of us!
Read Smith’s message to Blue Origin employees:
It’s been about six years since I joined Blue Origin. During that time, our team, facilities, and sales orders have grown dramatically, and we’ve made significant contributions to the history of spaceflight.
With pride and satisfaction in all that we’ve accomplished, I’m announcing that effective December 4, I will be stepping aside as Chief Executive Officer of Blue Origin. I will remain with Blue until January 2 to ensure a smooth transition with the new CEO.
It has been my privilege to be part of this great team, and I am confident that Blue Origin’s greatest achievements are still ahead of us. We’ve rapidly scaled this company from its prototyping and research roots to a large, prominent space business. We have the right strategy. a supremely talented team, a robust customer base, and some of the most technically ambitious and exciting projects in the entire industry. We also have a team that cares deeply about its mission, legacy, and how we contribute to the next generation and bring everyone into a brighter future.
Jeff and I have been discussing my plan for months, and Jeff will announce Blue’s new CEO in a separate note shortly. I’m very excited about the operational excellence and culture of innovation this new leader will bring to Blue. building on the foundation we’ve created over the past few years.
I’m committed to ensuring this transition is flawless, and everyone should know that Ill always be on Team Blue.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Dave Limp’s status at Amazon.