KAHULUI, Hawaii — Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, will resign from the company in December and be replaced by Dave Limp, the Amazon executive who had been overseeing development of its Project Kuiper constellation.
In an email to employees Sept. 25, Smith announced that he would step down as CEO effective Dec. 4 after six years on the job. He said he would remain with the company until early January to support the transition to his successor.
Smith said in the email he was leaving Blue Origin with “pride and satisfaction” in the company’s accomplishments since joining the company. “We’ve rapidly scaled this company from its prototyping and research roots to a large, prominent space business,” he wrote. “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.”
Blue Origin has grown from fewer than 1,000 employees when Smith took over as CEO to more than 10,000 today. During his tenure the company completed development and started commercial flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, while continuing development of the New Glenn orbital launch vehicle and the BE-4 engine that powers both New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. The company also won a NASA award in May to develop a crewed lunar lander, Blue Moon, for the Artemis lunar exploration campaign.
However, the company has also faced the perception that it is falling behind SpaceX, which has performed 68 orbital launches so far this year using its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, as well as an unsuccessful test flight of its next-generation Starship vehicle. New Glenn is years behind schedule, although a company executive said at World Satellite Business Week earlier this month that Blue Origin was planning “multiple” launches of the vehicle in 2024.
New Shepard, meanwhile, has been grounded since an engine failure during a September 2022 flight that carried payloads but no people. Smith said at a conference in June that the company was within “a few weeks” of resuming flights, but New Shepard has yet to fly since then.
“When I joined Blue, we had very, very little revenue,” Smith said at the June conference. “Now we have hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue as well as billions of dollars in orders, so we’re in a very good position.”
There had been recent signs, though, that Blue Origin’s growth was slowing. In early September several employees reported on social media that they had been laid off. All were recruiters, and an industry source familiar with the layoffs said they were tied to a slower pace of hiring, and not a reduction in overall workforce.
“In his six years, Bob led Blue Origin’s transformation from an R&D-focused company into a multi-faceted space business nearing $10 billion in customer orders and over 10,000 employees,” a company spokesperson told SpaceNews.
Smith said in his email that he had been discussing his planned departure with company founder Jeff Bezos for months, and that Bezos would separately announce his successor. Bezos, in an email shortly after Smith’s, praised the departing CEO.
“Under Bob’s leadership, Blue has grown to several billion dollars in sales orders, with a substantial backlog for our vehicles and engines,” Bezos wrote.
Bezos announced that Dave Limp would take over as chief executive of Blue Origin. Limp announced in August he planned to step down as senior vice president for devices and services at Amazon, also founded by Bezos. Limp’s portfolio at Amazon included Project Kuiper, Amazon’s broadband internet constellation in development, as well as consumer devices like Kindle and Echo.
“I’ve worked closely with Dave for many years. He is the right leader at the right time for Blue,” Bezos wrote. “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.”
“He has extensive experience in the high-tech industry and growing highly complex organizations,” a Blue Origin spokesperson said of Limp in a statement.