Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to replace CEO Bob Smith with outgoing Amazon exec Dave Limp

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Bob Smith, chief executive officer of Blue Origin LLC, (L), and Dave Limp, senior vice president of devices and services for Amazon.com Inc.

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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 Limp’s resignation last month. 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. The New Glenn rocket, and BE-4 engines (which are also required for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket), have been 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. The competition was actually a second chance contest NASA held after Elon Musk’s SpaceX won the first lander award in 2021. Blue Origin sued the decision and lost. Smith responded to these claims by stating that Blue Origin “had no tolerance for any discrimination or harassment.” However, the company had a high turnover rate in 2020. Blue Origin has been aggressive in hiring since then. Bezos sent a message on Monday to Blue Origin’s employees. 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. Bob’s leadership has led Blue to several billion dollars of sales orders and a significant backlog of vehicles and engines. Bob’s leadership has led to a team of more than 10,000 people, up from just 850 when he joined. Our team has grown from 850 people when Bob joined to more than 10,000 today. We have expanded our Kent office to include a launchpad at LC 36 and five million square foot of facilities in seven states. Vulcan will be launched into orbit by BE-4 engines that have been flight-qualified. New Glenn will launch in the next year and with our NASA contract we’ll land Americans on the Moon again, but this time permanently. Our Club for the Future has also inspired and engaged millions of educators and children. 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 Blue’s right leader for the right time. Dave comes to us after nearly 14 years with Amazon. He was most recently the senior vice president for Amazon Devices and Services. Dave led Kuiper and Kindle as well as Alexa, Zoox and other businesses. Dave held roles at high-tech companies such as Apple and Palm before joining Amazon. Dave is an innovator who has extensive experience in leading and scaling large and complex organizations. He also has a customer-first mentality. Dave is a man of great urgency who brings energy and speed to all he does. Please join me in welcoming Dave, and thanking Bob. I’m confident that we will remain focused on meeting our commitments to customers, maintaining production schedules and executing operations with speed and excellence. I look forward to the many exciting and historic milestones ahead of us!

Jeff

Read Smith’s message to Blue Origin employees:

Team Blue,

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 stay with Blue until the 2nd of January to ensure that the transition to the new CEO is smooth. We have grown this company rapidly from its research and prototyping roots to become a prominent, large space business. We have the correct strategy. We 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 discussed my plan over the past few months. Jeff will soon announce Blue’s next CEO. I am very excited about the operational expertise and culture of innovative this new leader will be bringing 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.

Gradatim Ferociter.

Bob Smith

Correction: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized Dave Limp’s status at Amazon.