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Lidar maker Velodyne loses its CEO amid internal chaos

Velodyne, a leading manufacturer of lidar laser sensors, announced that CEO Anand Gopalan would be stepping down. The news comes as the sensor company has been embroiled in a bitter war between its founder, David Hall, and the company’s board of directors.

Gopalan, who previously served as Velodyne’s chief technology officer before taking the reins from Hall in January 2020, is stepping down as both CEO and a member of the board effective July 30th, the company said.

But rather than name a replacement, Velodyne is setting up something called “Office of the Chief Executive” comprised of several members of the company’s leadership team, including chief operating officer Jim Barnhart, chief financial officer Drew Hamer, head of human resources Kathy McBeath, and chief commercial officer Sinclair Vass. The move may be temporary, though, as the board is also retaining an executive search firm to find a replacement for Gopalan.

For the last several months, Velodyne has been a company at war with itself. In April, the board ousted Hall as chair of the company’s board, and his wife, Marta Thoma Hall, as its chief marketing officer, citing “inappropriate behavior” by the couple. Marta Hall remains a member of Velodyne’s board of directors, while David Hall resigned his position on March 2nd.

The following month, David Hall called for the resignation of two of the company’s SPAC-appointed board directors, whom he blames for Velodyne’s “poor financial performance.” He accused the board of financial misdeeds, including padding Gopalan’s compensation “despite knowing the company would miss its 2020 projections.” And he claimed that he and his wife were ousted from their positions over “frivolous claims.”

Hall has long been revered in the world of autonomous vehicle technology as a pioneer in the use of laser sensors to enable AVs to “see” the world around them. Lidar, which stands for “light detection and ranging,” uses thousands of laser beams to sense objects and measure their distance. The cone- or cylindrical-shaped sensor perched on the roof of a vehicle has become synonymous with self-driving cars.

In June 2020, Velodyne struck a deal with special acquisition company (SPAC) Graf Industrial Corp., with a market value of $1.8 billion. It was part of a wave of companies in the transportation technology space choosing to go public via SPAC and thus avoiding a lot of the scrutiny that comes with a more traditional IPO.

But Velodyne contends that its financial outlook remains “unchanged” despite Gopalan’s resignation. The company, which expects its 2021 revenue to be between $77 million and $94 million, will report its second quarter earnings on August 5th.

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