Velodyne Lidar CEO resigns in latest internal drama

Velodyne Lidar CEO Anand Gopalan is leaving the lidar company at the end of July as the sensor supplier continues to struggle with internal drama.

Gopalan, who was previously CTO, is leaving the top leadership position after about a year and a half on the job.

Velodyne said Monday in a statement that a team of top executives that includes COO Jim Barnhart, CFO Drew Hamer, Chief People Officer Kathy McBeath and Chief Commercial Officer Sinclair Vass will run the company as a search for a new chief executive is conducted. The company didn’t disclose why Gopalan was leaving.

Gopalan’s resignation comes after months of internal drama and business setbacks for a company that has been considered the leading supplier of lidar, the light detection and ranging radar sensor that is considered a critical component to commercially deploy autonomous vehicles.

The resignation is the latest in a series of issues that have cropped up since Velodyne Lidar struck a deal to merge with special purpose acquisition company Graf Industrial Corp. At the time, it was reported that Velodyne’s founder David Hall, along with backers Ford, Chinese search engine Baidu, Hyundai Mobis and Nikon Corp. would keep an 80% stake in the combined company. Hall became executive chairman and Gopalan remained in the CEO position.

Hall and his wife Marta Thoma Hall clashed with the SPAC that acquired Velodyne. In February, David Hall was removed as chairman of the board and Marta Thoma Hall lost her chief marketing officer position following an investigation by the board for “inappropriate behavior.”

Meanwhile, Ford, which had held almost 13.1 million shares — a value of about $244 million — in Velodyne at the close of the third quarter of 2020, sold off its stake by the end of the year.

Velodyne sensors had been used by Ford in its autonomous vehicle testing. The intention was that those would be the go-to sensor for its autonomous vehicles once they were deployed commercially.

Veoneer had even announced in 2019 that it was leveraging Velodyne’s technology for a contract to supply the sensor to Ford (and by extension its autonomous vehicle technology supplier Argo AI). But Veoneer reported in February that it had lost its contract.

Argo, which had acquired lidar company Princeton Lightwave, unveiled in May details on a long-range lidar sensor that it claims has the ability to see 400 meters away with high-resolution photorealistic quality and the ability to detect dark and distant objects with low reflectivity. With so much progress internally, Argo and Ford staked their future plans on its own lidar.

In a May letter, David Hall blamed the SPAC, specifically the SPAC-appointed members of the combined company’s board, for its poor financial performance and called for the resignation of Gopalan and two board members.

As part of Velodyne’s announcement on Gopalan’s resignation, the company restated its business outlook for 2021 revenue, noting that its guidance of between $77 million and $94 million remains unchanged. Velodyne will report second quarter financial results August 5.

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