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 is 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 over Hall’s reins in January 2020, will step down as both CEO and member of its board of directors effective July 30, the company said.

But instead of naming a replacement, Velodyne is establishing something called the “Office of the Chief Executive,” made up of several members of the company’s leadership team, including chief operating officer Jim Barnhart, chief financial officer Drew Hamer, chief human resources Kathy McBeath, and Chief Commercial Officer Sinclair Vass. However, the move may be temporary as the board also employs an executive search firm to find a replacement for Gopalan.

In recent months, Velodyne has been a company at war with itself. In April, the board of directors ousted Hall as chairman of the company’s board of directors, and his wife, Marta Thoma Hall, as chief marketing officer, citing “improper conduct” by the couple. Marta Hall will remain on Velodyne’s board of directors, while David Hall resigned on March 2.

The following month, David Hall called for the resignation of two of the company’s SPAC-appointed directors, blaming 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 had been kicked out of their positions for “frivolous claims.”

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

In June 2020, Velodyne signed a deal with special acquisition company (SPAC) Graf Industrial Corp., which has a market value of $1.8 billion. It was part of a wave of transportation technology companies that chose to go public through SPAC, thus avoiding much of the scrutiny associated with a more traditional IPO.

But Velodyne says his financial outlook remains “unchanged” despite Gopalan’s resignation. The company, which expects revenue to be between $77 million and $94 million in 2021, will report its second quarter results on Aug. 5.