It looks like a game of musical chairs over at Amyris, the UC Berkeley-spawned genetic engineering company in nearby Emeryville. With more details of the latest shakeup coming in an official statement of the company.
We’ve been following the company since it began, in part because the founder was UC Berkeley “bioengineering” superstar, Jay Keasling, who launched the outfit with money from Bill Gates.
Keasling is long gone, having cashed out when the getting was still good, and he’s already launched another startup while heading up “synthetic biology” for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and running the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute, located just upstairs from Amyris in the same Emeryville building.
But before we get to the specifics on the layoffs, here’s the take from one notable Wall Street analyst, Raymond James equity analyst Pavel Molchanov, via Biofuels Digest:
“Having withdrawn production guidance in February and announced a dilutive ‘emergency’ equity raise in March, Amyris is in rough shape. The stock’s year-to-date decline of over 70% makes it by far the worst performer in our alt energy coverage universe. In this context comes news that Amyris is reshuffling its executive ranks, with the head of operations, chief technical officer and general counsel leaving the company. Concurrently, Steven Mills becomes the new CFO, though the CFO change had been in the works since last year. CEO John Melo appears to retain the board’s support at this point.
“While management changes (and we suspect layoffs too) are probably inevitable given the company’s current condition, ultimately the solution to the recent scale-up difficulties needs to be a technical/operational one, not just cost-cutting. The stock’s recent meltdown suggests that the market may see bankruptcy as a realistic scenario. While in no way minimizing the challenges faced by the company, we think that there is ample cash on hand to sustain operations into 2013 – but the stock could remain in the penalty box until there are clear signs of progress in commercialization.”
Note that use of the B-word, as in bankruptcy.
Digest editor Jim Lane adds a key question:
The pressure is on CEO John Melo to articulate – to investors, and as soon as possible – what the specific problems are at the fermenters. If there is a basic flaw in the technology platform, firing the general counsel won’t solve anything. If there’s no basic flaw, then as a public company, Amyris will be expected to resume guidance to Wall Street, meet those guidelines, or John Melo will certainly be the next to mount the guillotine.
The company has been notoriously remiss in keep its small investors up to date [the big ones have representation on the board], and they’ve been very tight-lipped about those fermenter problems.
Contamination at the company’s Brazilian operations could mean many things, most ominously the possibly of the release of the company’s patented genetically altered microbes into the environment.
We await the details with great interest.
Lane gets one thing wrong in his story of the change-up when he pegs the stock’s all-time high at $30.78. The real number: $33.85, set 14 months ago. The difference between the two numbers is 24 cents more than Amyris shares closed on the NASDAQ yesterday.
Here’s the company’s announcement:
Amyris, Inc. announced the realignment of its senior leadership team in support of the Company’s growth strategy.
“We are realigning our management team as we pursue our current production ramp up. We are committed to achieving profitable, predictable operations,” said John Melo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Amyris.
Three members of the management team will be departing the Company: Mario Portela, President of Global Operations; Tamara Tompkins, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary; and, Neil Renninger, Chief Technical Officer. Dr. Renninger will remain as a member of Amyris’s Board of Directors.
“I am grateful for the tremendous service Mario, Tammy, and Neil have provided to Amyris and am certain of their continued success in their future endeavors,” added John Melo.
Amyris also announced the following changes to the management team:
- Peter Boynton will lead business development activities;
- Joel Cherry will remain as head of research and development, including ongoing collaborations;
- Paulo Diniz will continue to lead Amyris Brasil while expanding his responsibilities in strategic partnerships;
- Gary Loeb will serve as Amyris General Counsel and Corporate Secretary;
- Steve Mills,as previously announced, became Chief Financial Officer, effective today;
- Jack Newman will remain as the Chief Science Officer;
- Mark Patel is being promoted to Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations, responsible for leading products strategy and sales growth;
- Ramesh Raman is being promoted to Senior Vice President of Global Manufacturing, responsible for manufacturing and supply chain;
- Christine Ring will lead legal technology strategy and intellectual property; and,
- Joel Velasco will continue his role leading external communications and policy as well as strategic partnerships.
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