Just days before its quarterly earnings call this month, Amyris sparked a sell-off of its stock when it announced that President and CEO John Melo would keep his job as three other executives leave: Mario Portela, former President of Global Operations and COO; Tamara Tompkins, former Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary; and Neil Renninger, former Chief Technical Officer. We interviewed Neil for Lux’s recent profile of Amyris (Client registration required), just before the announcement of back-peddling on earnings and production targets. Neil will remain a member of Amyris’s Board of Directors, which isn’t a surprise since he was among the original co-founders.
In addition to the departures, several other executives will change positions or join Amyris. Highlights include Peter Boynton, formerly of Tate & Lyle – one of Amyris’s partners – and who’s been with Amyris since late 2009, will now lead business development (See the report, “Solving the Bio-Based Chemicals Partnership Puzzle.” Client registration required.). Paulo Diniz, who has been leading Amyris Brasil, will add strategic partnerships to his responsibilities. Gary Loeb, eleven-year veteran of Genentech before joining Amyris in mid-2011, will take the lead as Amyris General Counsel and Corporate Secretary. Steve Mills brings three decades of experience at ADM to his new role as Chief Financial Officer. Mark Patel shifts from VP of Strategy to Senior VP of Commercial Operations, concerned with products strategy and sales growth. Ramesh Raman was promoted from VP Global Supply Chain Operations to Senior VP of Global Manufacturing, responsible for manufacturing and supply chain.
In light of Amyris’s recent changes in earnings and production guidance, it’s no secret things need to change there. But no evidence of show-stopping technical challenges exists. Given that, a drastic management shake-up is not warranted, if the existing team can accelerate demand growth.
In addition, what’s striking about this “shake-up” is how little it changed things. Minor alterations to titles and “promotions” from VP to Senior VP. The exits of the former COO, CTO, and General Counsel and addition of the ADM veteran CFO reflect housekeeping rather than full house-cleaning on the part of CEO Melo and the Board. Melo retains the Board’s support, taking an approach of scapegoating a few, rather than starting from scratch and reflects no decisive change in strategy – except to focus on growth.
Though Amyris could potentially be the next casualty in the unquestionably harrowing world of bioproduct commercialization, the Board may realize in the face of possible bankruptcy it should allow Melo to focus on growing demand, rather than hiring another management team. Adjusting to more austere times and doing the hard work of increasing demand is the new normal for Amyris, and this may be the best time to invest with an equity stake and partner with Amyris, ever. The question remains, however: Can Amyris build or access sufficient markets to bring in substantial revenue with its farnesene-based platform?