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Management shake-up at Kiva Systems, maker of robotic warehouse workers

Posted by Scott Kirsner  December 15, 2011 10:10 AM

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At least five senior executives have quietly been ousted in recent months at Kiva Systems, the maker of warehouse automation systems that use armies of squat orange robots to move merchandise. The executive shuffle follows Kiva's hiring of a new president and COO, Amy Villeneuve, last year. (That's Villeneuve at right, cutting the ribbon on the company's new headquarters building in North Reading earlier this year, next to founder and CEO Mick Mountz.)

Out are executives like Rob Stevens, a former vice president of sales and strategy at Kiva; he landed at Backupify, a digital archiving start-up. Mitch Rosenberg had led marketing and product management at Kiva until November. Mark Mastandrea, Kiva's former vice president of customer solutions, is now at Wayfair, the Boston home decor e-tailer. Kiva's ex-VP of manufacturing operations, Jim DeSisto, hasn't yet updated his LinkedIn profile, but former VP of business operations John Dugan is now chief executive of Trylby, a deals site in San Francisco.

One very interesting new recruit for Kiva is chief financial officer Keith Seidman, who joined back in March. Seidman was CFO at Acme Packet when that telecommunications company went public in 2006. Sources tell me that Kiva has already had some early conversations with investment bankers about a potential IPO, though the same can be said of lots of companies with significant revenues. (Among Kiva's customers are major retailers like Staples, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gap, and Toys R Us, who typically use Kiva's technology to help fulfill web orders efficiently.)

Former Kiva employees tell me that the shake-up had nothing to do with the company's financial situation; one said that Kiva's bookings have grown six-fold over the past four years. But the ex-Kiva-ites said that Villeneuve, the new COO, pushed out executives that didn't mesh with her strategy and style. Only one of Kiva's original crop of VPs, Benge Ambrogi, remains on the management team — and the former head of product development has been moved into a vague role overseeing "process excellence."

Kiva board member Ajay Agarwal of Bain Capital Ventures told me that "Amy's big charter was to get the company ready for the next stage of growth, and she has been executing on the organizational piece of that." Agarwal said Kiva is working to increase revenues "from nine figures to ten figures over the next five years" — that's a billion dollars — "and we looked to beef up the management team. Some people who were great contributors early on are still with the company, and others in a management role were not the right contributors to scale to the next level."

Kiva chief executive Mick Mountz didn't respond to phone calls, but sent an e-mail noting that Kiva had added 100 employees in the past year, and was in the process of opening a European office. "Things are great here," he wrote, adding that the new CFO and other executives had been brought in "to scale the business to $1b."

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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