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RBR50 company AutoGuide Mobile Robots, which was acquired by Teradyne in 2019, will soon have a new leader. President and CEO Rob Sullivan resigned on March 1, but is staying on until June 1 to help the transition. Tim Moriarty, Teradyne’s president of memory products, will step into Sullivan’s role.
Sullivan, 54, led AutoGuide’s spinout from Heartland Automation, a systems integrator in Georgetown, Ky., in 2017. He was part owner of Heartland Automation. Chelmsford, Mass.-based AutoGuide develops heavy-duty mobile robots for a variety of industries. Sullivan said his next role will focus on his passion – growing robotics startups. He co-founded Symbotic and Alert, two Boston-based robotics companies, prior to his time at Heartland.
“I have at least two more startups in me,” said Sullivan. “I’m looking at startups that have trouble getting to the commercialization phase.”
Well, he shouldn’t have trouble finding his next gig. Many robotics startups get stuck in the mud. Sullivan said he’s talking to a number of robotics startups at the moment and could work with multiple companies. Sullivan, who is on advisory boards at UMass Lowell and Northeastern University, is also eyeing special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which have quickly become a popular investment mechanism in robotics and other industries.
“SPACs will need help transitioning to becoming public companies,” he said. “Tag me in coach.”
Changes at Teradyne’s industrial automation group
When Sullivan leaves, AutoGuide will join two other Teradyne-owned robotics companies – Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) and Universal Robots (UR) – by undergoing leadership changes over the past year. After four-plus years as president of UR, Jürgen von Hollen stepped down at the end of 2020. He is now CEO of Ultimaker, a Dutch 3D printer manufacturer. Kim Povlsen is now president of UR. Polvsen held various executive business and technology leadership roles at Schneider Electric, a global energy management and automation company.
MiR named Søren E. Nielsen its president on August 1, 2020. He stepped in for Thomas Visti, who stepped aside to focus on supporting startups through his new venture, Visti Unlimited. Nielsen had been MiR’s CTO since 2018.
Revenue for Teradyne’s industrial automation group, which also includes Energid, declined 6% in 2020 to $280 million. The global slowdown in manufacturing activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic led to a 12% decline in sales at UR, which still earned $219 million. MiR grew 1% with sales of $45 million and, on a pro forma basis, AutoGuide also grew.
Greg Smith, president of Teradyne’s industrial automation group, said the leadership changes are simply a normal business progression.
“There’s no real change in strategy here. Certainly the change at MiR and AutoGuide reflect cases where the [person stepping down] was a founder, the business was moving to a new phase, and they were interested in doing other things,” he said. “Jürgen joined UR when it was early in the growth phase and left when it was approaching $300 million a year in revenue. He really enjoys the early scaling part of a business, and he saw another chance to do it again.”
AutoGuide’s focus going forward
Smith said AutoGuide has progressed from the initial startup phase to scaling up and becoming a trusted supplier for large customers. He noted the difference in customer base for AutoGuide and MiR. “MiR’s customer list is hundreds of businesses of all sizes. The customer list for AutoGuide is focused on big industrial and logistics companies. They’re introducing AutoGuide into mission-critical applications, where if a system goes down it could cost $50,000 per minute.”
Smith said AutoGuide’s business opportunity is well-aligned with Teradyne’s core strengths. This is where Moriarty comes in. He has spent most of his career in semiconductor testing and worked at two companies acquired by Teradyne. He was VP of sales and marketing for 12 years at Megatest, which Teradyne bought for $245 million in 1995. He then served as president of Nextest Systems for 11 years, which Teradyne acquired for $325 million in 2007.
“One of the key things [Moriarty] was able to do was maintain the identity of Nextest as it was getting higher volumes and more complex requirements from customers,” said Smith. “He kept the culture of Nextest’s business, but was able to tap into the skills we had at other parts of Teradyne to accomplish what he needed to do.”
Smith said he’s excited about the leadership team in place for Teradyne’s robotics companies. And he wishes Sullivan well in his next endeavor.
“Rob’s done a great job building AutoGuide to this point. He’s a gifted executive when it comes to building a company,” said Smith. “I hope he can grow another company Teradyne wants to buy.”