iRobot’s new CEO on cleanup duty after Amazon deal fails

iRobot named Gary Cohen its new CEO this week. | Credit: iRobot

iRobot has found its new leader who will try to rejuvenate the consumer robotics pioneer following Amazon’s failed $1.7 billion acquisition deal. Gary Cohen, who has 25-plus years of executive leadership and turnaround experience, yesterday was named CEO. He will be responsible for overseeing all aspects of iRobot, including innovation, product and commercial strategies, operational excellence, talent, and maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage.

In the announcement, iRobot points out that Cohen has a history of leading successful turnarounds. He most recently did so as CEO and board director at Qualitor Automotive, where he helped increase sales and profits by approximately 100%. Prior to Qualitor Automotive, Cohen was as CEO at Timex, where he led an $800 million multi-brand business and global team of 5,000 employees.

Earlier in his career, he held leadership roles at Energizer, Playtex and Gillette. Cohen was part of a turnaround team that led the sale of Playtex to Energizer for $1.16 billion in 2007. At Gillette, he played an integral role in new product innovation and advertising, growing Oral-B global sales from $1 billion to $1.8 billion and launching the Mach3, one of the company’s largest global razor introductions.

“I am truly honored to be joining iRobot, a company with an iconic brand, a legacy of innovation, and a commitment to delighting customers around the world,” said Cohen. “I look forward to working with the board, the leadership team, and our employees across the company to reinvigorate the category, create value, bring new products to market, and continue building the future of consumer robotics.”

Andrew Miller, chairman of iRobot’s board of directors, said iRobot has already made “significant progress” in the restructuring of its business.

“Gary’s leadership qualities and areas of expertise, including commercial growth, product innovation, brand-building, global distribution, and operational efficiencies, are a strong match to address the opportunities that lay ahead for iRobot. His proven track record of successfully leading global consumer businesses through challenging times gives us even greater confidence that he is the right person to lead the company on its path toward returning to profitable growth.”

Joining iRobot during challenging times

Of course, Cohen takes over for longtime CEO Colin Angle, who held the position since 2007. He founded iRobot with fellow MIT roboticists Rodney Brooks and Helen Greiner in 1990. Notably, Cohen is a businessman and not a trained roboticist.

iRobot worked on a variety of robots before launching its Roomba robot vacuum in 2002. It has gone on to sell more than 50 million robots worldwide. But it struggled to diversify its consumer robotics portfolio, shelving a robot lawn mower it had been working on for nearly two decades, and saw its stronghold on the robotic vacuum market shrink in recent years due to increased competition, geopolitical challenges, and other issues.

It announced in August 2022 that it entered a deal to be acquired by Amazon for $1.7 billion in cash. However, in early 2024 the deal was terminated by both Amazon and iRobot as it was going to be blocked by the European Union, which has recently clamped down on M&As it deems to be anti-competitive.

In November 2023, the European Union said its preliminary view was that the acquisition could restrict competition. It said there were concerns around Amazon’s ability to throttle iRobots’ competition in its online marketplace. 

As a result of the terminated deal, iRobot laid off 350-plus people (one-third of its staff) and Angle stepped down. At the time, iRobot announced a number of moves to “more closely align its cost structure with near-term revenue expectations and drive profitability.” This included restructuring its supply chain, research and development, and sales and marketing, as well as laying off more staffers and abandoning work on robotic lawn mowing, among other things.

Q1 2024 results

iRobot also announced its first quarter financial results this week. It reported revenue of $150 million, compared to $160.3 million in the first quarter of 2023 and GAAP net income per share of $0.30 compared with GAAP net loss per share of ($2.95) in Q1 of 2023. iRobot said the non-GAAP net loss per share was ($1.53) compared with non-GAAP net loss per share of ($1.67) in Q1 of 2023.

iRobot also reported positive cash flow from operations of $1.4 million, but this was helped by one-time net proceeds of the $75 million Amazon had to pay iRobot to terminate the acquisition.

iRobot also recently introduced lower-cost cleaning robots. It said the new Roomba Combo Essential robot and Roomba Vac Essential robot are its “first products to benefit from iRobot’s new product development paradigm with its contract manufacturers.” The robots start at $250.

“We exceeded our financial expectations for the first quarter as our team executed on our restructuring plan to significantly improve iRobot’s near-term operations,” said Glen Weinstein, who served as iRobot’s interim CEO until Cohen’s appointment. “Our plan is designed to stabilize the business in the current market environment without sacrificing longer-term growth initiatives. In the first quarter, we took aggressive actions to simplify our cost structure, implement a more sustainable business model and focus on our core value drivers.”

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