Last week, shares of iRobot Corporation (NASDAQ:IRBT) fell as much as 3% after an SEC filing revealed that Chief Technology Officer Paolo Pirjanian had announced his resignation. The filing itself offered little elaboration, simply noting that Dr. Pirjanian will step down as CTO on August 14, 2015, and remain employed through Oct. 9, 2015, to ensure a smooth transition of his responsibilities.
But should iRobot investors be overly concerned about his departure? I don't think so.
To be fair, it's not ideal to see Pirjanian leave. He's an obvious leader and innovator in the field of robotics, as former CEO of Evolution Robotics for seven years, winner of a Technical Leadership Award as a researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, and former lecturer in computer science at the University of Southern California. Pirjanian is also the former U.S. chairman of IEEE Robotics, and received the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Career Award in 2004. In short, you can bet iRobot would rather he stick around.
It also didn't help that iRobot waited a full two days to issue an explanatory press release on Thursday. In it, iRobot first prominently highlighted the appointment of former Bose executive Tim Saeger as senior VP of engineering -- a solid move, by the way, as Saeger's experience in bringing dozens of high-tech audio products to market should lend itself well to iRobot's home division -- and only then used a smaller subhead to more discreetly state that Pirjanian is resigning to "pursue a new entrepreneurial role."
That said, it's hard to blame someone of Pirjanian's abilities and background for wanting to go it alone. But it is also not as though iRobot hasn't done just fine without him so far. Remember, he only joined the company less than three years ago, after iRobot acquired Evolution Robotics in late 2012. Through that acquisition, iRobot also secured plenty of other engineering talent, a new product line in ER's Mint floor-sweeping bots (now known as Braava), and key intellectual property related to robotic navigation and vSLAM, or visual simultaneous localization and mapping. As I suggested last year, those patents are key to enabling iRobot to usher in a new era of visually navigating robots. In fact, only a few months ago iRobot reiterated that it intends to commercialize this technology by the end of this year.
"Paolo is leaving iRobot's engineering and technology organizations in a good place," explained CEO Colin Angle in Thursday's press release. "Through his time with both Evolution Robotics and iRobot, he has built a world-class team of robotics technology experts and helped streamline our development process."
I tend to agree with Angle's implication that Pirjanian's time building up both ER and iRobot was invaluable to their combined current direction. Investors should also be encouraged that Pirjanian is leaving on good terms, as evidenced by his agreeing to continue his current role for another month, while staying employed for another three to ensure a smooth transition. Once that transition is complete, iRobot will look for a replacement CTO. In the end, with so many other innovative minds in the field, iRobot should have little trouble finding another suitable candidate to fill the role.