Amazon’s robotics boss, who defended the company when a top VP resigned over employee firings, has abruptly quit — making him the third ‘Distinguished Engineer’ to leave this year (AMZN)

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Amazon Robotics VP Brad Porter.

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  • Amazon’s VP of robotics Brad Porter is leaving the company to join an AI startup, according to people familiar with the matter.
  • Porter is a highly respected engineer and one of the 20 or so executives to hold the “Distinguished Engineer” title at Amazon.
  • His team was responsible for improving Amazon’s warehouse efficiency with automation technology, and oversaw other futuristic projects, like the Prime Air drone team.
  • Porter’s departure comes ahead of what is expected to be a record shopping season, as both the peak holiday shopping period and the annual Prime Day event are taking place in the fourth quarter.
  • It’s also the latest high-profile change within SVP of Worldwide Operations Dave Clark’s team that runs everything from marketing and Prime to Amazon’s warehouse and shipping network.
  • Do you work at Amazon? Contact Eugene Kim via encrypted messaging app Signal (+1 415 926 2066) or email (ekim@businessinsider.com).
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Amazon’s VP of robotics, Brad Porter, is leaving the company, putting an abrupt end to his 13-year run at the online retailer, Business Insider has learned.

In an email to his team on Thursday, obtained by Business Insider, Amazon’s SVP of worldwide operations Dave Clark announced Porter’s resignation, saying he’s pursuing a “new opportunity.” The email said Porter’s last day is August 28 but didn’t share any other details about his departure.

Porter is planning to join an artificial intelligence startup, people familiar with the move told Business Insider.

“Brad’s contributions at Amazon have been deeply impactful,” Clark wrote in the email. “Robotics is a critical capability for the future of Operations and we have an incredible team and group of leaders there and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.”

Porter, who joined Amazon in 2007, was primarily in charge of running Amazon Robotics, formerly known as Kiva Systems, a warehouse automation company Amazon bought for $775 million in 2012. In recent years, his role expanded to include other futuristic projects, like the Prime Air delivery drones and the Scout autonomous delivery robots, growing his team to almost 14,000 people, according to a person familiar with the matter. Porter was also previously involved in the development of Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service and various back-end systems that support Amazon’s massive e-commerce site, according to his LinkedIn page.

“Brad has been a great Amazonian for nearly 15 years, contributed in big ways to the organization, and has been someone I have enjoyed working closely with the past few years. I wish nothing but the best for Brad as he moves on to his new role,” Clark said in a statement to Business Insider.

Porter’s departure comes at a critical time for Amazon as COVID-driven demand is putting intense pressure across its supply chain network. Amazon is expected to face even more logistical challenges in the coming months, as both the peak holiday shopping season and its annual Prime Day shopping event are taking place in the fourth quarter.

The robotics team has played a key role in improving Amazon’s warehouse efficiency, and is best known for the deployment of its warehouse-roaming machines that help move packages more quickly. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Porter said the automation technology in Amazon warehouses improves safety and delivery speeds. 

A highly respected engineer, Porter was one of the 20 or so executives to hold the “Distinguished Engineer” title at Amazon. Porter’s departure means Amazon has lost three Distinguished Engineers in the past six months, an unusually high turnover for the position (Tim Bray and Peter Vosshall, who were both Distinguished Engineers and VPs at the Amazon Web Services cloud division, left earlier this year).

Outside the engineering community, Porter is perhaps better known for his blog post defending Amazon’s culture when Bray stepped down in May. In response to Bray, who wrote a scathing blog post criticizing Amazon’s decision to fire activist employees who spoke out against its unsafe warehouse working conditions amid COVID-19, Porter wrote his assertions were “simply wrong” and “deeply offensive to the core.”

Porter’s decision to leave Amazon seems rather unforeseen. In the blog post defending Amazon’s culture, Porter wrote that his Prime Air drone team and the broader robotics group “has become an R&D lab for COVID innovation” and that he was planning to publicly share some of the projects in the near future. Among the 72 new ideas he said he was reviewing, Porter revealed only a handful of projects so far.

In the email announcing Porter’s departure, Clark wrote that Dave Carbon, VP of Prime Air, and Sean Scott, VP of Scout, will report directly to him in the interim, while the rest of Porter’s team will temporarily consolidate under Joe Quinlivan, president of Amazon Robotics. 

Porter’s leave is also the latest high-profile change within Clark’s operations team, which runs everything from marketing and physical stores to its sprawling warehouse and delivery network. Maria Renz, VP of delivery experience, left in February, and Gur Kimchi, VP of Prime Air, was replaced by Boeing vet Dave Carbon in March. Meanwhile, both Carletta Ooton, VP of safety, sustainability, security & compliance, and Devesh Mishra, VP of supply chain, are no longer reporting directly to Clark, according to people familiar with the matter.

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