Autel Robotics CEO Randall Warnas is leaving the drone company after about nine weeks on the job. Randall announced his resignation in a LinkedIn post on Thursday. He pointed to people around him having “unjust authority and no accountability” and noted that blatant nepotism and favoritism in the organization was undermining his ability to function in the role as needed.
Randall took on a leadership position at Autel on June 1 this year, after a long stint at FLIR Systems, a company that specializes in producing thermal imaging cameras and drone sensors. Before that, he was with DJI, helping the drone giant to push out its enterprise line in the US.
At the time of joining Autel, Randall had said his prime goal was to elevate drone technology:
I came to Autel because I feel like I have some of the most unique relationships in the drone industry. By interacting with all of those different entities, I’ve learned so much about what companies are doing right, what companies are doing wrong, and I really want to use those relationships to discover how we can make our technology better.
Even back then, he was clear that he craved a work environment where people actually listened. And that’s because Randall himself is an “ear-to-the-street” kind of guy, having made his way up the ladder from a pretty humble background. It had, in fact, become common to see Autel pilots marvel at how the new CEO was “intent on making the customer base happy” by listening to their issues and offering swift resolutions.
Randall said while accepting the CEO position at Autel:
First, we need to work on being what no one else is. If a company is truly willing to listen and truly willing to create technology that scratches the itch and fulfills the needs of its users, then I believe it can become something that’s not entirely existent in the market today.
Clearly, he had a plan. So, what went wrong?
Unjust evaluation of subordinate prompts Autel CEO to resign
Let’s hear it from Randall directly:
This morning I resigned as CEO of Autel Robotics. Of course, I don’t want to be writing this message, but as publicly as I came into the role I wanted there to be clarity that my affiliation with the brand is over.
The team still at Autel is second to none in the unmanned industry. The ownership of the company, however, is suspect. During the interview process I talked about how DJI is run by Frank and the ‘FOF’ (friends of Frank); they laughed and said how they were different. Right… Autel’s owner is also Frank, but has his own FOF (family of Frank), and for nine whole weeks I have been trying to sort that out. When people have unjust authority and no accountability, bad things are bound to happen. This also entirely undermined my ability to function in the role as needed. So rather than prolong this for weeks or months or years, I am moving on.
Mostly this came down to an unjust evaluation of an employee with the company for five weeks which resulted in receiving a termination letter for that person with me expected to sign. I took the ‘over my dead body’ approach and now we’re both floating down the river together.
The employee Randall mentions is Troy Hittle, whose appointment was announced by Autel on July 12:
Troy is also a drone industry veteran and has worked with the likes of Measure and senseFly before joining Autel as Director of Enterprise Sales. When Troy was being appointed, Randall had said:
Another huge add to the Autel team! Troy and I didn’t know each other extremely well, but every interaction was a positive one before we started talking about working together. The drone industry benefits from people like him who cares so much about the user and the data. Welcome to the team my brother!
So now, taking to LinkedIn, Troy also commented on the unexpected turn of events:
I’m the other guy floating – wild times. I second Randall’s comment on the team at Autel – truly some heavy talent. Shoreline isn’t far away ;)
What’s next for Randall Warnas?
Thankfully, this is not the end of what Randall is going to be doing in the uncrewed space. He says he will be taking on a new role at the start of September. Meanwhile, support has been pouring in for Randall from all quarters, with those in the industry lauding him for his honesty, transparency, and integrity.
Chris Fink, founder and CEO at Unmanned Vehicle Technologies, says:
Much respect, Randall. I’m confident wherever you land will be better off for it and I’m glad to know we’ll remain peers.
And then there is Paul Jones, owner of Pinnacle Eye Productions, who quips:
Always stand for what’s right Randall Warnas. It will always work out in the end. Continued blessings on your journey. You’ll always have your drone family here. And we have your back.
As Randall himself admits, he has earned a lot of friends in the drone industry. And a public showdown like this clearly puts Autel Robotics on the losing side of the battle. Interestingly, the company is yet to put out an official statement on the matter at the time of publishing this post. So much for damage control!
Also, it’s worth noting that Autel has been on a hiring spree of sorts lately, snagging top industry talents like Randall, Jon McBride, and Bobby Sakaki – and basically building a team to watch out for. But now that the first chip is down, it would be interesting to see what the company does next. And more importantly, how do they boost employee morale in times like these.
We will be watching to see what they have to say as well as where Randall ends up next. Stay tuned!
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