Heliogen CEO Bill Gross leaves

  • After about seven years in the position
  • Praise and thanks for Gross
  • Christie Obiaya taking over

(exechange) — Pasadena, California, February 6, 2023 — Bill Gross, chief executive of Heliogen, leaves his position. As announced by Heliogen Inc. in a news release and in a regulatory filing published on Monday, February 6, 2023, Bill Gross has left his post as chief executive officer at the renewable energy technology company, after about seven years in the role, effective February 5, 2023.

The average tenure of CEOs who announced their departure over the past 12 months was 8.5 years. This is according to data collected by CEO-exit research firm exechange.

exechange tracks CEO departures at the 3,000 largest publicly traded companies in the U.S., examines the reasons CEOs leave and determines the Push‑out Score™, a measure of pressure on departing chief executives on a scale of 0 to 10.

Bill Gross’s duties as CEO will be taken over by Christiana (Christie) Obiaya, most recently Chief Financial Officer at Heliogen Inc.

It is a generational change. Christie Obiaya is about 25 years younger than Bill Gross.

As part of the leadership transition, Kelly Rosser has been appointed interim Chief Financial Officer. Rosser has served as Heliogen’s Chief Accounting Officer since August 2022. Rosser brings over 20 years of financial executive experience as chief accounting officer, corporate controller, and auditing public companies.


Bill Gross’s departure from the CEO post is explained as follows. Heliogen stated in a regulatory filing: “Mr. Gross’ resignation letter … expressed his disagreement with the Board’s decision to promote an internal candidate to replace Mr. Gross as the CEO of the Company, in lieu of Mr. Gross’ proposed external candidate. The Board disagrees with the assertions made by Mr. Gross in his resignation letter. The members of the Board undertook their review of potential CEO succession in a deliberate and thoughtful manner in accordance with their fiduciary duties to the Company and its stockholders.”

“Failure to communicate a convincing path to drive improved performance in the future”

Heliogen further stated: “Following this review, the Board terminated Mr. Gross because the Board believes that the Company has failed to achieve its potential under his stewardship as evidenced by, among other things, the Company’s significant decline in market value since going public, the failure of Mr. Gross to provide unifying leadership to our executive committee, and his failure to communicate a convincing path to drive improved performance in the future. The Board’s decision to terminate Mr. Gross was not based on Mr. Gross’s candidate for President of the Company. The Board had been planning for the succession of Mr. Gross as CEO and had been considering internal and external candidates, including Mr. Gross’ candidate. Mr. Gross, as a director, was included in these deliberations and the Board carefully considered his views. The Board, however, never nominated Mr. Gross’ candidate as President, as suggested in Mr. Gross’ letter.”

“Careful consideration of the potential CEO succession options”

Heliogen further said: “After careful consideration of the potential CEO succession options, the Board determined that it was in the best interests of the Company and its stockholders to promote a candidate that was intimately familiar with the Company’s innovative renewable energy technology, its customers, and the Board’s priorities to drive the Company’s future success. The Board ultimately concluded that Christiana Obiaya, the Company’s current Chief Financial Officer (“CFO”) was the most qualified candidate to serve as the Company’s CEO, based on, among other things, Ms. Obiaya’s extensive knowledge of the Company’s technology, customers and employees, nearly two decades of operational and financial experience, and degrees and a working background in both business and engineering.”

The top three reasons cited in corporate announcements for CEO departures over the past 12 months are performance issues (26.5% of cases), implementation of a planned succession (16.1%) and the statement that the time was right for a change (9.2%), according to exechange data. Other motives given for leadership changes included the outgoing CEO’s wish to pursue other opportunities (5.7% of cases), personal reasons (3%) and conduct issues (2.1%). Rather rarely stated reasons are career change (2.1% of cases), health problems (1.8%), disagreement (0.9%), death (0.9%) and the desire for more time with family (0.6%). Sometimes, more than one reason was given. In 31.3% of cases, no reason was given.

Precise information regarding Bill Gross’s future plans was not immediately available.


Heliogen said: “Ms. Obiaya, head of Heliogen’s Executive Committee and formerly its Chief Financial Officer, replaces Bill Gross, who was removed as Chief Executive Officer and has resigned from the board of directors.”

Heliogen further said: “On February 5, 2023 (the “Effective Date”), the Board of Directors (the “Board”) of Heliogen, Inc. (the “Company”) terminated Bill Gross from his current position as the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of the Company, effective immediately.”

Share price decline since February 2022

The announcement follows a decline in Heliogen Inc.’s share price of 95% since February 2022.

In the position of CEO since 2016

Bill Gross became CEO of the Company in 2016.

Gross served as a member of the Company’s Board since December 2021.

Gross has been Heliogen’s Chief Executive Officer and chairman of the Board since December 2021.

Previously, Gross served as Chief Executive Officer of Legacy Heliogen (as defined below) since January 2016 and was also Chief Executive Officer from May 2013 to January 2015.

Gross was also a director of Legacy Heliogen from April 2013 to December 2021 and served as chairman of the board of directors from January 2015 to December 2021.

Gross has also served as Chief Executive Officer and the chairman of the board of directors of Idealab Studio, LLC (“Idealab Studio”) since January 1, 2018.

Gross previously served as Chief Executive Officer of Idealab, a technology incubator he founded, from February 1996 to December 31, 2017.

Gross has more than 40 years of experience in conceiving and starting new technology companies, including GoTo.com/Overture.com, Energy Vault, Inc. (“Energy Vault”) (NYSE: NRGV), Carbon Capture, Inc., and CarsDirect.com/Internet Brands, Inc.

Gross serves on the boards of directors of numerous companies, including Energy Vault, and is also a member of the Board of Trustees of Caltech and the Art Center College of Design.

He holds a B.S. from the California Institute of Technology.

No statement by Bill Gross

In the news release announcing his departure as CEO of Heliogen Inc., Bill Gross received praise and thanks.

The announcement of his departure as CEO does not include a statement by Bill Gross.

Over the past 12 months, 25% of all outgoing CEOs remained silent in the departure announcement, according to data compiled by exechange. Departing CEOs who did make a statement said an average of 109 words. The longest statement was 510 words. The shortest statement was 23 words. Leadership transitions in which departing CEOs provide conspicuously short or no explanations for their move are statistically associated with elevated pressure and show an increased incidence of Push-out Scores above the critical threshold of 5, according to exechange data.

35% of CEOs are forced out or fired

When CEO departures are announced, exechange determines the Push-out Score on a scale of 0 to 10 to assess how likely it is that the chief executive was pushed out or felt pressure to leave the position, with 0 being most likely a voluntary move and 10 being most likely a forced exit. Anything over a 5 indicates that there are valid reasons to believe an executive may have been pushed out.

Of the 336 CEO departures in the Russell 3000 Index evaluated over the past 12 months (February 6, 2022, to February 5, 2023), the average Push-out Score was 5.7, according to exechange data. References to conduct issues, disagreements and irregularities lead to the highest Push-out Scores. When time with family, performance issues or other opportunities were cited as departure reasons, the average Push-out Scores were also significantly elevated.

Around 35% of the CEO departure events from the past 12 months received Push-out Scores of 8 or higher.

In other words, in the past 12 months, one in three departing CEOs were forced out or fired.

Pressure in the industrials sector substantially below the critical threshold

Some industries are under generally higher pressure than others, and CEOs are feeling the strain. In the past 12 months, the communication, health care and consumer staples sectors showed the highest average Push-out Scores. By contrast, pressure on CEOs was lowest in the real estate, utilities and financials sectors, as measured by average Push-out Scores.

In the industrials sector, which includes Heliogen Inc., the average Push-out Score over the past 12 months was 4.5, which is substantially below the critical threshold of 5.

Nevertheless, even in this sector, some CEOs were compelled to leave their posts under what appeared to be severe stress. In the industrials sector, 10 exiting CEOs received Push-out Scores of 8 or higher over the past 12 months, indicating that they were most likely forced out or faced strong pressure to step down.

Push-out Score for Bill Gross’s move determined

The Push-out Score regarding Bill Gross’s move is explained point by point in the exechange report.

exechange reached out to Heliogen and offered the company the opportunity to comment on the score.

Read the full story in the exechange report 7.2023 ($).