WASHINGTON — Aerojet Rocketdyne’s chief executive, Eileen Drake, has won control of the embattled company after several months of turmoil.
The contractor’s shareholders on June 30 elected an independent slate of candidates to serve as directors on its new board, Aerojet said in a Wednesday release issued after the results were certified. The group includes Drake, who will continue as Aerojet’s chief executive.
Warren Lichtenstein, who as the company’s executive chairman sought to oust Drake from her role, has left the board. In May, the contractor formally reprimanded him for his behind-the-scenes effort to replace her.
The new board consists of several well-known former government and industry leaders, including former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, former NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, former Collins Aerospace executive Gail Baker, and former Federal Aviation Administration chief and Rolls-Royce executive Marion Blakey.
They will join Kevin Chilton, Thomas Corcoran and Lance Lord — incumbent directors who will remain on the board along with Drake.
“We are extremely grateful for the engagement and support of our shareholders throughout the process that culminated in the election of our new board,” Drake said in Aerojet’s release. “Each of our new directors is an accomplished business leader with relevant experience and a history of creating substantial shareholder value.”
According to Aerojet’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings posted Wednesday, stockholders’ vote for the new board was not close. Drake received nearly 55.3 million votes, about 83% of the 66.3 million possible votes, and the other elected directors each received almost 50 million votes. Lichtenstein received 15.3 million votes.
With the apparent end of the turmoil plaguing Aerojet’s boardroom, the company can now turn its focus toward charting a new direction following its failed acquisition by Lockheed Martin.
Lockheed first announced its desire to buy Aerojet, a key supplier of solid rocket motors, for $4.4 billion in December 2020. Bringing Aerojet’s portfolio in house would have given Lockheed a considerably stronger hand in the space and hypersonic fields.
But some lawmakers, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., were concerned the acquisition could hurt competition in the defense industry. The Federal Trade Commission in January announced it would sue to block the deal over antitrust concerns, and Lockheed announced an end to the planned transaction one month later.
As the deal stagnated last year, conflict between Drake and Lichtenstein grew. In a May 2021 memo to Aerojet’s then-general counsel, Drake objected to Lichtenstein’s conduct and accused him of defaming her and trying to oust her for his own benefit.
Drake called Lichtenstein a “liability” and said he was having improper conversations with outside parties about the Lockheed deal and the company’s leadership.
Aerojet launched an investigation. Lichtenstein denied the allegations and said he had not provided confidential information to outside parties or defamed any Aerojet officials. He said Aerojet must be prepared for the possibility the Lockheed deal might not come to pass, and that he was frustrated by management’s lack of responsiveness and transparency.
After last month’s announcement that Aerojet had reprimanded Lichtenstein, Drake and Lichtenstein issued dueling releases in which they swiped at one another. Drake suggested the reprimand showed Lichtenstein was not fit to continue as executive chairman, while Lichtenstein accused Drake of acting selfishly and wasting company resources by pushing the investigation.
A committee backing the election of Drake’s preferred slate issued a release June 30 claiming victory, based on preliminary vote results. In that release, Drake sought to sound a conciliatory note, saying the new board will closely consider the perspectives and feedback shared by the company’s shareholders during the leadership struggle.
She offered thanks to Lichtenstein, also the executive chairman of Steel Partners Holdings, in the June 30 release. Steel Partners has been an Aerojet investor since 2000 and now holds a roughly 5% stake in the company. Lichtenstein was initially added to Aerojet’s board after a 2008 shareholder agreement between the company and Steel Partners.
“We acknowledge that a difficult and costly fight has brought us to this point, but the time has come today to plot a positive path and work with all our shareholders, including Steel Partners, to maximize value,” Drake said in the June 30 release. “In that spirit, we would like to thank Warren Lichtenstein and the other departing board members for their service to our company.”
James, now a board member, told Defense News she’s honored to join Aerojet’s slate of directors.
Aerojet Rocketdyne “is involved with many programs of national security importance like space propulsion, hypersonics and the [Ground Based Strategic Deterrent next-generation nuclear missile, also known as the Sentinel],” James said in a text. “I’m looking forward to being part of this extraordinary team and helping to advance the company’s mission.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.