Piper CEO Kevin Gould resigns, global search on for replacement

VERO BEACH — Piper CEO Kevin Gould has resigned effective immediately and will be replaced in the interim by Geoffrey Berger, the managing director of the parent company’s Brunei operations, it was announced Tuesday.

The resignation ends a short, bumpy tenure as CEO by Gould, who took over the reins of the company in June 2009. Piper was bought by Singapore-based Imprimis in May 2009 and in that time the private equity firm has completely revamped the executive team. In a release put out by Piper, the company said it will conduct a “global search for an executive to lead the company.” Gould’s abrupt departure comes after the company cut back on its estimates of deliveries for 2010 and imposed a week-long unpaid furlough beginning Aug. 9 for non-essential employees.

The company announced in January it was bucking the industry trend and expected an increase in deliveries of 50 percent from the 90 planes in 2009. In fact, officials had upped that number to closer to 75 percent, mostly trainer planes in the Asian market where they claimed to be making inroads.

However, reports from the factory floor indicated the company lost a huge Asian order of some 40 planes. The company is saying it still expects to deliver 162 planes this year.

Gould’s time as CEO also saw Piper, with the backing of Imprimis, continue with development of the PiperJet and the purchase of a Czech Republic-based company to break into the light sport aircraft market. The company is staking much of its future on the PiperJet, which is expected to begin deliveries in 2013.

Also under Gould, the company began hiring back workers after reaching a low of about 550 employees late last year. Piper places its workforce now at about 900 people and says despite the furlough it does not expect any layoffs going forward.

County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan, who is also the liaison for the Economic Development Council, said he was informed of the change by Steve Johnson, Piper’s vice president of human resources, moments before the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.

“I feel very confident Piper is on track to meet its production goals and will develop the PiperJet,” O’Bryan said.

Gould’s departure also marks a continued management shakeup that has occurred since Imprimis took over the company and leaves the county without most of the partners with whom it negotiated when in 2008 Piper agreed to remain in Indian River to build the PiperJet. Most of the terms of that deal have been on hold since the economic downturn.

The first to leave was former CEO Jim Bass, who departed months after Imprimis took over. Gould took the position as CEO and John Becker was named president. By December 2009, Becker had also left the company and Gould was named CEO and President. Others who have departed since the Imprimis acquisition are CFO Mike Kelley, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Bob Kromer and Chief Corporate Spokesman Mark Miller.

Bass hired Dennis Olcott — who was promoted by Gould to vice president of engineering when Becker resigned — to keep pushing development of the PiperJet. Gould also hired Randy Groom as Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Customer Support of Piper Aircraft.

Groom has been put in charge of the worldwide expansion of the Piper brand, especially in Asia. The global expansion of Piper has been one of the goals set by Imprimis.

“I am proud of improving Piper’s production operations, building a top notch leadership team, and getting the PiperJet program on a fast track,” Gould said in the release. “Piper’s next phase of growth will come from intense development of international markets — especially in Asia-Pacific.”

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