Exclusive: Austin-Based Firefly Aerospace Bolsters Senior Leadership

At left: Alpha being prepped for Flight Two at Vandenberg Space Force Base SLC-2. At right: Alpha Stage 2 being hoisted onto the test stand in Briggs, TX, in preparation for acceptance testing. Images: Firefly Aerospace.
At left: Alpha being prepped for Flight Two at Vandenberg Space Force Base SLC-2. At right: Alpha Stage 2 being hoisted onto the test stand in Briggs, TX, in preparation for acceptance testing. Images: Firefly Aerospace.

Ahead of its second orbital launch attempt, Firefly Aerospace tells Payload it’s made a slew of new executive leadership hires. 

Though the Cedar Park, TX launch unicorn has been through the ringer in recent months, its Alpha rocket is vertical at Vandenberg and liftoff is seemingly weeks away. Moreover, Firefly is sounding a confident note about its new leadership putting the company’s various programs on a competitive footing and taking them to market on a strong trajectory.

Quick recap

Let’s run through developments that Firefly has been through in recent months. When we say it’s been through the ringer, we really mean it. 

  1. National security: In late 2021, CFIUS requested that Ukrainian-born entrepreneur and investor Max Polyakov divest his ownership interests in Firefly (in a seemingly raw deal for Polyakov, who cofounded Firefly). CFIUS is an influential interagency US panel that reviews deals for national security risks. 
  2. Changing of the guard: In June, cofounder and then-CEO Tom Markusic stepped down and transitioned to chief technical advisor. Markusic was succeeded by Peter Schumacher, a partner at AE Industrial Partners (AEI), in an interim capacity. 
  3. Extending runway: AEI led Firefly’s $75M Series B in March, valuing the startup at $1B+.

The CFIUS scrutiny jeopardized Firefly’s progress in a number of ways, by putting talks with NASA on hold, for example. But Firefly is ready to put that in the past and as a result of its restructuring, the company emphasizes it is US-owned/operated. With a bit of dry powder, cap table issues worked out, and production scaling up, Firefly has padded out its senior leadership team with a few new key hires, which brings us to the news of the day…

Firefly’s fresh faces

In the last month, Firefly hired five new executives onto its senior leadership team. 

  1. David Wheeler is Firefly’s first general counsel. Wheeler has 20+ years of experience at corporate law firms and in-house legal departments, including Squire Patton Boggs and GE Aviation. 
  2. Dawn Young is the new chief compliance officer. She has more than two decades of experience in corporate compliance, ethics, and risk management. “I am incredibly excited to be joining Firefly at this pivotal time in the company’s evolution,” Young said in a statement, “and applaud Firefly leadership’s strong commitment to ethics and compliance.” 
  3. Penélope Figon-Merritt joined Firefly on July 11 as director of HR. She comes to aerospace by way of oil and gas and hails from Mexico. Firefly’s “passion, commitment, and enthusiasm are like a black hole’s escape velocity, impossible to beat,” Figon-Merritt said. 
  4. Stephen McCall joined Firefly on July 18 as director for government relations and regulatory issues at Firefly Space Transport Services (STS). McCall is a USAF veteran, former Senate staffer, and most recently, the Congressional Research Service’s resident expert on military space, missile defense, and defense innovation. McCall also played a role in drafting the 2020 NDAA, which established the Space Force as the US military’s 6th branch.
  5. Israel “Figg” Figueroa is coming on as director for system architect and solutions for Firefly’s wholly owned STS subsidiary. Figueroa has 22+ years of experience in the DoD and NRO.

As for head honcho…The search for Schumacher’s permanent successor is ongoing, Firefly tells Payload, and the firm has retained Korn Ferry, an NYC-based head-hunting group, to assist in its efforts. Firefly hopes to make a final choice on its next chief executive sometime this month.

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