Virgin Hyperloop, which has lately been in the midst of a power change at its helm, announced a new chief executive, Jay Walder, who replaces Rob Lloyd, the man who headed the company for over three years. By selecting Walder, Virgin Hyperloop is marrying its futuristic technology of hyperloop to the administrative skills of a veteran who has run some of the oldest metropolitan transportation networks in the world – case in point, New York, London, and Hong Kong.
Then again, Walder is not entirely new to the futuristic transport scene, as prior to joining Virgin Hyperloop, he was the CEO of Motivate, an e-bike sharing company which has a strong presence across several U.S. cities. While at the company, Walder was instrumental in Lyft’s acquisition of Motivate, for a deal worth around $250 million, with Lyft observing that Motivate accounted for 80% of all bike-share trips made in the U.S.
“I have focused my career on using technology to advance innovation in transportation, so I could not pass up the opportunity to lead the company that has pioneered hyperloop,” said Mr. Walder of his intent in heading Virgin Hyperloop. “I look forward to joining the company at this incredibly exciting time and working with our partners to revolutionize sustainable urban development and travel.”
Walder has made a name for himself as being a visionary and a doer – traits that are of paramount importance to a technology that has promised a lot and still has not delivered a single commercial track, except a few short length test tracks across the world. That apart, the speed disparity between the theoretical one versus the actual achieved speed is also of concern, as the latter is more than twice as less as the former.
The reshuffling of power at the company does not stop with the exit of Lloyd. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, who had been the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop over the last year, had quit last month citing reasons of his inability to find time in running the company from up close and that the startup would need a more “hands-on” chairman to scale faster.
His resignation also came at the wake of Virgin Hyperloop suspending discussions on a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, over the then-raging issue of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s murder inside its consulate in Turkey. Branson had further alienated Virgin Hyperloop from the Saudi administration by suspending two more Saudi tourism projects around the Red Sea, alluding to the obscurity in Khashoggi’s death. This led to a bitter response from Saudi Arabia, with the country pulling the curtains down on a planned hyperloop feasibility study in its territory.
Last week, Virgin Hyperloop had announced that Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Group Chairman and CEO of DP World, would be the new chairman for the company. DP World is already the biggest investor in Virgin Hyperloop, which could have prompted the decision. Virgin Hyperloop is also in collaboration with DP World in the construction of DP World Cargospeed – a futuristic freight corridor enabled by hyperloop, which is expected to expedite the movement of cargo to nearly the speed of air freight while priced close to trucking rates.
The company now has all its eyes focussed on its project in the state of Maharashtra in India, where it is constructing a commercial hyperloop between the cities of Mumbai and Pune, with the local government terming it a public infrastructure project. The formal procedures have been done with, and the company is set to start construction on an initial 7-mile test route in 2019. With a fully-functioning commercial route, passengers can hope to travel from Mumbai to Pune in 25 minutes, which is a fraction compared to the four hours it takes for the same journey today.
The departing CEO Lloyd was responsible for successfully steering the company through the construction of the world’s first full-scale hyperloop system, while helping finalize many partnerships around the globe including the abovesaid, and raising substantial funding with the recent Series C round amounting to $50 million.