New Memos Show How Blue Origin Intends to Catch Its Rivals

SpaceX has established itself as the leader in the private aerospace industry, elevating itself thanks to its ability to pioneer developments and snag government contracts. But, that hasn’t stopped its biggest rival, Blue Origin, from trying to reach its lofty heights.

New Memos Show How Blue Origin Intends to Catch Its Rivals

Last month, a new damning memo showed the lengths that the Washington-based company is willing to go in its mission to catch SpaceX.

Copying SpaceX’s Worst Version

The documents, published by Lioness, revealed that executives at Blue Origin had known of their position in the market. While company founder Jeff Bezos had set out to build a world-class private space transportation company, the firm had yet to even launch a ticket at the time. On the flip side, SpaceX had made some progress under the innovative guidance of Elon Musk.

By the fall of 2018, SpaceX had debuted its massively successful Falcon Heavy rocket and was making progress with its first-stage boosters. The company had been on the fast track towards over 20 launches a year, especially with its Starlink division also picking up steam. Blue Origin’s executives had come to see the hard truth, and they understood that the only way to best SpaceX would be to learn from it.

As part of his first anniversary as company chief executive, Bob Smith hired Avascent - a management consulting firm - to help Blue Origin. Avascent's job was primarily to assess SpaceX’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for Blue Origin to capitalize on. Following its analysis, Avascent presented notes to Blue Origin’s senior leadership team. The managers took notes, presenting them to Smith as ideas for how Blue Origin could effectively compete with SpaceX.

Blue Origin Willingly Pushing Workers to the Brink

The Lioness report showed a willingness on Blue Origin’s executives’ parts to create an unsafe working culture, where employees would be pushed to the limits, all in the name of the company’s progress. The article itself had been published by Alexandra Abrams, Blue Origin’s former head of employee communications, and 20 current and former company employees.

Abrams detailed instances of company executives speaking demeaningly to workers - especially women. In fact, a former executive was fired from Blue Origin for groping a female worker. The Lioness essay also showed Blue Origin as a company that fostered a retaliatory culture, where workers were terrified of speaking their minds for fear of losing their jobs or being scapegoated by executives.

Abrams said, “In our experience, Blue Origin’s culture sits on a foundation that ignores the plight of our planet, turns a blind eye to sexism, is not sufficiently attuned to safety concerns, and silences those who seek to correct wrongs.”

Abrams additionally claimed that company executives were fond of getting impatient as project schedules continued to slip. Many of them tried to “squeeze” more productivity from the company’s employees, especially in line with how SpaceX operates. In his recommendation, Gregory Johnson, a former Blue Origin manager, explained that he had noticed a lack of commitment from the company’s employees - especially on the weekends.

Johnson explained that SpaceX had found a way to include burnout as part of its growth strategy. The company employs recent graduates who are hungry to work and perform, and they burn them out.

“The lack of effort over weekends to meet deadlines is not culture I am accustomed to in an operations outfit. I realize that development is somewhat different, but regardless, SpaceX expects and gets more out of their employees. It is a privilege to be a part of history. We are not necessarily slacking by any means but we may be less focused.” Elsewhere in the memo, it states that “Blue is a ghost town on weekends,” Johnson wrote.

Not Much of a Surprise Here

The memos are a reflection of the type of work culture that has been prevalent in Blue Origin for years now. But, they also show the type of culture that a company like SpaceX might have perpetuated - after all, Blue Origin had to have gotten it from somewhere.

It is also interesting that the two companies that both Bezos and Musk have run - and largely used to build their fortunes - have also had issues with pushing workers to their limit. Musk and Tesla faced massive criticism after they balked at the trend and refused to comply with work orders that the state of California implemented at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, the company’s many disagreements with California's government appear to be the major reason why it moved to Texas earlier this year.

As for Amazon, the cases of grueling work have been numerous. The company is notorious for pushing workers to the brink, especially to deliver on its Amazon Prime Day service. Last year, at the height of the pandemic, Amazon’s workers also staged a protest for better work conditions - a protest that got several of them fired.

It is also interesting to note that years after Blue Origin’s executives made these recommendations, the company continues to stay in SpaceX’s shadow. While neither company has responded to the allegations, it goes to show that innovation continues to play a massive part in how this industry especially operates.


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