Segway Business Shifting Gears with Ownership and Management Changes

1/14/10

Segway, the maker of two-wheeled transporters of the same name, has been sold through a merger with a UK holding company for an undisclosed sum, and the firm’s CEO, Jim Norrod, has stepped down from his post after nearly five years in that role, a company spokesman confirmed today. Reports about the action at Segway have been swirling since yesterday, after chatter about the merger and management reshuffle surfaced on online forums earlier this week.

The Bedford, NH-based firm also confirmed the reports about the merger today on its blog, saying that the deal was completed on December 24. The acquiring company is backed by British businessman Jimi Heseldon, the chairman of Leeds, UK-based military container maker Hesco Bastion.

Norrod left the chief executive position at Segway last week, and the firm’s financial chief, Brian Cohen, has taken over Norrod’s responsibilities on an interim basis, said company spokesman Eric Fleming today. He said that the company will remain headquartered in New Hampshire, where most of its 85 employees are based. The new owner is also expected to provide an undisclosed amount of fresh capital for the operation.

Fleming declined to provide more details about information from a recent letter to shareholders that has appeared in online Segway forums this week. One of the shareholders who received the letter wrote that Tricia Laidler has been named CEO of the company and Wayne Mitchell of a UK Segway dealership has been appointed chief operating officer. Fleming would not confirm these details, however.

This does not appear to have been a profitable transaction for some of Segway’s investors, given that at least one shareholder commented on a Segway forum that his recently received shareholder letter says that all common stock in the privately held company has no exchange value in the merger transaction. Fleming wouldn’t comment on how investors made out in the merger. The company has reportedly raised some $176 million from high-profile investors such as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Credit Suisse First Boston Private Equity, to name a few, according to reports in Mass High Tech and other publications.

The company’s sale is the latest episode in the story of a much-hyped technology that has fallen woefully short of expectations and lofty predictions about its impact on society. According to a retrospective piece on Segway last month in Wired, Apple founder Steve Jobs forecasted early in the last decade that the Segway would outstrip the personal computer in significance.

Dean Kamen, the famous inventor behind the Segway and other innovations, unveiled the transporter in 2001 with much fanfare, including this lofty feature in Time, headlined “Reinventing the Wheel.” Indeed, the Segway’s key innovations, such as its dynamic stabilization technology, are major feats of engineering. But the vehicles have never gained mainstream adoption. (They have, however, found a niche in the security and public safety markets—Fleming said that Segways are in use at more than 1,200 police installations and 525 tourist operations around the world.) Some have said the cost of the vehicle, which is in the $5,500 range, is too high for most people.

Still, Segways still have a shot at popularity as interest rises in modes of transportation that are friendly to Mother Nature. In April, Segway and General Motors announced a collaboration to develop a larger version of the two-wheeled transporter that has seating. The companies called the effort Project P.U.M.A (for personal urban mobility and accessibility) and said that the prototypes run on lithium-ion batteries and can be driven 35 miles between charges.

Kamen, the head of R&D firm DEKA Research in Manchester, NH, was not available at his office today. We’ll update our readers on any changes in the Segway story as we learn of them.

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