Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin Faces Departures Amidst Hiring Spree

When he retired as CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos indicated he’d devote far more time to working on Blue Origin, his spaceflight company. It’s an expensive initiative: Not only is he spending $1 billion per year to fuel operations, but he’s also offered to pay NASA billions in exchange for lunar lander contracts. However, that money might not have translated into employee retention, according to new reports.

CNBC was the first to report that around a dozen prominent engineers have left Blue Origin in recent months, with at least a few migrating to rival spaceflight companies such as SpaceX (hat tip to Gizmodo for the link). A Blue Origin spokesperson told CNBC that, despite those losses, the company remains on track to hire 650 more employees this year, after growing by 850 in 2020: “We continue to fill out major leadership roles in manufacturing, quality, engine design, and vehicle design.”

Blue Origin is currently locked in a brutal space race against SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space company, which has enjoyed considerable success launching satellites and astronauts into space. Both Bezos and Musk ultimately intend to put human beings back on the Moon and, beyond that, Mars. To accomplish that lofty goal, however, their respective companies will likely need to win lucrative government contracts—hence Blue Origin’s big lawsuit against the U.S. government.

High salaries are usually a key way to retain highly specialized talent, but a Glassdoor breakdown reveals that software engineer salaries at SpaceX and Blue Origin are roughly the same:

When compensation is roughly equal, successful hiring and retention can often come down to corporate culture and goals. SpaceX’s employees have spent years focused on big tasks such as building reusable rockets and launching satellites into orbit, while Blue Origin seems more focused on space tourism (according to reports, it’s sold $100 million in tickets for future launches like the one Bezos took this summer). If Blue Origin is serious about going to the moon and beyond, it could draw motivated talent—if SpaceX doesn’t land them first.