The Boardroom Battle for Control of Aerojet Rocketdyne Is Heating Up

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College and previously covered technology and entertainment for TheWrap and reported on the SoCal startup scene for the Los Angeles Business Journal. Send tips or pitches to and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

The Boardroom Battle for Control of Aerojet Rocketdyne Is Heating Up
Courtesy of Aerojet Rocktdyne.

The insider battle for control of El Segundo-based rocket maker and government defense contractor Aerojet Rocketdyne is heating up.

In dueling, incendiary public letters to shareholders this week, Aerojet Rocketdyne executive chairman Warren Lichtenstein and CEO Eileen Drake accused each other of attempting to seize control of the company. Lichtenstein also filed yet another lawsuit against Drake and three Aerojet board members Wednesday, adding another legal case to the acrimonious boardroom battle.

In his letter on Tuesday, Lichtenstein described Drake as a “rogue” executive who he alleged violated the law by lying to investors. Drake defended herself in a separate shareholder letter published Wednesday, in which she called Lichtenstein’s allegations “baseless personal attacks.”

Drake, who was appointed CEO in 2015, is urging Aerojet shareholders to vote to keep her as CEO and approve an entirely new board of directors without Lichtenstein and his allies, while Lichtenstein is proposing his own slate of directors that would see Drake pushed out. Aerojet shareholders are set to have their say on the company's future at a meeting on June 21—though Lichtenstein on Tuesday proposed moving back that meeting to June 27, citing the pending resolution of his previous lawsuit against Drake.

The conflict between Aerojet’s chairman and CEO escalated earlier this year, when a planned $4.4 billion merger with the world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, fell through after the Federal Trade Commission sued to block the deal. By February, Lockheed had caved to the FTC’s antitrust pressure and the merger was dead, igniting the conflict in Aerojet’s boardroom.

Lichtenstein and three fellow board directors first sued the company earlier this year, a drama that is now playing out in Delaware’s Court of Chancery with a trial expected in May. Drake and Aerojet then hired an independent counsel to investigate Lichtenstein, and countersued him in a bid to remove the chairman from the board. Aerojet’s lawsuit alleged Lichtenstein of doing the very same deeds he has accused Drake of: plotting to take over the board if the Lockheed merger failed and using his investment firm, major Aerojet shareholder Steel Partners Holdings, as leverage to propose new leadership.

Last week, Aerojet announced its largest-ever contract for its RL10 rocket engine, an order for 116 engines from the United Launch Alliance. The engines could fly on the ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket as soon as the end of this year.

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

The Marina del Rey-based unicorn, which makes cartoon-like avatars for celebrities and aims to “build an avatar for every single person on Earth,” didn’t go under. Rather, Genies announced it would stay quiet for a while to focus on building avatar-creation products.

Genies representatives told dot.LA that the firm is now seeking more creators to try its creation tools for 3D avatars, digital fashion items and virtual experiences. On Thursday, the startup launched a three-week program called DIY Collective, which will mentor and financially support up-and-coming creatives.

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Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Here's What To Expect At LA Tech Week

LA Tech Week—a weeklong showcase of the region’s growing startup ecosystem—is coming this August.

The seven-day series of events, from Aug. 15 through Aug. 21, is a chance for the Los Angeles startup community to network, share insights and pitch themselves to investors. It comes a year after hundreds of people gathered for a similar event that allowed the L.A. tech community—often in the shadow of Silicon Valley—to flex its muscles.

From fireside chats with prominent founders to a panel on aerospace, here are some highlights from the roughly 30 events happening during LA Tech Week, including one hosted by dot.LA.

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PCH Driven: Director Jason Wise Talks Wine, Documentaries, and His New Indie Streaming Service SOMMTV

Jamie Williams
­Jamie Williams is the host of the “PCH Driven” podcast, a show about Southern California entrepreneurs, innovators and its driven leaders on their road to success. The series celebrates and reveals the wonders of the human spirit and explores the motivations behind what drives us.
Jason Wise holding wine glass
Image courtesy of Jason Wise

Jason Wise may still consider himself a little kid, but the 33-year-old filmmaker is building an IMDB page that rivals colleagues twice his age.

As the director behind SOMM, SOMM2, SOMM3, and the upcoming SOMM4, Wise has made a career producing award-winning documentary films that peer deep into the wine industry in Southern California and around the world.

On this episode of the PCH Driven podcast, he talks about life growing up in Cleveland as a horrible student, filmmaking, Los Angeles and his latest entrepreneurial endeavor: A streaming service called SOMMTV that features–what else?–documentaries about wine.

The conversation covers some serious ground, but the themes of wine and film work to anchor the discussion, and Wise dispenses bits of sage filmmaking advice.

“With a documentary you can just start filming right now,” he says. “That’s how SOMM came about. I got tossed into that world during the frustration of trying to make a different film, and I just started filming it, because no one could stop me because I was paying for it myself. That’s the thing with docs,” or “The good thing about SOMM is that you can explain it in one sentence: ‘The hardest test in the world is about wine, and you’ve never heard about it.’”

…Or at least maybe you hadn’t before he made his first film. Now with three SOMM documentaries under his belt, Wise is nearing completion of “SOMM4: Cup of Salvation,” which examines the history of wine’s relationship with religion. Wise says it’s “a wild film,” that spans multiple countries, the Vatican and even an active warzone. As he puts it, the idea is to show that “wine is about every subject,” rather than “every subject is about wine.”

For Wise, the transition to launching his own streaming service came out of his frustration with existing platforms holding too much power over the value of the content he produces.

“Do we want Netflix to tell us what our projects are worth or do we want the audience to do that?” he asks.

But unlike giants in the space, SOMMTV has adopted a gradual approach of just adding small bits of content as they develop. Without the need to license 500 or 1,000 hours of programming, Wise has been able to basically bootstrap SOMMTV and provide short form content and other more experimental offerings that typically get passed over by the Hulus and Disneys of the world.

So far, he says, the experiment is working, and now Wise is looking to raise some serious capital to keep up with the voracious appetites of his subscribers.

“Send those VCs my way,” Wise jokes.

Subscribe to PCH Driven on Apple, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeart, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

dot.LA reporter David Shultz contributed to this report.