Technology

Modumetal co-founder replaced as CEO, settles lawsuit with board of high-tech metal startup

Christina Lomasney. (Modumetal Photo)

Christina Lomasney has been replaced as president and CEO of Modumetal, the Seattle startup she launched 13 years ago in a quest to find an alternative material that could hold up to corrosion better than steel.

The University of Washington-trained physicist and longtime entrepreneur said this week that she was terminated as CEO by the board in February, just weeks after the privately held company secured $14 million in new funding. Lomasney resigned from her board seat on Monday.

“I would have never left,” Lomasney told GeekWire. “This was not my choice. This was the board’s decision.”

The new CEO is Dennis Creech, a former executive at Hess and Shell Oil, who was brought on to Modumetal’s board of directors last October. Creech was appointed interim CEO by the board during an executive session Feb. 13. In hindsight, Lomasney said this week, she believes Creech’s board appointment was made with an eye toward ultimately replacing her as CEO.

Lomasney said she didn’t agree with the timing of the decision and the subsequent transition, which occurred just as the COVID-19 pandemic was hitting the United States. Her exit was further complicated by a dispute over her severance. She filed a lawsuit on June 5 in King County Superior Court against Modumetal, board chairman Steve Singh and board director Stuart Nagae, who is a general partner at Vulcan Capital, a lead investor in the startup.

Modumetal President and CEO Dennis Creech. (LinkedIn Photo)

The suit alleged that the board tried to deny Lomasney parts of her severance that were spelled out in her employment agreement, including payment for unused vacation days. The two sides eventually settled. Financial terms of the settlement were not publicly disclosed.

Lomasney’s lawsuit said Singh, the former Concur and Docker CEO, told her during a Feb. 9 meeting “that he believed it was time to bring on a new CEO.” In a follow-up to that meeting, the complaint stated, Singh “wrote that he believed it was time to bring in ‘a seasoned CEO’ and ‘board seasoned expertise.’ ”

Singh did not offer any comment on the lawsuit in an email to GeekWire this week. Singh thanked Lomasney “for her product leadership and contributions” on behalf of the board.

He said that the Modumetal board is “very pleased” with Creech and “the operational performance he is driving.”

“What is even more wonderful to see is how the executive team has come together under Dennis’ leadership,” Singh said via email. “He is a transparent, collaborative leader that establishes clear growth driven metrics, and holds himself and his team accountable. Even more gratifying is that the team’s efforts are starting to show up in the company’s results.”

Creech told GeekWire that he was asked by the board to accept the role of president and CEO in order to “scale the business.”

“The leadership team and I have actively engaged with Christina through the transition period to ensure continuity with customers, investors, and employees in a challenging market environment,” Creech said via email, adding that he was excited about the company’s future.

Modumetal’s NanoGalv material, right, helps prevent corrosion. (Modumetal Photo)

With a background centered around material science and electrochemistry, Lomasney spun Modumetal out of Isotron Corp., another company that she founded in 2001, bootstrapped and ran from the start.

Modumetal developed a metal manufacturing process powered by electricity instead of the traditional heat-based source of energy in metals production. This allows the company to configure raw materials at scale in a layered manner, somewhat like metallic plywood, and achieve specific characteristics that strengthen the metal. Its chief product, NanoGalv, is a corrosion-resistant nanolaminated alloy used in metal products ranging from oil and gas pipelines to highway guardrails.

The company, which has raised about $90 million to date, had just built a new production facility in Houston, and the executive team was being built out when Lomasney was replaced. Modumetal has 27 employees between Seattle and Houston.

“I definitely want to see them succeed,” Lomasney said. “It was an unfortunate position that the board took, but the sentiments in my departure message are the best reflection of where I stand and my perspective of the company’s future. It was a privilege to be part of bringing this technology to market, and I hope that Modumetal will continue to broaden the scope of commercial applications.”

Inside Modumetal’s 30,00 square-foot production facility in Maltby, Wash. (Modumetal Photo)

In that message to Modumetal employees in February, Lomasney called her co-workers “pioneers, explorers, architects and builders of this Modumetal achievement” and she expressed confidence that they and a generation that follows will have helped transform a multi-trillion dollar industry with “the manufacture of products in ways and of types that can’t be realized or even imagined today.”

Lomasney is already setting her sights on finding the next great inventions.

She is starting what she calls an innovation and industrialization workshop called LomasneyWorks, or LWorks — a nod to her time at Boeing and her work with the company’s Phantom Works division. She likens the venture to Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park invention factory.

PREVIOUSLY: How a huge fire and a competitor nearly took down Modumetal — and why the company’s still standing

“I’m going to try a modern day spin on that. I’ve already got a couple of companies I’m working with,” she said. “There’s one technology in particular that we’re really excited about, that can be a kind of big deal right now, especially with everything that’s going on with COVID. So we’ll see.”

LWorks may not end up in Seattle, but it will be in Washington state, and Lomasney hopes to make products and develop talent in collaboration with other companies. The approach is a big shift from the 13 years she spent focused on her own company and products.

“I never thought about anything else except for Modumetal when I was at Modumetal. I was not planning what I was going to do next,” Lomasney said.

“I’m not one to subscribe to this sort of ‘woe is me’ circumstance,” she said. “I’ll do it again. No concerns there.”

[Editor’s note: The timing of Lomasney’s termination as CEO and resignation from the board has been corrected since publication. The Singh Family Foundation, led by Steve Singh, serves as the underwriting sponsor of GeekWire’s Impact Series.]

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