Ex-ICANN Staffers Don’t Hold Back on CEO’s Departure

Many in the ICANN community have the view that the announcement this week that Rod Beckstrom will not be seeking reappointment for a second three-year term was a case of he jumped before he was pushed. Or he was told that he would not be reappointed.Whether this is true or not, two ex-ICANN staffers have posted stories on their blogs and they are not sad to see him go!Kieren McCarthy heads his posting ICANN fires its CEO and says:
“Behind the pronouncements lies a different story. It is well known in ICANN circles that there has been significant concern over Beckstrom’s performance for some time. And we understand that Beckstrom’s ‘decision’ was made for him at a secret Board meeting earlier this month.”McCarthy says Beckstrom “lobbied hard to have his contract renewed, even giving a public speech at ICANN’s most recent meeting in Singapore in June listing what he had achieved as CEO.””Ironically, it is Beckstrom’s attempt to personally attach himself to all the organization’s successes that is a major reason for his failure as an ICANN CEO: he is seen as too quick to claim credit for others’ work and to put personal promotion ahead of effective management. In two years in charge, almost the entire senior management team has left. Community questions as to why were met with obtuse reference to industry percentages.”Also writing on this theme of management is Maria Farrell who writes “Rod’s most obvious legacy is a largely new, mostly American executive team with shallow ties to the global Internet naming and numbering community. They will need to work hard with the community to show they understand that ‘multi-stakeholder’ is more than a slogan, and that transparency and accountability are not optional.””The next CEO needs to understand that ICANN is not a California nonprofit that happens to have a lot of volunteers. It’s a unique, multi-stakeholder organisation with a global responsibility to Internet users everywhere.”For the next CEO Farrell believes he or she has to hit the ground running with an intimate knowledge of the domain name system. Farrell says that unless the next CEO is one of “about 500 key people involved in running the DNS and numbering systems … then she or he will be a liability for at least the first year.”Writing from some experience, Farrell says “the remaining long-term ICANN staff are demoralized and eyeing the exits, especially as the new top level domain program creates opportunities for them to take their insider knowledge and relationships elsewhere.” And this is something she believes the next CEO will need to value and address.Farrell does give credit where she believes it is due and says “So credit where it’s due; I don’t agree with much of how Rod runs the organization, but his instinct to publicly call a spade a spade is admirable, albeit wielded inopportunely.”McCarthy though is less generous being critical of Beckstrom’s supposed achievements. McCarthy criticises Beckstrom’s claimed “great team building” quoting Farrell who “took the microphone during a public forum [at the San Francisco meeting this year] to announce her ‘profound disquiet about how the organization is operationally being managed’ and talked of a ‘hollowing out of expertise’ and a ‘climate of fear stalking the ICANN staff’. Her comments were met with prolonged applause.”McCarthy then criticises “Beckstrom’s most significant claim to have negotiated an historic agreement with the US government that saw ICANN gain greater autonomy is largely fanciful: he was in charge for less than three months before the agreement was signed, whereas negotiations had been going on for 18 months between ICANN senior staff and the NTIA.”McCarthy lists a number of key staff who left quit, often unexpectedly, that had key roles in negotiating agreements as well as within the organisation such as VP of Corporate Affairs Paul Levins, COO Doug Brent, Theresa Swinehart, former British Ambassador Nick Thorne, David Conrad, Greg Rattray and then the CFO.There are more criticisms in the article, but McCarthy concludes saying “ultimately though Beckstrom was unsuited – and too thin-skinned – to deal with the complex, geo-political environment in which ICANN lives. As criticism grew, Beckstrom retreated within ICANN pulling the culture and staff with him. An independent review complained of staff and CEO ‘laboring under an attitude of inordinate defensiveness and distrust'”.The articles by McCarthy and Farrell are available online at:

  • ICANN fires its CEO by Kieren McCarthy

news.dot-nxt.com/2011/08/16/icann-fires-ceo

  • What ICANN needs now by Maria Farrell

crookedtimber.org/2011/08/17/21300/