Nominet’s CEO Russell Haworth has become the sacrifice in the ongoing battles over management of the .uk ccTLD. In an announcement today, Nominet said Haworth “intends to step down from the Board and relinquish his duties as CEO. Russell will complete a short transition, arrangements for which details are being finalised. The board will announce interim leadership measures in due course.” Whether Haworth’s sacrifice minimises the fallout coming from today’s EGM remains to be seen.
The announcement comes ahead of an Extraordinary General Meeting scheduled for today (22 March) at 15:00 hrs (GMT) that has been called in response to a campaign by PublicBenefit.uk that began in early February and called for major changes at Nominet. PublicBenefit.uk has called for Nominet to increase public benefit donations, reduce .uk wholesale prices, improve communications with members and listen to their feedback on key topics, adopt the “uk corporate governance code” and to ensure Nominet remains independent and has a strong financial future.
The reasons for the campaign were, as PublicBenefit.uk outlined, that from 2016 to 2020 Nominet reduced public benefit donations by 65% (from £5.4M to £1.9M), reduced operating profit by 38% (from £8M to £5M), increased the pay of the top 3 directors by 70% (from £1M to £1.7M), ignored members’ concerns and input and tried to silence critics, the press and members.
Last week Tucows, the world’s largest wholesale registrar, came out in support of the resolutions being put at today’s EGM, taking their take a position “based on our core values and beliefs.” Another supporter of change at Nominet is the Internet Commerce Association who said in a post last week that while they take “no specific position on the resolutions before Nominet members, the ICA does believe that the current management’s track record of raising prices on registrants without any justification tied to the actual cost of performing the services requires a fundamental change in approach. The current Nominet management has undertaken to freeze .UK domain name prices for two years, but this in our view is entirely insufficient.”
Nominet announced in mid-February they had given ground to the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, with a seven-point plan [pdf] to address the issues. The plan’s seven points are to dramatically increasing public benefit donations (£4 million has been committed by June, double the amount of 2020 while in future years they will devote 10% of revenues to public benefit and have set aside £25m of reserves), launching a Registry Advisory Council (RAC) to give members a greater voice, freeze the .uk registry fee for at least two years, improve membership engagement, freeze board remuneration until the end of 2022, increase financial transparency and invest £20 million over the next three years in their next generation registry infrastructure.
In a statement announcing Haworth’s departure, Mark Wood, Nominet’s Chair, said “The board and I would like to thank Russell for his outstanding work as chief executive. He has ensured our domain registry is seen as a world leader, has grown a highly successful cyber business from scratch and has nearly doubled company revenues during his time in office. The board appreciates his decision to step down now at a time when it is clear the company needs to consider its future direction. Looking ahead, whatever the outcome of the Nominet EGM on Monday, we will focus on stability and continuity of service for our customers and members.”
Russell Haworth, Nominet CEO, said: “It’s been a pleasure to lead Nominet through a period of tremendous growth and innovation. I’m proud that we were able to pursue the board’s vision to grow and diversify Nominet so effectively, while protecting and positively impacting millions of lives. Our members have made it clear that they now favour a different direction, and I respect their desire to put Nominet on a new path.”
In response to the announcement, PublicBenefit.uk tweeted they “look forward to the immediate appointment of Sir Michael and Axel Pawlik” as Chair and CEO.