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ICANN’s Changing of the Guard – Part 1

On the 21st of December, ICANN announced that Goran Marby had stepped down as ICANN’s sixth CEO. As the ICANN Board commences its search for its next CEO, I thought it would be useful to look back at ICANN’s selection process for its previous CEOs and how each tended to be driven by the unique challenges confronting ICANN at that time. While Marby’s departure was more abrupt than his predecessors, ICANN is currently well-situated—with relatively stable revenue, a strategic plan in place, and a seasoned executive to serve as interim CEO. This permits the ICANN Board to take its time in finding the best choice for CEO to lead ICANN into the future.

I was inspired to write this article while listening to video recordings of past ICANN CEOs sharing their thoughts and insights as part of the ICANN History Project. I have included links to these recordings (and other relevant documents) at the end of this article. The ICANN History Project was brought to life through the professionalism and dedication of Brad White, ICANN’s former director of Global Media Affairs. These videos contain a treasure trove of institutional knowledge that I encourage every current ICANN Board member and potential CEO candidate to watch.

While the average tenure of a non-profit chief executive is six years, the average tenure for ICANN’s CEO has been approximately four years. In fact, only two CEOs (Twomey & Marby) exceeded six years in tenure, with Marby being the longest-tenured CEO at six years and seven months. One likely reason for this shorter tenure is ICANN’s “unique” multi-stakeholder, bottom-up consensus-driven model. It has been my experience that the dynamics of this model can come into greater conflict with what are typically the strengths of most successful CEOs, who also generally have greater autonomy in prioritizing the initiatives and direction of the organizations they lead.

Another unique challenge for ICANN’s CEO is their relationship with ICANN’s Registrars and Registries that account for the vast majority of ICANN’s annual revenue. ICANN’s financial situation is much improved from its earliest days when staff went unpaid for months and corporate expenses were placed on personal credit cards, while today, ICANN’s coffers are overflowing from the success of ICANN’s funding model over the past 20 years. However, ICANN’s next CEO will likely have to confront whether this model is sustainable, considering shrinking domain name registration numbers and consolidation within the industry.

Finally, ICANN’s relationship with governments continues evolving and becoming more complex. This is driven primarily by two forces. The first is that over the past twenty years, governments have become more comfortable engaging in regulatory action that directly impacts the domain name industry, as opposed to their historical hands-off approach. This growing regulatory threat to ICANN’s multi-stakeholder model can be seen by recent actions, e.g., Chinese MIIT’s Real Name verification requirements, the European Union’s Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Network and Information Security (NIS 2.0) Directive, and the recent US Federal Trade Commission Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM).

The second factor complicating ICANN’s relationship with governments is the inability of the ICANN community to timely develop and for ICANN Org to timely implement policy initiatives. This inability for the ICANN multistakeholder model to actually address issues (real and/or perceived) will result in government addressing those issues through its own actions.

While the ICANN Board undertakes its important fiduciary duty to select a successor CEO, I respectfully make the following two suggestions. First, the ICANN Board should engage in a constructive dialog with the community at ICANN76 and ICANN 77 about the CEO selection process. This would be consistent with the community engagement during the ICANN42 and ICANN53 meetings. I think the Board will find some of the comments from those discussions as relevant today as they were back then.

Second, the ICANN Community and Board should leverage the upcoming FY25 strategic outlook program, currently scheduled for February thru April, to re-evaluate ICANN’s current strategic plan. This document will likely have a significant impact on the mandate for the next CEO. ICANN’s last strategic plan was approved in 2019. Since then, the organization has survived a global pandemic and now finds itself in a very different world, where governments are increasingly implementing laws and regulations that directly impact the domain name industry.

To be continued ....

Historical Links Documenting ICANN CEO Succession Timeline

Mike Roberts – October 1998 until March 2001 (tenure 2 years, 5 months)
ICANN History Video
ICANN Bio
ICANN replacement CEO search started (Nov 1999)
Stuart Lynn selected (Dec 2000) (Source)

Stuart Lynn – March 2001 until March 2003 (tenure 2 years)
ICANN History Video
ICANN Bio
ICANN Hiring Announcement
ICANN Departure Announcement (May 2002)
ICANN Executive Search Committee, Formed in June 2002 / Options considered by Board Jan-Feb / Announcement March

Paul Twomey – March 2003 until June 2009 (served as Senior President until January 2010) (tenure 6 years, 3 months)
ICANN History Video
ICANN Bio
ICANN Hiring Announcement
ICANN Department Announcement
ICANN CEO replacement update

Rod Beckstrom – July 2009 until June 2012 (original contract expired July 1 2012) (tenure 3 years) (announced intention to step down in Aug 2011)
ICANN History Video
ICANN Bio
ICANN Hiring Announcement
ICANN Department Announcement
ICANN CEO Search Committee Update
ICANN 42 CEO Succession Update

Akram Atallah (Interim CEO) June 2012 – September 2012 (Source)

Fadi Chehadé – September 2012 until March 2016 (original contract extended until June 2017) (announced stepping down in May 2015) (tenure 4 years, 6 months)
ICANN History Video
ICANN Bio
ICANN Hiring Announcement
ICANN Departure Announcement
ICANN 53 CEO Succession Update

Akram Atallah (Interim CEO) March 2016 – May 2016 (Source)

Goran Marby – May 2016 until December 2022 (paid until March 2024) (tenure 6 years, 7 months)
ICANN Bio
ICANN Hiring Announcement, Feb 2016
ICANN Departure Announcement, Dec 2022

Sally Costerton (Interim CEO) December 2022 – TBD

By Michael D. Palage, Intellectual Property Attorney and IT Consultant

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Comments

Mark Datysgeld  –  Jan 3, 2023 10:05 AM

Michael,

Thank you for bringing to the community’s attention the ICANN History Project videos. This content is very valuable, but at the same time has seen litte advertisement and engagement.

Regards,

Changing of the Guard or Changing of Captains on a Sinking Ship Rick Lane  –  Jan 4, 2023 7:18 AM

I hope this is a changing of the guard and not a changing of captains of the ICANNIC.

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