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ICANN CEO will head off to private equity firm

Would have loved to hang around, take over internet but can’t miss this, er, opportunity…

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has announced where he'll be heading after he breaks his contract 10 months early: private equity firm Abry Partners.

Chehade surprised the internet community, and threw ICANN in disarray, when he announced in May that he was going to leave early – and, crucially, before ICANN takes over control of the top level of the internet through the IANA contract.

At the time ICANN said that Chehade would be moving "into a new career in the private sector," but gave no additional details. He later said he would provide more information toward the end of the year.

In a blog post Monday, the businessman announced that it wouldn't be a single job but "a portfolio of activities." One will be "senior advisor on digital strategy" for private equity firm Abry Partners. Chehade also said that he expects "to add other roles to my portfolio and will update you all as appropriate."

Abry is based in Boston, and specializes in VC buyouts in the media and communications industries. It's a mid-sized firm with average investments ranging from $15m to $50m.

The fact that Chehade will be an adviser instead of staff and that the job is clearly not full-time strongly suggests that Chehade quit ICANN without another job to go to.

That is surprising given the following:

  • He was on a $1m contract.
  • The ICANN board was desperate to keep him in the role.
  • If Chehade had worked through to the end of his contract, he would have been able to claim he was in charge when the organization negotiated control of the critical IANA contract away from the US government – a significant feather in any CEO's cap.

I'm outta here!

What now seems more likely is that Chehade was simply fed up with the job. It is a notoriously difficult one: the CEO is not only in charge of ICANN the corporation, but is also accountable to both the ICANN board – which is frequently criticized for its micromanagement – and the broader ICANN community, which can best be described as a loose conglomeration of warring tribes.

In addition, Chehade has seen a number of personal projects face repeated setbacks. Most notably, he was embarrassed and disappointed when his plan to create a new internet governance body called the NetMundial Initiative was roundly criticized by the internet and business communities.

Chehade expended significant personal capital on the project, pulling in governments and the World Economic Forum (WEF). He was due to announce the project at WEF's annual conference in Davos, Switzerland, but the announcement was scrapped at the last minute when support for the plan failed to materialize.

Just a few months later, frustrated with the process for moving the IANA contract to ICANN, Chehade was caught on tape lambasting the independent working group and questioning their understanding of the internet's functioning.

ICANN has already begun the process to find a new CEO in time for March 2016, putting out a long list of requirements that many have joked would require some kind of superhuman to fulfill. ®


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