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Nominet names new CEO as new chair promises real reform

But won't be looking into pay deal

Updated Troubled .uk registry operator Nominet has named a new CEO to replace the one fired by members earlier this year.

At its annual general meeting (AGM) this week, the current CEO of the IT industry's chartered institute BCS, Paul Fletcher, was named as the permanent replacement for Russell Haworth, starting in February.

Fletcher will be joined on the board by two new non-executive directors elected by members this week, both of whom have vowed to maintain reform efforts at the not-for-profit company.

In a further sign that members want wide-ranging reforms implemented, an attempt was made to vote off current board member Stephen Page with several members refusing to support an official resolution keeping him in place. At the time of writing results were still not in.

Page was seen as a key defender of previous CEO Haworth, who used the tens of millions of pounds in surplus from Nominet's monopoly on .uk domain names to help the body branch into commercial markets.

Despite the failure of each of those ventures, Haworth paid himself and his senior executives large salary increases and bonuses year-on-year, while members complained he refused to answer their questions over how those ventures were doing financially.

Page, Haworth and other senior execs including interim CEO Eleanor Bradley and CFO Ben Hill were also behind the shutting down of Nominet's charitable arm, which had previously received a £5m annual budget. They also pushed and supported price increases in the wholesale price of .uk domains, made with little or no justification. The additional revenues from those price increases were again pushed into their unsuccessful commercial ventures.

Asked specifically whether Bradley, as interim CEO, would be leaving Nominet when Fletcher takes over in February, new chair Andy Green refused to be drawn on the question and said it would be up to Fletcher to decide who was in his management team.

One-man band

At the AGM itself, Green took center stage with no executives speaking and only one board member, Rob Binns, giving a brief financial update. Green himself recognised that this was in large part because of the severe lack of trust that has built up between members and their representatives.

While Green made it plain that rebuilding that trust was his priority and vowed to move Nominet back to its not-for-profit roots, he refused to look at the exit payment to former CEO Haworth, claimed by former Nominet director Jim Davies to amount to £300,000, claiming that "the past is the past" and the organisation was in "a period of extreme stress" when the deal was cut.

Haworth resigned the day before he lost his members' vote, but members have noted that before he resigned, the board had decided to remove their right to fire him without compensation.

Despite a vow to increase Nominet's transparency and accountability, Green also defended a decision to restrict the meeting to members only – something that required a convoluted registration process, login and password and two-factor authentication sent to a mobile phone to access the livestream.

In order to speak at the event, former Nominet director Davies needed a special dispensation from the board. And Green claimed that it had always been Nominet's policy to exclude the press from such events.

In fact, as numerous stories on The Register over the years will attest, the AGM has been repeatedly and openly attended by members of the press. Or, as previous CEO Haworth would no doubt say, that's fake news. ®

Updated to add

The results of five resolutions reappointing Nominet’s chair, two directors and auditors are now in.

They all passed almost unanimously (94-99 per cent approval) with the exception of the reappointment of Stephen Page, which was opposed by the Public Benefit campaign. Page squeaked in, with just 51.4 per cent of Nominet members approving his reappointment and 48.6 per cent opposing it. The result saw several prominent Nominet members publicly call on Page to consider his position.

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