Some Thoughts on ICANN’s Next CEO

Now that the search has officially commenced, I thought it might be useful to make some public statements as to what I would like to see from the next ICANN CEO. My comments are driven by what I see as the deficiencies over the last number of years and, most importantly, by a deep desire to see the ICANN experiment in global governance succeed. The Internet is the greatest agent for positive change the world has ever seen and a healthy ICANN strengthens its ability to foster positive change.

For me there are three essential qualities required and they are tough to order because I would like to see them all. They are as follows:

  • a deep love and understanding of the Internet;
  • the ability to “run a business” responsibly; and
  • the ability to lead with vision.

First, a deep love and understanding of the Internet.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ~ Confucius

For me, Mike Roberts was the best ICANN CEO to date and the reason is that he was the one who most loved and understood the Internet. ICANN is responsible for names and numbers, which are about finding and using resources on the Internet. Appreciating what that means and why it is important is central to being the ICANN CEO. Too much of the last few years have been about ICANN as an institution for the institution’s sake, not for having ICANN live in service to the Internet. A great CEO will create and lead an ICANN that lives in service to an open Internet and to the role of names and numbers inside of that.

Second, the ability to run a business responsibly. ICANN as an institution has ballooned over the last few years, seeing its budget grow by massive amounts. I am in favor of a healthy ICANN that is not begging its constituents for money and that is able to provide necessary staff support for policy creation and management. However, the money should be spent like it was their own! There is much too much wasted on very expensive consultants, staff duplication and on unnecessary efforts. There is a good core of credible and productive staff who I believe will respond to this so positively.

The next CEO should be comfortable learning about an issue and making a decision. Rather than pay BCG, McKinsey or some other exorbitantly priced consultant to call me, and a dozen others, to ask for our opinion on an issue, the CEO himself will research a topic and then come to a decision. Yes, ICANN is a consensus-driven, bottom up organization, but that need not apply to every issue. To be clear, I am talking here about day-to-day issues like a new RAA, transfers or whois.

The next CEO should be comfortable making decisions, leading the team and spending money responsibly. They should be a doer. The do/say ratio in ICANN needs to increase immeasurably.

Lastly, the next ICANN CEO needs to be able to lead with vision. So much of what ICANN deals with concerns the future, not the past or the present. The next ICANN CEO needs to possess enough imagination to create a broad vision for the organization and lead staff and the various constituents in that direction. This does not mean they should drive the policy-making process, nor that they should substitute their judgment for the community, but that they should have a big picture view of what the organization looks like when it is functioning well and how the organization exists in service to the Internet.

The organization should not lurch from issue to issue like it does now, constantly fending off imagined existential threats. It should move in a clear direction toward a bright future.

Yes, I know I am looking for a lot in one person, but I really believe that at this point in the Internet’s history, ICANN demands more than a CEO. It needs a passionate visionary.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on ICANN’s Next CEO

  1. Michele

    Elliot

    I’d have to agree with you, but the question remains.. who would fit the bill?

    The kind of person you describe might not be comfortable dealing with the level of bureaucracy and bickering that exists within ICANN

    Michele

  2. John Berard

    Elliot,

    The guidelines you suggest, if met, would help ICANN bear up under the increased scrutiny the organiztion’s central, commercial role now draws ICANN.

    You will no doubt be questioned for suggesting that the current CEO is short on love, understanding and ability, but as diverting as that debate will be, it misses the key point: ICANN needs to grow up and into its role.

    The internet is being asked to do far more than its design would seem to allow. How to deliver on market demand even as it protects the unnatural resource the communications platform has become will only become more difficult and old models die off (media, say) or move to the web (in this case, retail).

    The new CEO will need in buckets the talents you list. Whether the organization expands or shrinks should only be a by-product of meeting the mission.

    Thanks for framing the discussion.

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