As the biggest online ad firms made moves to stay on top amid a bleak economic downturn this year, their people made moves, too. Executive switch-ups were a regular occurrence at Yahoo, though staff changes also affected AOL, Microsoft, and Google. Many alterations were made in the name of consolidation and streamlining.
Yahoo’s most memorable exec exit was announced recently, when co-founder Jerry Yang said he’d step down from his CEO role. Although Yahoo managed to score a big industry name in ’08 in ex-Microsoft exec Joanne Bradford, its game of musical chairs started early and kept rolling throughout the year.
Early in the year, as part of an ongoing internal reorganization, the firm named former Head of News and Information Scott Moore to lead its media business, rendering Head of Entertainment Vince Broady’s position obsolete.
Soon after, as several Yahoos were laid off, others left on their own accord. Two search marketing execs, Director of Strategic Alliances Michael Levine and Sales VP Eric Sternbach walked out. Levine moved on to work for a hedge fund, while Sternbach grabbed a senior role at ad network AdKnowledge. Those who were laid off included Personals Senior Product Director Susan Mernit; Ryan Kuder, ex-senior manager of integrated campaign strategy; and Community Strategy Analyst Randy Farmer.
In June, Yahoo announced a major realignment aimed at centralizing product development and improving coordination between product and engineering teams. Network Division EVP Jeff Weiner left along with several others — including Usama Fayyad, EVP of research and strategic data solutions, and Qi Lu, EVP of engineering for the search and advertising technology group. Around that time, Yahoo shareholders were hoping to come up with a deal that would convince Microsoft and Yahoo to revisit merger discussions.
Yahoo decided to accelerate its reorg. It created three units, all reporting to President Sue Decker, including an Audience Products Division led by Yahoo vet Ash Patel, a U.S.-focused team headed by Hilary Schneider; and an Insights Strategy group.
Summer brought the exit of Dakota Sullivan, chief marketing officer at Yahoo’s Blue Lithium network; he became VP of marketing and product at online video platform company Adap.tv. In August, nine-year Yahoo vet Todd Teresi, who had most recently served as SVP of Yahoo’s Publisher Network, took a job as chief revenue officer at research firm Quantcast.
Later, Yahoo’s U.S. Sales Chief David Karnstedt announced he’d be joining VC firm Redpoint Ventures as executive in residence; Karnstedt had resigned earlier in the summer.
The most significant change for Yahoo, however, came in November. Following a challenging year-and-a-half of struggling to strengthen the company he helped create, CEO Jerry Yang announced he’d be leaving the company. He’ll stay on as Chief Yahoo and will remain on the board. His replacement has yet to be announced.
AOL shed several executives in 2008, and most were from Tacoda, the behavioral ad network the firm purchased the previous year. First to go in February was Tacoda founder and CEO, Dave Morgan, who’d become AOL’s EVP of global advertising strategy after Tacoda was purchased to help shore up AOL’s Platform A ad division. After some time off, Morgan took a role as chairman and partner in tennis magazine and event firm The Tennis Company, where he aimed to help the traditional media outfit dominate the tennis content niche on the Web.
Morgan chose to leave AOL, but other Tacoda execs did not. Ex-Tacoda chief Curt Viebranz, head of AOL’s new Platform A advertising unit, got the boot; AOL put Advertising.com President Lynda Clarizio in his place. It was all part of an effort to consolidate, according to the company. Earlier, former VP of marketing solutions for Platform A Kathy Kayse had left for a gig as EVP of digital media sales for Discovery Communications. By spring, amid reports that AOL would lay off about 100 staffers from Platform A, the firm had cut at least four more key Tacoda execs including President Daniel Jaye, former Tacoda CFO Mark Pinney, SVP Advertising Sales Matt Arkin, and SVP Marketing and Business Development Larry Allen.
Microsoft had its own share of layoffs and staff changes, but the most startling to longtime online ad industry watchers was the move made by chief media officer of MSN’s Media Network Joanne Bradford in March. Bradford, who had been with the firm for seven years, departed to serve as EVP of national marketing services for Spot Runner, a much smaller firm offering TV and Web production and ad placement services. Bradford shocked observers again just a few months later, when she ditched Spot Runner for another mammoth online ad player, Yahoo. She’s currently SVP of U.S. revenue and market development there.
During ’08, Microsoft announced several executive changes as part of a broad reorganization. Steve Berkowitz, head of Microsoft’s Online Services unit, left the firm, while former aQuantive CEO Brian McAndrews was named SVP of advertiser and publisher solutions. Search and Ad Platform Group lead Satya Nadella became SVP, search, portals, and advertising; and Bill Veghte was named SVP of the new online services and Windows group.
Later, Veghte would lose some responsibilities when long-time Microsoft exec Yusuf Mehdi became online audience business leader. And, by the end of the year, McAndrews defected after former EVP of Engineering for Yahoo Search and Advertising Qi Lu was named to lead Microsoft’s online services group, a position McAndrews had hoped to attain.
There weren’t too many executive changes announced by Google this year. However, the search giant did lose two execs who took on senior positions at Facebook in March. Sheryl Sandberg, online sales lead for Google’s AdSense and AdWords products was named chief operating officer for the social networking site. Soon thereafter, Google’s Director of Social Media Ethan Beard left to serve as Facebook’s director of business development.
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