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The Next ICANN CEO

Nick Ashton-Hart

Internet public policy — and the technical ecosystem — is at a crossroads and the choice of CEO that ICANN's board makes now is probably the most important such choice it has ever made. Since I work in Internet policy across the Geneva institutions where more than 50% of all international Internet-related policy meetings take place, and have worked at ICANN in senior positions in the past, I thought I would suggest some qualities the next CEO should have. I would like to be clear that everything that follows should not be read as a comment on the current or any previous CEO; it is a fantastically difficult and almost entirely thankless job no matter who does it.

Firstly, and most importantly, it must be someone who has demonstrated that his vision for ICANN will be implementing the vision of the community, rather than his or her own. Everyone who applies for the job will 'talk the talk' but unless they have demonstrated a history of 'walking the walk', they shouldn't get the nod. I have known and worked with many heads of international organisations both intergovernmental and non-governmental and the most successful have been those who stuck to ensuring that the organisation was well run, kept very clearly within its mandate, and was demonstrably focused on implementing the views of their stakeholders instead of 'free-lancing' or 'activism'. Corporate executives simply don't have this mindset; they're chosen because they articulate a persuasive vision for where the organization they lead should go in order to be profitable. ICANN gets constant criticism for appearing too focused on monetization of domain names, and choosing a corporate-style CEO is only likely to make that worse. Profit shouldn't be the ICANN CEO's focus: that's the domain market's job, and the search for profit incentivises growing ICANN itself — again, the wrong objective.

Second, he or she should focus on ensuring ICANN delivers value for money in implementing the community's decisions efficiently and transparently and ensuring that ICANN sticks very clearly within its mandate. For example, time and energy spent in helping developing countries implement DNSSEC and other security related standards integrally related with names and numbers is clearly within ICANN's mandate, as is work to prevent the misuse of those identifiers by fraudsters and organized criminals. ICANN has first-rate people in this area like David Conrad and Dave Piscitello to name just two. Prioritizing issues like this would do far more to increase trust online — and in ICANN - than launching projects like the NetMundial Initiative no matter how worthwhile. The measure of whether to get involved in an external initiative ought to be: will ICANN have to work to explain how the activity relates to its mission, or will the relationship be clearly obvious? Anything that doesn't fall within the latter category should be avoided — or at a minimum the ICANN community consulted in advance.

Thirdly, the Board should pick someone who is genuinely not interested in spending much time attending international meetings or flying to meet government leaders not directly related to that countries' GAC membership. That's what external relations staff are for. My years in international public policy tell me that meetings requiring a CEO in person are really few and very far between. The time ICANN's CEO doesn't spend on activities like these could be spent with the community. They're a diverse, demanding, interesting group: time spent listening to and learning from them will be time well-spent.

I think if the Board sticks closely to these criteria, it has the best chance of a successful outcome — both for the new CEO and for ICANN.

Regarding the process itself, this should be the last selection that the Board makes entirely by itself. While a (mostly) transparent process that UN agencies use isn't necessarily in my view — aside from anything else, it overly-politicises the choice of leader instead of focusing on qualifications of candidates — ICANN can do better than the current model. Next time, it should.

Full disclosure: I applied for the CEO post but was not shortlisted.

By Nick Ashton-Hart, Associate Fellow, Geneva Centre for Security Policy – The views expressed in this article are his alone. Find him on Twitter at @nashtonhart. Visit Page
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First job requirement: humility and submission to the will of the Board of Directors Karl Auerbach  –  Nov 24, 2015 1:35 PM PDT

I've been involved in the final selection of two of ICANN's Presidents.  (Note, the proper term is "President", not "CEO" - the CEO job is but one of jobs that ICANN's organic documents assigns to the President.)

One was a disaster - we got an empire builder who seemed to measure worth by the size of the org chart.  The other was much better, but still was excessively self-willed and not adequately willing to recognize that he is merely a hireling brought on to execute the policies set by the board of directors.

Since then ICANN has brought on Presidents filled with ever more grandiose notions of authority and empire building.  The board has not provided corrective pressures.

Moreover, the hiring process has fallen into the private-sector problem of measuring the worth of the institution through the salary and benefits it pays to its President.  ICANN's President makes more money than the President of the United States.

So what is needed are a couple of things:

First, the new President must foreswear the ex-officio board seat that is so inexcusably and mistakenly put into ICANN's organic documents.

Second, the new President must clearly recognize that his/her job is to follow the policy set by the board, not to be a fount of policy in his/her own right.

Third, the board needs to impose a bit of humility - set a salary level commensurate with ICANN's properly limited role of keeping the DNS technical stable and impose strict travel expense limits so that the President does not continue the past history of Poo-Bahing around the world to hob nob.

You are right Keith Teare  –  Nov 25, 2015 1:42 PM PDT

Pretty much agree wth all of this Karl

Keith Teare
Chairman
Minds and Machines

Thanks! Nick Ashton-Hart  –  Nov 25, 2015 11:13 PM PDT

Dear Karl and Keith, thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment!

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