Last week, the CEO of ICANN, Fadi Chehadé, announced his intention to leave his position in March 2016, after almost four years as head of the organization. He plans to take a position in private industry, outside of the domain name space. Although the impact to the business community is unclear at this point, Chehadé’s departure throws a spotlight on how important ICANN leadership can be in ensuring that business and brand interests maintain their voice in the Internet governance sphere.
The announcement was surprising to many, as Chehadé has spent his tenure intensely focused on long term goals, including shepherding ICANN through the lengthy transition of the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) function from United States Government control to a multi-stakeholder organization. Chehadé has diligently worked toward making ICANN that organization, although not entirely without push back from Governments and other communities. Chehadé has been admired for his commitment to exploring, developing and implementing new Accountability standards for ICANN in advance of this transition.
Chehadé has traveled and spoken extensively about ICANN’s progress in ensuring accountability to the community, including many business and brand protection sectors. At the beginning of the year, Chehadé assured representatives from the Business and Intellectual Property Constituencies at the ICANN intercessional meeting that he would help to ensure that our interests were not marginalized in the transition process. With the proposed accountability mechanisms and the proposed transition framework taking shape (and currently out for community comment), will Chehadé’s departure throw the process into turmoil? Will the business and brand communities have to start from scratch to assert the necessity of our voice and place at the table?
While the ICANN Board (which will continue to be led by Dr. Stephen Crocker) has assured the community that the effects of Chehadé’s transition will be minimal, all eyes are now on the process to choose Chehadé’s successor. The business and brand communities hope to see another CEO with a strong and diverse background who will be able to effectively balance the many (sometimes competing) interests at ICANN and who will champion the multi-stakeholder process in much the same way that Chehadé has in the past years. Chehadé is expected to be available to train and transition his replacement, and to act as a consultant even after his departure.