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As the world burns, ICANN gives its richest execs huge pay rises

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2020, 02:36:30 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN has just given some of its highest-ranking and richest execs pay rises of up to 15%, even as the world stands on the brink of a global recession and ICANN is predicting its own budget is on the verge of huge shrinkage.

Its board of directors has approved a set of pay deals that would see the CFO, Xavier Calvez — a man who has, year-after-year, consistently failed to predict fluctuations in the domain name industry with any degree of accuracy — a pay rise of 15%.

John Jeffrey, the general counsel, is getting 3.5%, despite his record of losing legal cases and covering up incidents of sexual harassment among ICANN staff.

Theresa Swinehart, newly-minted senior vice president of the Global Domains Division, is getting a 10% pay increase on top of her base salary, which was $459,123 in FY19.

Not only that, but CEO Göran Marby has been granted broad discretion to increase salaries in the same range for other, non-officer ICANN employees.

Marby himself has been granted his second-half bonus, which amounts to over $100,000.

Based on disclosed salaries for ICANN’s fiscal 2019, we can take a punt on how much money this will cost ICANN — and by “ICANN” I of course mean “you”, the domain-registering public, who pays for every cent of ICANN’s budget.

According to ICANN’s fiscal 2019 form 990, Calvez had “reportable compensation” of $445,964. That’s not including another $62,000 in additional compensation.

For him, a 15% pay raise on the base number is an extra almost $68,000 a year, making his salary (excluding extras) now comfortably over half a million dollars a year.

I’m sure there are many readers of this blog who would consider $68k a nice-enough base salary. But no, that’s his annual raise this year.

This is the guy who, for the better part of a decade, has had to wildly meddle with the revenue half of ICANN’s budget every six months because he couldn’t seem to get a grip on how the new gTLD market was playing out.

He’s also the guy predicting an 8% decline in revenue for ICANN’s next fiscal year due to coronavirus, even as he admits its current revenue has been so far unaffected and most of its biggest funders say everything is going really rather well.

Swinehart is going to get an extra $46,000 a year.

Jeffrey’s raise amounts to an extra $21,000 on top of his $604,648 FY19 base salary.

Remember, he’s the guy in charge of ICANN’s legal department, which is consistently beaten in Independent Review Panel cases, and who is ultimately responsible for the decision to not disclose the existence of the sexual harassment cases that have been filed against ICANN by its own employees in recent years.

The reason these three in particular have been given angry-laughable pay rises is the recently-announced executive reshuffle, which I blogged about earlier this month.

The three of them have had their jobs merged with those of two recent departures — COO Susanna Bennett, who’s leaving for undisclosed reasons shortly, and GDD president Cyrus Namazi, who quit following (but, you know, not necessarily because of) sexual harassment allegations earlier this year.

Combined, Namazi and Bennett were taking $860,000 a year out of the ICANN purse, so ICANN is still saving money by increasing the salaries of their replacements by about $134,000.

But the question has to be asked: how much extra work are these execs doing for this money? How many extra hours a day are they putting in to earn what to many people would be a whole year’s salary?

I expect the answer is: none.

I expect the answer is that ICANN didn’t need the number of six-figure execs it had previously, and now that’s it’s lost a couple of them it’s handing out your cash to those who chose to stick around mainly because it can and it hopes nobody will notice or care.

ICANN’s board resolution says that its decision to raise salaries is based on “independent market data provided by outside expert compensation consultants”.

ICANN has long had a “philosophy” of paying its top people in the “50th to 75th percentile for total cash compensation based on comparable market data for the respective positions”.

It’s never been entirely clear which entities ICANN compares itself to when making these judgements.

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Comments (26)

  1. They’re happy that they facilitated 0% intrest payday loan for registries forcing poor registrants to send in 10-year lump-sum payments or else face the 1000% /yr. increased pricing.

  2. Scott says:

    Very well detailed news coverage here.

    This is the latest in a series of tough features you’ve done on ICANN budget and compensation issues. Taken together with the recent articles on harassment allegations within ICANN, this seems to be a fairly critical view of the organization that’s emerging.

    Is it indicative of a change of sentiment regarding ICANN and its management/leadership?

  3. Kd says:

    Of course they can. They took quid-pro-quo money from Verisign for many many millions. To only just cover these raises over time. They now have more money to spend then ever before.

    ICANN is a joke. Just an utter joke. Its too bad that everyone who learns realizes how they can profit too, then joins the payroll of death…

  4. kd says:

    John Jeffrey seems to be the most powerful of all. Especially with his salary. He seems to pull all the strings at ICANN saying what can and can’t happen, because you know, he is the legal side of things. He has been with ICANN so long. And he seems to know so much. In my own opinion he also seems to be one of the largest recipients of money from the Internet at large. And seems to be the one orchestrating one of the most corrupt organizations that the entire world has ever seen. Again, my own opinion. From my observations, it seems John Jeffrey is coordinating an extremely large payday for himself at the cost of nonprofits (.orgs) and the internet at large (.com). He just grants himself more and more money as the world struggles in tough times. It must be very tough to steer a monopoly that grants other monopolies monopolist rights, and makes more and more money even while the world struggles with COVID.

    But what do I know. I can only presume. I probably don’t have any clue about anything at all and only write about things I have read online.

    • Rob says:

      I want to comment on some of your statements, as some of them made me laugh out loud.

      “John Jeffrey seems to be the most powerful of all”.

      Perhaps its because he is also one of the smartest.

      He has been a steady and guiding hand for well over a decade. He has the institutional knowledge almost none have. Perhaps only Theressa has a similar amount.

      “He has been with ICANN so long. And he seems to know so much.”

      In an organization where we change CEO’s ever 5 or so years, I am always thankful for Senior Staff that remain the same and can bring history and perspective to any argument.

      “he also seems to be one of the largest recipients of money from the Internet at large”

      Nope. Not even close. This one really made me laugh out loud.

      “He just grants himself more and more money ”

      Nope. The Board determines his salary.

      Had I had a vote I would have increased the senior exec’s much more. Salary and Bonus. ICANN has lost 3 very senior people in the last few months.

      Someone else pointed out their workload has not increased so why do they deserve a raise. Salary is most often not about that but about retention and what their market value is elsewhere.

      I bet John could make far more at Jones Day than ICANN. God knows I would hire him in an instant if he did leave.

      People are worth what someone else will pay them. I think John is making less to stay with an organization he sees bringing good to the world.

      As to the cases he has lost, so what. He didn’t start them. I bet he doesn’t lose many fights he starts.

      And as to the notion that he somehow did something wrong in not releasing any employee complaints of harassment, what organization does that ? He likely gave sage advice here. But who knows. He may have said that they should be release and the Board overruled him. Making shit up never is a good idea.

      “I probably don’t have any clue about anything at all and only write about things I have read online.”

      First thing you have said that I agree completely with. You truly don’t have a clue, and you have chosen to malign someone who has worked tirelessly to do his job. I can’t figure out why.

      We may not like his decisions or his guidance, but I have never seen him do ANYTHING that was not in the best interest of ICANN. And lets not forget, that is his job. Not pleasing anyone else. He is tenacious and a warrior. I for one, would go into battle with him any day.

      You owe him an apology.

      • Kevin Murphy says:

        “I have never seen him do ANYTHING that was not in the best interest of ICANN”

        Maybe that’s a problem, mate.

        Maybe what’s in the best interest of ICANN is not always in the best interest of others?

        • Rob says:

          Thats not his job. He is the General Counsel of ICANN, and as such as a duty to the Corporation.

          The Board decides what that direction and duty is. John is executing it to the best of his ability. He can’t just decide to not do it, or phone it in.

          If you want him to execute with his skillset on a different mission or direction, get the Board to change that.

          Until then, he has a legal duty to the Corporation. Not the community.

          • Kevin Murphy says:

            I think that’s all fair comment, and I would not disagree. JJ covers ICANN’s legal ass. That’s his job. His success rate is debatable, but it’s his job.

            But if that priority overrides the mission and values of ICANN, then it is a problem. ICANN exists to serve others, not protect itself.

            From what I’m told, I’m reasonably confident that the board didn’t know anything about the sexual harassment stuff, for example. It wasn’t a case of the board deciding to not publish the complaint(s), it was a case of the board not even being told about it.

    • Rubens Kuhl says:

      The appearance of JJ pulling all the strings is probably the work of CEO and other senior executives, not his. Why taking responsibility when you can blame Legal ? But Legal has an advisory role, decisions are made by those with authority to make them.

      Next time a staffer tries to blame Legal of something, challenge that person in a split second.

  5. Mogreen says:

    reading this I am not sure if you are more upset on the scale of the pay increase or that these particular people are still employed at ICANN and received increases.

    The total compensation is in line with execs at that level and not absurd, just not sure other execs are receiving 15% bumps in this crazy year

    Guess they forecast a massive increase in domain registrations for 2020 🙂

  6. Staff says:

    What is really missing from this article is that ICANN staff were told that there will be no raises this year because of economic uncertainty. The annual salary increases (typically 2%) would have been scheduled to go into effect next week on 1 July, so the timing that a few execs are getting big bumps is especially galling. Do what I say and not what I do.

  7. Also Staff says:

    Also staff. Can confirm the above. ICANN stopped employee merit increases due to “economic uncertainty.” Also froze hiring.

    The timing for these bonuses isn’t just bad, it’s inexcusably clueless. Clueless about current events, what the average person is going through, and about how it is treating *its own employees.* Competitive compensation is necessary to attract and retain good talent…if ICANN clearly recognizes that for their executives, why don‘t they for their staff?

    One semiannual bonus for 1 exec is probably equivalent to a fulltime employee’s annual salary.

    The biggest flaw in ICANN is this: the people running the ship live in a bubble (again, clueless.) I don’t think they’re all bad people, in fact they probably would be shocked to learn that these bonuses look really bad on many levels. That’s how they acted during org fiasco too, very self righteous, like how on earth could the equivalent of insider trading to financially benefit friends and old colleagues appear ethically questionable? They didn’t seem to see how obviously corrupt it was even though 90% of the public saw it. Amazon, same type of thing. For such smart and accomplished people, you would hope they had/have a better understanding of right and wrong.

    • Rob says:

      Hey “Staff”

      It is always so wonderful when people bite the hand that feeds them.

      You are clearly a junior staffer who needs to find a new job that you will be happier in. Seriously. Do it today. Why waste your life working for a company you don’t respect or love ?

      Perhaps I can shed some light on some of your statements.

      “The timing for these bonuses isn’t just bad, it’s inexcusably clueless.”

      These bonuses are decided by the Board each year, and I would bet typically at the same time, around year end. It is on their calendar to handle, they get a report of what other similar organizations are doing and what the market is to retain top talent. Given a few top people have left ICANN recently, there is also the factor of the Board wanting to ensure the great talent that is still there remains there.

      I also know the Board has some super smart people on it, and I am sure they are well aware that the timing sucks. And yet they chose to do it. So they clearly had a good reason to do so.

      Your bonus is not decided by the board, but your senior manager, who you likely have just pissed off here. Why would you be blaming the Board for making a smart decision, when they are not the ones making the decision about yours.

      “Competitive compensation is necessary to attract and retain good talent…if ICANN clearly recognizes that for their executives, why don‘t they for their staff?”

      I suspect they do recognize that for the executives and the staff. Perhaps you are overpaid already ? Perhaps you don’t deserve a bonus this year ? I find comparing ones performance to anothers is never a smart move. You earn when you do. So be better.

      I also don’t think ICANN has laid off anyone, so freezing a cost of living increase right now would seem prudent to most. Keeping your top staff with your company so that someone can actually lead all the others is certainly a more key move.

      “The biggest flaw in ICANN is this: the people running the ship live in a bubble (again, clueless.)”

      Nope. they are some of the smartest, most passionate people I have met.

      “I don’t think they’re all bad people, in fact they probably would be shocked to learn that these bonuses look really bad on many levels.”

      I am quite sure everyone gets the optics. But it was not their decision, it was the Boards. Are they supposed to say no ? Who in their right mind does that.

      “That’s how they acted during org fiasco too, very self righteous, like how on earth could the equivalent of insider trading to financially benefit friends and old colleagues appear ethically questionable?”

      Seriously ? you are accusing your bosses of some serious shit here. Any evidence ? This is a super small industry and many of us have built life long friendships in it.

      The key to conflict is that it be transparent and that everyone knows about it. ICANN is the MOST aware of conflicts of any organization I have ever dealt with. And they have ALWAYS handled it beyond reproach.

      “They didn’t seem to see how obviously corrupt it was even though 90% of the public saw it”

      Uh, Didn’t ICANN vote to not let the sale go through ? Was it just not fast enough for you ? Did you not like the procedure that was in place and was thorough ? And do you have an undisclosed conflict here ? You seem to be screaming about a getting the result you wanted ??

      “Amazon, same type of thing.”

      Now you are just being silly. The Amazon thing went through years of procedure. Appeals. More procedure. It ground through everything possible in ICANN. And we finally have a result. Are you suggesting the top people in ICANN are on Amazon’s payroll somehow or in conflict ? If so, put up or shut up. But stop throwing out salacious accusations.

      “For such smart and accomplished people, you would hope they had/have a better understanding of right and wrong.”

      I am really hoping that they do. And they understand that what you have done here is really wrong and fire you. You need more happiness in your life, so get a new job. Please. For all of us.

      And if by chance you are not actually staff, and are just an internet Troll, then go back to guarding your bridge somewhere and leave the rest of us along.

      This is a time for serious people.

      And by the way, I sign my name when I write.

      Rob.

      • John says:

        Hey “Asshole”

        You write that, “It is always so wonderful when people bite the hand that feeds them.”

        Excuse me? How does this apply to ICANN, who was given The Goose That Lays The Golden Egg”? It was in the 1960s that data packet switching was first explained to me, and the toil and sweat of many a Telephone Pioneers of America and subsequently Internet Pioneers inched it forward until Tim Berners-Lee world wide web (www) threw Internet growth and adoption into hyper-drive, and spawned the likes of Google, Apple, facebook, Amazon …

        If you want to understand how organizations such as ICANN first began getting “cash cows” from the public trough put into their slippery hands (without direct public oversight) I recommend the 1100 page, Pulitizer Prize-winning “The Powerbroker,” a biography of Robert Moses by Robert Carr. A Yale Law graduate, Robert Moses got his start in New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall, and then drafted legislation with hooks built-in where the levers of power could be manipulated by a knowledgeable attorney knowing where to look (because he installed them in those very locations).

        While Moses’ power emanated from the creation of the Tri-borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority as a New York State agency (operating under those points of law that Moses had previously inserted into NYS law), and ICANN’s from its internet governance handed-off to it by the U.S. federal government, both involve massive revenue streams from toll-collecting. But there’s not all the expense of maintaining booth attendants, and coin/token handling and maintaining the bridges, tunnels and access roads appurtenant to same within NYC, ICANN’s comes digitally 24/7/365 globally, without much more effort than accepting electronic transfers of funds. And periodically, there’s a bonus of cash infusions of up to USD350,000,000 in a given year.infusion.

  8. Staff 3 says:

    This act of some executives self bonusing themselves while leaving the others in the org high and dry just broke the trust ICANN was able to build over the last few months with the staff during the pandemic.

    Be well day, weekly meeting/briefing by executives on being transparent and doing the right thing has all gone for a toss, as trust is a 2-way street.

    I agree with the other staff, the percentage increase in executive salary might very well be equal to the promised half yearly bonus to ALL staff. Playing scare tactics like furloughs/layoffs and deferring the bonus until November is just plain wrong.

    We all work very hard and always take/share additional responsibility with no questions asked, but it is never justified with additional pay. Advice to Management, Please measure everyone with the same stick and dont use your power to benefit select few.

    • Rob says:

      How is it an act of executives self bonusing themselves ?

      The Board of Directors gave the executives the bonus. The Board of Directors took no bonus or increase for themselves.

      This is not a case of executives giving themselves a raise.

  9. John says:

    Hey “Asshole”

    You write that, “It is always so wonderful when people bite the hand that feeds them.”

    Excuse me? How does this apply to ICANN, who was given The Goose That Lays The Golden Egg? It was in the 1960s that data packet switching was first explained to me, and the toil and sweat of many – Telephone Pioneers and subsequently Internet Pioneers – inched it forward until Tim Berners-Lee world wide web (www) threw Internet growth and adoption into hyper-drive. Funded largely by U.S. federal government grants and public and private investment of time and effort, this ultimately spawned the likes of Google, Apple, facebook, Amazon …

    If you want to understand how organizations such as ICANN first began being GIFTED “cash cows” from the public trough put into their slippery hands (without direct public oversight), I recommend the 1100 page, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Robert Carr, “The Powerbroker.” A Yale Law graduate, Robert Moses got his start in New York City’s corrupt Tammany Hall, and went about drafting state and local legislation with hooks built-in whereby the levers of power could be manipulated by a knowledgeable attorney knowing where to look (because, in his own case, he installed them in those very locations).

    While Moses’ power emanated from the creation of the Tri-borough Bridge and Tunnel Authority as a New York State agency (operating under those points of law that Moses had previously inserted into NYS law), and ICANN’s from its internet governance role (handed-off to it by the U.S. federal government), both involve massive revenue streams from toll-collecting. But for ICANN there’s not all the expense of coin/token handling and maintaining a fleet of snowplows, not to maintaining all the capital expenditure of keeping up the bridges, tunnels and access roads appurtenant to same within NYC.

    ICANN’s motherlode comes digitally 24/7/365 from a global audience, without much more effort than accepting electronic transfers of funds. And, historically speaking, there’s a periodic bonus of cash infusions of up to USD350,000,000 in a given year.

    So don’t get your knickers in a twist, Rob. This is equivalent to a “self-made” “billionaire” claiming all the credit for his “success.” (As U.S. presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg brilliantly countered when asked about a “battle of the billionaires” … “Really? Who’s the other one?”). Or the CEO gluttony that occurs when hired-hand CEOs sell their failing companies to venture capitalists, rake in millions for themselves personally, and then leave their employees exposed, at risk of losing their livelihoods, and done in by “the hand that feeds them.”

    Under such circumstance, NO EXECUTIVE AT ICANN should be paid more that the president of the United States (which “gifted” them that golden goose). And let’s not underrate attorneys who, like Moses, have a deep bench of arcane knowledge: with all those domain names already spun into gold, it is just finding the right levers to maximize the optimal way in which to scoop up a dozen or so piles for the already-overcompensated senior management.

    Show me a senior management team that built a corporation with ICANN’s income from the ground up. Then you’ll find colleagues more open to the fantasy you dare to utter: “the hand that feeds you.” Until then, suggest you back off.

    • Rob says:

      Dear John,

      “It is always so wonderful when people bite the hand that feeds them.”

      Simple. When an employee writes crap about their employer, as they purported to above, that is absolutely biting the very hand that feeds them.

      The rest of your statement seems to be a diatribe against ICANN even existing, which is off topic.

      Rob. (the asshole).

      • John says:

        Not simple, simplistic. Passing the butter does not make ICANN “the hand that feeds” anyone. While they’re at it, the Board might share their access to the treasure trove of wealth ICANN is accruing by virtue of a government grant, some of which they have decided to share with those occupying the C-Suite.

        These employees are not writing crap about their employer (the “public benefit corporation” ICANN), they are take direct aim at the Board and the C-Suite, which are increasingly viewed in the US corporate world of taking close collaboration/working hand-in-glove, and making it a bit too cozy. Typically, Boards are found to be overly generous to top executives at the expense of both their rank-and-file employees (and shareholders, but not in ICANN’s case as it has none).

        ICANN has essentially been granted (as in colonial land grants) all of the revenue from the DNS-related Internet, which was built and maintained collectively by others, and notably with huge investments by government.
        The military in particular funded basic research and development to created a decentralized communications network that could survive a nuclear attack that took out one or more nodes.

        From the C-Suite to the janitors, all ICANN employees benefit from this grant which is the source of their wages with little basis in reality for any of them to claim contributions that are due to their actions (or inaction). There is no more justification in saying that the janitors should be paid at the prevailing wages for their work in a given job market (regardless whether they work for a profit or not-for-profit concern) than to say that the same should not hold true for the C-Suite. Yet ICANN’s unique situation – it has ZERO “earned income” – it is ludicrous to say that their C-Suite earners should be compared to profit-making corporations – nor even non-profits – who do not benefit from having been granted an income stream without annual payment of even one single peppercorn.

        ICANN is a horse of a different color. The C-Suite doesn’t “earn” any money for ICANN, it just collects its tolls on the information superhighway on lines, bridges, switches, routers, and labels/names owned and maintained by others. COVID-19 has given ICANN a boatload of savings via “virtual ICANN meetings,” and if the Board sees fit to share those savings with the C-Suite, there is no reason that they should not do likewise with the staff.

        And the staff at ICANN is IMHO just as entitled to pay rises as the C-Suite, and good for them for speaking up.

  10. Another Staff says:

    Thanks John, you hit it on the nail. No ill for ICANN and don’t know what’s the deal with this Rob guy, probably a wolf in sheep skin maybe.
    But our resentment is why staff is left high and dry while executives reep the benefits. That’s all….peace out.

  11. John says:

    Peace out is nice, but as an observation, revolution is more likely to deliver a meaningful piece of the pie.

    When told that the people had no bread, Marie Antoinette famously quipped “let them eat cake!” Never one to lose her head, she did so, however, not long after.

    And still relevant today, as recent reports and images of a guillotine set up in front of Jeff Bezos’ 27,000 square foot mansion (the largest in the District of Columbia and formerly the National Textile Museum) indicate. Madame Guillotine doesn’t bother with the hand that feeds her, but instead goes right for the jugular.*

    If past is prologue, who knows where she will choose to pop-up next, perhaps in America’s glamour capital on the left coast, Los Angeles?

    On ne sait jamais.

    * Of interest, King Louis XVI signed the law ushering in the guillotine as a “kinder gentler” means of execution a year before yielding his his life in her embrace. Madame was consistently swift and merciful in comparison to the executioners’ axes … which sometimes led to extended, sadistic agony at the block.

    Live. And learn.

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