An anonymous individual claiming to be an ICANN staffer has warned the organization’s board of directors about senior-level cronyism and a “climate of fear” among employees.
However, DI’s private conversations with other ICANN staffers suggest that the concerns may not be widely shared, at least not to the same extreme.
DI received a lengthy email yesterday in which it is claimed that hiring practices since last year have seen “incompetent” friends of CEO Fadi Chehade and COO Akram Atallah appointed to senior positions, which has hurt morale and proved divisive among employees.
Here are some extracts:
While it is natural for a new CEO or COO to bring in their own team, many senior hires to ICANN have been selected without going through an interviewing process, hired despite recommendation by staff to the contrary, in some cases with lack of relevant experience and not following basic business practices on the selection on the basis of merit. It in many cases has been replaced by hiring friends, family and neighbors.
In some cases these hires have turned out to be quite competent but in other cases they are flat-out incompetent. They not only will remain on staff because Akram views them as loyal but they have enjoyed additional responsibilities and promotions unfairly based on their relationship with Akram or Fadi.
Because of these hiring practices, staff morale is at a low point. Staff now falls into two camps: (1) those hired before Fadi (2) those hired after Fadi. There are a record number of employees looking for other jobs. Some have already left and if a significant number leave in the future, ICANNs qualified talent pool will suffer.
The email was unsigned and sent from an anonymized account, but includes sufficient detail that nobody who has seen it doubts that it came from an ICANN employee.
The author refers to an intern, briefly employed, who would have had little to no interaction with the rest of the community and was even unknown to some staff, for example.
I’ve confirmed that the email was sent to at least some members of the board of directors — currently holed up at a retreat in Amsterdam — at about the same time it was sent to DI.
The email lists about 10 current or former ICANN executives who, it is claimed, were hired because they are friends with either Atallah or Chehade or worked with them at other companies.
To the extent that the relationships detailed are professional, they’re easily confirmed by online resumes. Others have been confirmed privately by ICANN staffers.
While the email names names, I’m not going to.
Having spent the last day running the email author’s concerns privately by a handful of ICANN employees, I was unable to find the same degree of concern expressed by anyone.
Some I spoke to recognized the scenario outlined in the email — a new batch of senior staff aligned to the new boss and perhaps not yet fully integrated with the old guard — but said that this is to be expected whenever a new CEO takes over.
“I’m really surprised that someone feels so strongly,” said one staffer. “It’s not that horrendous, new CEOs bring in their people and we’re not going to appreciate them all.”
The phrase “climate of fear”, used in the email, invokes (possibly deliberately) the words of Maria Farrell, the former ICANN staffer who humiliated then-CEO Rod Beckstrom with a scathing public assessment of staff morale during the meeting in San Francisco two years ago.
But another message that also came through loud and clear talking to staff is that while morale might remain low, things at ICANN are a lot better than they were before Chehade took over.
“At least Fadi and his people seem competent,” one person said.
Portfolio gTLD applicant Donuts has hired Michele Jourdan, who until last week was head of new gTLD communications at ICANN.
She has joined the company as director of sales and marketing, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Applicants and others following the program closely will remember her from the regular update videos published by ICANN.
She worked for ICANN for almost five years, but only in the last year or so started to take a visible front seat role in interactions with community members. I understand she left ICANN a week ago.
Jourdan is not the first ICANN alum Donuts has taken on.
Its CFO is former ICANN CFO Kevin Wilson, and we recently learned that former new gTLD program manager Kurt Pritz has been recruited, non-exclusively, as a consultant.
ICANN’s Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has received complaints about some new gTLD objections that were apparently filed after the submission deadline but are being processed anyway.
Two companies have officially called on LaHatte to tell ICANN that “late complaints should not be received on the basis that the deadlines were well advertised and achievable”.
The issue seems to be that ICANN had set a deadline of 2359 UTC March 13 for objections to be filed, and some of them arrived slightly late.
The delays appear to have been a matter of mere minutes, and blamed on latency caused by heavy email attachments and other technical problems.
According to ICANN, the dispute resolution providers decided to give objectors a five-minute grace period, essentially extending the deadline from 2359 UTC to 0004 UTC the following day.
The recipients of these objections clearly now want to use this technicality to kill off the objections, avoiding the cost of having to defend themselves.
In a set of answers to questions posed verbally in Beijing last month, published last week (pdf), ICANN said:
ICANN is confident that the Dispute Resolution Service Providers are complying with the guidelines in the [Applicant Guidebook].
I don’t know which applications are affected by the issue, but the question at the Beijing public forum was posed by new gTLD consultant Jim Prendergast of the Galway Strategy Group.
He received applause, so I guess he wasn’t the only person in the room with an interest in the subject.
LaHatte, on his blog, is looking for feedback before making his decision.
WellPoint, a major North American health insurance provider, has dropped its application for .anthem, a proposed dot-brand gTLD.
It’s the fifth application to be withdrawn this week and the 64th to be withdrawn overall. The pull-out rate from the original 1,930 applications now stands at roughly 3.3%.
It’s also the second bid to be yanked by WellPoint. It pulled its application for .caremore in December, before even receiving an evaluation prioritization number in The Draw.
Wellpoint, which did not apply for .wellpoint, has no applications remaining in the program.
Anthem is a brand used by WellPoint to provide health insurance, mainly in California.
It’s also the original name of the company, which entered its present incarnation with the merger of WellPoint Health Networks Inc and Anthem Inc in 2004.
The gTLD was to be a straightforward .brand with a Neustar back-end. It was uncontested and had no public comments, objections or Governmental Advisory Committee to stand in its way.
It had a very low priority number, however, and was not due to receive its Initial Evaluation results until the final week of the schedule.
Four new gTLD applications have been withdrawn so far this week, including the first to come from .info operator Afilias.
Afilias has pulled its bid for .mail — the second applicant to do so — due to the number of competitors for the string.
A spokesperson said in an email:
The company felt there were simply too many groups in contention for this domain and we’d rather focus our energy supporting and helping to grow the .POST domain, for which we are the [technical services provider].
There are now five applicants competing for the string, including Google, Amazon and Donuts, but they’re all facing objections from the United States Postal Service and the Universal Postal Union, which runs .post.
Elsewhere this week, Directi has ended its bid for .movie, a contention set with seven other bidders.
The company declined to comment on the reasons for the withdrawal, so we probably can’t entirely rule out some kind of partnership with one or more other applicants.
Today we’ve also seen the withdrawal of applications for .ltd and .inc, both belonging to a Dutch company called C.V. TLDcare. I don’t know much about these guys, other than it used OpenRegistry as its technical partner and that .inc and .ltd were its only two applications.
Interesting fact: not a single “corporate identifier” application (.llp, .corp, .ltd, .inc, .llc) has passed Initial Evaluation yet, but seven applications have been withdrawn.
It’s a controversial category, with many US state attorneys general very unhappy about any of these strings being delegated without safeguards.
The latest four withdrawals bring the total to 63.