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VeriSign CFO quits after buyout rumors

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2011, Domain Registries

VeriSign has just announced that its chief financial officer, Brian Robins, will leave the company at the end of the month.

The announcement follows a couple of trading days in which VeriSign’s shares have rallied on rumors that the company was on the verge of being acquired.

Ironically, it was Robins’ decision to cancel an appearance at a financial conference that sparked the rumors.

Robins’ resignation follows that of his old boss, CEO Mark McLaughlin, who quit to join a pre-IPO tech startup in late July.

Robins’ destination is not yet known, and VeriSign has yet to name a replacement.

VeriSign boss leaves domain industry

Kevin Murphy, August 1, 2011, Domain Registries

Former VeriSign chief executive Mark McLaughlin, who resigned last week, is leaving the domain name industry entirely, signing up as the new CEO of Palo Alto Networks, a firewall vendor.

The privately held company is being tipped for an imminent IPO, which could mean a big stock payday for McLaughlin if executed successfully.

The Wall Street Journal quotes McLaughlin today as saying “the upside is on the equity side”.

Coming ahead of the launch ICANN’s top-level domains program, you could have been forgiven for thinking that McLaughlin may have been headhunted by a new gTLD player.

That would have been a heck of an endorsement of the commercial opportunity of new gTLDs, for the head of .com and .net to throw in with the newcomers.

But clearly McLaughlin has realized there’s more money in firewalls.

Smart man.

At VeriSign, founder Jim Bedzos has taken over as CEO while a permanent replacement for the 10-year VeriSign veteran is sought.

VeriSign CEO quits. But where’s he going?

VeriSign’s CEO and president Mark McLaughlin has quit the company for a CEO position at an undisclosed private company.

The news of his departure, after two years at VeriSign’s helm, came during the company’s second quarter earnings call yesterday.

McLaughlin’s been at VeriSign for over a decade. In his time as CEO, he oversaw a massive restructuring at the company.

VeriSign is now dramatically smaller – 1,000 people compared to 5,000 when he took over – following the sale of assets such as the security business, which Symantec bought.

His resignation is effective on Monday, but he’s told the company he’ll stick around until late August. Founder and chairman Jim Bedzos will become interim CEO while a replacement is found.

But where’s McLaughlin going?

The timing, less that six months before ICANN’s new top-level domains program kicks off, is certainly curious. It would be an unbelievable coup for a new gTLD firm to hire the former boss of .com.

A lot of people are switching companies at the moment, positioning themselves the best to exploit the new gTLD opportunity. (Anybody need a writer? I’m told my prices are very reasonable).

But he could be going anywhere, of course.

On VeriSign’s earnings call yesterday, McLaughlin said he wanted to join a private company and take it public, which made me think he may be leaving the domain business entirely.

McLaughlin is an advisor to Altos Ventures, a venture capital firm with a bunch of startups to its name.

There are not a great many companies in the domain industry – that we know about, at least – that immediately jump out as near-term IPO candidates.

McLaughlin plans to announce his new employer next week.

VeriSign may settle CFIT lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2010, Domain Registries

VeriSign’s chief executive has not ruled out settling its potentially damaging lawsuit with the Coalition For ICANN Transparency out of court.

During the company’s second quarter earnings call earlier this week, Mark McLaughlin was asked whether there was a way the lawsuit could be made to go away, settling investor nerves.

His response: “It is an option that could be pursued.”

CFIT, backed by Momentous.ca, claims that VeriSign’s .com and .net no-bid contracts with ICANN, including the price increases they allow, are anti-competitive.

If VeriSign loses the case, it could face the loss of its .com and .net monopolies, which makes me think it will certainly seek to settle the case before that becomes a risk.

VeriSign currently has to decide whether to request a review at the Supreme Court, or go to the District Court for trial. It has until October 7 to make its call.

Also during Monday’s earnings call, McLaughlin addressed the growth opportunities VeriSign is looking at, following its renewed focus on the domain name business.

Asked whether the introduction of new TLDs would affect .com and .net growth, McLaughlin said:

I think it’s positive… just related to .com and .net, with the introduction of new TLDs there’s an expectation it just brings more people to the market and we generally do better when more people show up to the market. And the second thing, we intend to participate in some of those ourselves, so we see growth opportunities for us.

He also confirmed again that VeriSign will seek to launch non-ASCII internationalized versions of its existing TLD base, which includes .com, .net, tv and .name.

As Andrew Allemann noted yesterday, he also declared the pay-per-click-based speculative registration market essentially “dead”.

Will VeriSign change its name?

VeriSign’s $1.3 billion sale of its SSL business to Symantec yesterday means not only that the company will be almost entirely focussed on domain names, but also that it will no longer “sign” anything.

The word “VeriSign” will cease to describe what the company does, so will it change its name?

The idea could make sense, given that the services Symantec bought are all about trusting the VeriSign brand, and Symantec has acquired certain rights to use that brand.

Under the deal, Symantec is allowed to use the VeriSign name in authentication services such as the VeriSign Trust Seal. The company plans to incorporate “VeriSign” into a new Symantec trust logo.

VeriSign boss Mark McLaughlin said on a conference call yesterday that Symantec is buying certain VeriSign trademarks, such as Thawte and GeoTrust, but that VeriSign will stay VeriSign.

Symantec will be able to use the VeriSign brand in its logos for a “transition period of time over a number of years”, McLaughlin said.

On the one hand, there’s a potential for a certain degree of confusion that might persuade VeriSign to brand itself afresh. On the other, corporate rebranding is not cheap.

I suppose, if it does choose to rename itself, it had better hope that its first choice of .com is available.

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