Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Transition Team/2013/Update 9 December
In our initial timeline, the Transition Team had thought it might be possible, if we got lucky, to recruit the next ED of the WMF by September. We later internally revised that to create a new and more realistic target date of December. In November, we completed the interviewing of the initial shortlist of candidates, and reached a decision point. Had we felt we had a finalist, we'd now be at the stage of completing the search. However, we have not found a candidate we feel comfortable proposing to the WMF Board as a finalist to be our next ED. This wasn't an easy decision for the Transition Team, but we're confident it's the right one. And, so we are going to continue the search.
To recap what's happened: Starting last summer, our recruiting firm m/Oppenheim advertised the position for us in the Economist, on the m/Oppenheim own site and on the WMF site, and Sue did an interview with the New York Times to publicize that the role was becoming available. The Transition Team, with help from Board members, senior staff, advisory board members and other Wikimedia community members, generated a list of about 200 "connectors" -- people who might be able to connect us with potential candidates, or might themselves be interested in the job. m/Oppenheim reached out to those people, which resulted in a total candidate list numbering several hundred people. (That number includes people who spontaneously applied, as well as those who applied after we reached out to them through the connectors network).
There were a lot of impressive and interesting people on that list. They came from a wide variety of backgrounds, including engineering organizations, big sites, community sites, non-profits, universities and other education organizations, and cultural institutions. There were candidates from all over the world, including for example the United States, the UK, Germany, Egypt, Brazil, India, Canada, Panama and Bangladesh. Many had significant managerial experience and importantly, many had significant product and engineering backgrounds. Out of that initial list, in November the Transition Team had extensive conversations with a shortlist of eight. Those eight people were all credible candidates, and each had qualities and skills we would have valued in our ED. But, after considerable reflection, the Transition Team decided to present none of them for the consideration of the Board. They were all great in very different ways, but none were, we felt, right for the position.
That's because being ED of the Wikimedia Foundation is such an unusual job, requiring such an unusual mix of skills and characteristics. We need an ED with a product and engineering background and a track record of building successful organizations. Somebody who shares our values and has the courage and conviction to live up to them on a daily basis. A person with a natural inclination towards collaboration and transparency, who'd flourish inside a decentralized global movement, and who has the ability to create clarity out of chaos.
As we went through the interviewing process we met some terrific people, but nobody who felt exactly right. And so we asked ourselves: Have we been looking for a unicorn -- somebody who doesn't exist in the real world? The hiring committee doesn't include anybody who's been involved with the movement for fewer than two years: is it too insular? And are we accidentally and unfairly comparing people who are new to the movement with Sue, who has six years of experience with us?
The answer to all those questions is probably a little bit yes, but we don't think that's why we haven't found anyone yet. We think it's just a tricky hire. Everybody believes their organization is special, but Wikimedia really is. We're highly unusual, and it makes sense to us therefore that it'll take us time to find the right person to be our ED. So after lots of reflection, and consultation with the Board at its November meeting, we've agreed we are all willing to continue looking.
Fortunately, Sue's reconfirmed with me that she's willing to stay on until the search reaches a successful conclusion, which means we have the luxury of time. To that end, I will post a revised timeline on this Wiki tomorrow. Please see that page for more details about what will happen next.
Jan-Bart de Vreede
Chair Board of Trustees