John Paczkowski

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Rob Glaser Eased Out as RealNetworks CEO

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Rob Glaser is stepping down as CEO of Real Networks, the company he founded in 1994. Sources say the move was instigated by his own board, but that he cooperated with the decision and was involved in the transition.

Glaser will be replaced by Robert Kimball, a well-liked executive who most recently served as general counsel and executive vice president of corporate development at RealNetworks (RNWK).

Glaser, who will remain chairman of the Seattle-based Internet company, owns 38.4 percent of Real’s shares, making him by far the largest investor.

His move follows other significant news at Real: Last week, a federal judge dismissed its claims against Hollywood studios in the RealDVD case.

A few days earlier, COO John Giamatteo said that he would step down; the company announced that news yesterday afternoon.

But it is Glaser’s departure that is most important, given that he has been an innovative, pioneering and high-profile Internet leader for so long. Nevertheless, he eventually had to answer for problems with performance.

In fact, Glaser and the board had been talking for some time about making these changes, although it came much more suddenly than Glaser preferred, according to several sources. He had wanted to do a search for a new CEO before he left and make the shift less abrupt.

But the board–with the message coming from director Jonathan Klein, co-founder and CEO of Getty Images–felt a quicker change was needed.

“It’s a typical case of a founder and Internet visionary who can’t convert it to the bottom line. There was a great deal of admiration and respect for Rob, which delayed the decision, but eventually you can’t ignore the results,” says a person familiar with the company. “This move was a long time postponed, because he always had another good idea. But you have a staff whose options are all underwater, and the conversion of gross into net profit was not happening.”

It’s unclear when Glaser’s board informed him of the decision, but sources say that after processing the news, Glaser cooperated with and helped in the transition. He represented the company in a series of meetings at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show without letting on that he was on his way out.

He did, however, post an untypically melancholy message on Twitter yesterday:

glaser tweet

Some Real employees and investors have had grievances with the company’s founder for years. A long string of former Real employees, for example, describe Glaser as a cantankerous boss, and Real’s stock price has withered since 2006, when it nearly broke the $12 mark.

The stock is now trading below $4.

And while Real was a genuine pioneer in Web video software and an early player in Web music services–the company was originally called Progressive Networks after Glaser’s political bent–it has been idling for many years.

For a while, for example, it was investing time and money in Web-based “casual games” and had filed to spin off that unit in 2008. But those plans were iced by the recession.

Meanwhile, RealNetworks split its Rhapsody music service into a joint venture with Viacom (VIA) unit MTV, but that service has also stalled, and the two partners have been trying to renegotiate the terms of their partnership.

Real’s crowning achievement of the past few years: The whopping $761 million antitrust settlement it won in 2005 from Microsoft (MSFT), Glaser’s former employer.

Here’s Glaser’s memo to his staff, followed by a note from Robert Kimball, and, finally, the company’s press release.

From: Rob Glaser
Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 1:35 PM
To: All RealNetworks Employees
Subject: Important Personal News

Team,

Today we’re announcing something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Nearly 16 years after founding RealNetworks in 1994, I’ve decided to step aside from day to day operations. Accordingly, we’re announcing today that I am relinquishing my CEO job and will focus on my role as Chairman of Real’s board.

A decision of this magnitude produces a complex bundle of feelings. First, profound gratitude for the amazing colleagues I’ve had the opportunity to work with during a chapter that has turned out to be a third of my life. I am incredibly proud of the creativity, persistence, and commitment to excellence that our teams around the world bring to the table every day.

Second, deep appreciation for the billions (yes, billions!) of consumers that use or have used our products, the hundreds of millions of consumers that use our products every year, and the tens of millions of consumers that use our products and services every month. I am also grateful for the trust placed in us by our fantastic carrier and other distribution partners. Very few companies get to have the global reach and impact that we do.

Third, great confidence in the team that will be running the company day-to-day. As we kick off a search for my permanent successor, Real will be led by Bob Kimball as Acting CEO. Bob is one of the most passionate, hard-charging, and lucid executives I’ve ever had an opportunity to work with, and given his decade of leadership at Real, I am confident that the company won’t skip a beat.

Fourth, the bittersweet feelings that come from closing the book on a 16 year labor of love, emphasis on both labor and love. I feel very fortunate that as Chairman I will still get to carry the torch for everything that has made and will continue to make our company great.  And with 2 small children and a third on the way, I feel very lucky that the rhythm of my life can now change, at least for a time, to allow our family to do some things that might not otherwise have been possible. I also look forward to spending more time on civic and other projects outside of Real.

While there’s never an ideal time to make a change like this, this is as good a time as any. We’ve weathered the brunt of the Great Recession and have done what we said we wanted to do, which was to keep our core solid while also building for the future. We’ve also undertaken an extremely rigorous strategy review and have a very exciting road map for the future that you’ll hear about in the days and weeks ahead. And the start of a new decade is a good time, poetically, to pass the baton.

Thanks again for everything, and I hope to see all of you soon.

Rob

From: Robert Kimball
Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 1:07 PM
To: Real@real.com
Subject: Important News

Dear Team,

Rob Glaser, our founder, has resigned as CEO effective today. Rob is sending out a separate note discussing his decision. While Rob will no longer have an operating role, he will continue to serve as Chairman of the Board. We look forward to continuing to work with Rob and I want to thank him for making RealNetworks what it is today and leaving us with a strong foundation upon which to build.

The Board has asked me to assume Rob’s executive responsibilities and has appointed me President and acting CEO. The Board of Directors will consider candidates for the permanent CEO role in the coming months. The senior executive team is galvanized and committed to making RealNetworks a company where customers love our products, employees are excited about being here, and we create value for our shareholders. We want RealNetworks to be a more focused, faster growing and profitable company. We are going to simplify the way we do business, empower employees to do their jobs, and hold people accountable for their results. I look forward to working with all of you to transform RealNetworks as part of this next chapter.

As part of transforming RealNetworks, I am personally committed to providing you with candid, clear and frequent communication so you know where we stand and where we want to go. In the coming weeks, we will be sharing with you changes in the way we operate and organize our business. And we want you to talk to us. Tell us when we are succeeding and when we are failing to make the changes necessary to transform. We plan to hit the ground running and we will need your help and input to succeed.

As you learned yesterday, John Giamatteo announced that he will be leaving in April to pursue another opportunity. John has built a great team here are Real and is completely supportive of the executive team going forward and will be working closely with all of us to ensure a smooth transition. Finally, I want to thank all of you for your contributions to RealNetworks. Our employees are our greatest asset and I humbly ask for your support and commitment to build our company into the great company we all know it can be.

Best to all,

Bob

REALNETWORKS’ FOUNDER ROB GLASER STEPS DOWN AS CEO

Company appoints Robert Kimball President and Acting CEO

SEATTLE–January 13, 2010 Digital entertainment services company RealNetworks, Inc., (Nasdaq: RNWK) announced today that founder Rob Glaser has stepped down as CEO. He will remain chairman of the board of directors of RealNetworks. The company also announced that its board of directors has appointed Robert Kimball president and acting chief executive officer. The board also appointed Mr. Kimball to the board of directors.

“After nearly 16 years, I’ve decided it’s time for me to step away from day-to-day operations,” said Glaser. “I’m grateful to all of our stakeholders–customers, partners, shareholders, and most of all, employees–for the support and commitment they’ve given to RealNetworks. I remain committed to the company and look forward to continuing to serve in my capacity as board chairman.”

In February 1994, Mr. Glaser founded what was then known as Progressive Networks, a pioneer in the field of digital audio and video technology for the Internet. Under his leadership, Real has grown into a multinational company, providing digital entertainment products and services to hundreds of millions of consumers around the world.

“Few people have changed an industry and created a unique experience for billions of people,” said Jonathan Klein, a board member of RealNetworks and the co-founder and CEO of Getty Images. “Rob has changed the face of digital entertainment with RealNetworks’ streaming media products. At the same time Rob has had a profound impact on politics and philanthropy. I’m sure he will continue to do this extraordinary work as well as spending time with his wife and young children. We are grateful for all he has done for the company, the industry and employees, and are pleased that he will continue to serve on the board.”

Bob Kimball joined the company in 1999 and has been a member of the senior executive team since 2003. He most recently served as general counsel and executive vice president of corporate development at Real. “In the decade he’s been at Real, Bob has proven to be an outstanding business executive and leader, and under his leadership the company won’t skip a beat,” said Mr. Glaser. “Our board has great confidence in Bob, and he will be a candidate for the permanent CEO position as part of a formal search process that will begin soon.”

“I look forward to the opportunity ahead,” said Mr. Kimball. “Real has a great team in place, a strong financial position, close customer relationships and fantastic products. We plan to transform Real into a more focused and more profitable company that delivers value to our shareholders.”

[Peter Kafka contributed to this report.]


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