History/2014 Leadership Changes/The Last Two Weeks
A Memo from Mitchell Baker
Created on Friday, April 11, 2014
The last two weeks have been hard for Mozilla and for Mozillians. I‘ve been told it would be helpful if I provide a sense of my experience. My goal here is to share my thoughts with Mozillians so we can heal and move forward in a healthy and productive way. We’ve also published an updated FAQ.
Thank you all.
The Last Two Weeks
I supported Brendan Eich’s appointment as our CEO. I also supported his resignation ten days later. The events in between have been unimaginable for me. Mozilla was excoriated by forces on opposite ends of the political spectrum, and a tireless advocate for the open Internet stepped out of the organization he built and loves. Throughout, Mozilla supported Brendan in his role as CEO, and as an individual who must remain true to his beliefs.
I supported Brendan’s appointment as Mozilla CEO because he brought unique attributes to the task of building and leading Mozilla. Together we founded Mozilla --- we developed a vision, attracted people to the cause, designed and created a unique organization, and reflected all of this in consumer products that have changed the Web industry. The unique nature of Mozilla -- where mission and technology and a stunning array of committed community members join together to create more openness and opportunity online -- would not have existed without Brendan.
Many of the qualities of the Internet that have brought us opportunity and choice and competition are under threat today. We are heading into a period of global mass surveillance, both by governments and by commercial entities. The tools we currently have to control our online lives and protect our privacy are completely inadequate to the task. I believed -- and I still believe -- that Brendan is a unique resource to lead the industry and the Web to a better place.
On March 24, 2014, we announced Brendan’s appointment as CEO. Questions about Brendan’s past political donations arose quickly. Public discussion and press coverage on this topic led to boycotts, protests and intense public scrutiny. On April 3, 2014, Brendan stepped down from the role of Mozilla CEO, and resigned as a Mozilla employee. You can see the full timeline of events here.
I ask myself now: should Brendan and I have known that this issue would arise with the intensity and ferocity that it did? Should we have known that the first great challenge for our new CEO would be to lead Mozilla through a heated public debate on this issue? Should we have known that our ability to work through the issues inside Mozilla would not necessarily be relevant to the broader public? With hindsight the answer is clear to me: yes.
On March 26, Brendan and I each made blog posts (mine, Brendan’s). The reactions to my post were along the lines of "that's nice, but we want to hear more from Brendan." We talked with many, many people about how to handle this. This includes a range of Mozillians, as well as outside experts who’ve dealt with situations like this one.
We worked from one “high order bit.” The high order bit was that Brendan must have full ability to honor his views and beliefs. That’s the right thing, and extremely important to Mozillians.
Beyond this, we knew several things about the situation :
- The high order bit was paramount.
- Additional comments from other Mozillians or from me would not suffice to resolve the crisis. As CEO, Brendan’s voice was the voice that mattered most.
- An effective response had to come from Brendan himself. And of course, it had to satisfy the high order bit of being true to his beliefs.
- We also had a lot of advice suggesting that the position previously expressed -- that personal views on marriage equality are a private matter -- were not likely to end the controversy.
We spent a great deal of time exploring different ways in which Brendan might engage in the public discussion and be true to his beliefs. We identified one action where someone other than Brendan could lead, and this was a clear statement on Mozilla’s behalf about marriage equality. Because our position was that the CEO’s private views were separate from the actions of the organization of which he is CEO, someone other than Brendan could take action here.
Meanwhile, the public uproar moved into the mainstream press, grew in energy and began to affect more and more aspects of public media and of Mozilla life, including petitions, boycotts of Mozilla and calls for Brendan’s resignation. More and more employees were inundated with comments and questions on the issue. The number of employees whose entire day was taken up with responding to protests, angry messages and violent threats grew. Employees who spoke about Mozilla and Brendan publicly were savaged, and the demand to hear directly from Brendan grew. We responded in a number of ways, including interviews with CNET, The Guardian, VentureBeat and NYT, a post about Mozilla’s support for marriage equality and more Town Hall discussions with Mozillians.
I thought about Mozilla’s statement on equality quite a bit. I'm convinced that this was the right thing for Mozilla Corporation and Mozilla Foundation to do, and I made a decision to do this, speaking as Executive Chairwoman. However, it is also true that something like this should ideally be the result of a community process where the decision-maker (in this case, me) engages and leads. I did not do that here. As a result, this statement was a surprise and its scope wasn't understood before it was made.
On April 1, Brendan called me to say he was going to resign, and wanted to do so quickly. I supported the resignation then and I am certain that he made the right decision. For one thing, it was clear the storm was still picking up speed and vitriol. In that setting it became impossible for Brendan to represent Mozilla to the world and to provide the leadership we need. With our CEO in such a setting, there was no way to protect Mozilla or our employees or volunteers, who were also being overwhelmed with vitriol and even death threats. And I could see the personal toll on everyone involved.
We explored how Brendan might stay involved in Mozilla. Brendan didn’t believe that the issue could be resolved without a complete break with Mozilla, at least for now. I worked at finding a role for Brendan to stay with Mozilla until he became frustrated with me. At that point it was clear to me that Brendan wanted to resign as an employee as well as resign as our CEO. Brendan told the senior management team on April 2. On April 3, we told Mozilla employees and contributors, and then the world.
The initial paragraphs in the post about Brendan's resignation have been read by some as an apology for Brendan staying in the CEO role as long as he did. That is not what was intended.
Mozilla is an organization that lives in the open. We work very hard to engage actively, and sometimes continuously, in public discussions about important topics. That did not happen during this period. We saw a huge outcry for comment and in particular for Brendan to engage. I personally saw an outcry for me to stop speaking for myself, and for our CEO to engage publicly. The call for engagement by our CEO increased after our initial blog posts on inclusion. I made a brief post about marriage equality on March 29th, and Brendan spoke to the media three days later. This long break and the degree of public engagement is not what people expected or needed. This wasn’t consistent with how we want Mozilla to operate, and this is the reason for the apology.
After Brendan's Resignation
Some have wondered whether Mozilla as a whole could have done more. Mozillians who know of the long partnership between Brendan and me also wonder if I could have somehow filled in for Brendan in this area or done something to make the outrage go away. I believe that Mozilla supported Brendan as much as was possible, while acknowledging his ultimate responsibility as CEO.
Brendan's departure was widely misunderstood and misreported. Some people don't believe a resignation occurred, including many in the press. They instead maintain that he was fired. This is incorrect. Many were angry because they believed that Mozilla no longer respected diverse views or stood for tolerance. This anger is misplaced. Unfortunately this anger continues today as I write, and it manifests as international press attention, letter-writing campaigns, petitions, and more calls for boycotting Mozilla.
I know that "spin" is so prevalent in today's world that it's easy to disbelieve anything, including the reality of a resignation. I urge you to look at the events of the two weeks preceding that resignation and imagine yourself and the organization you love and the people you are responsible for at the center of it. Imagine that the storm is still growing and you can't protect Mozilla or anyone related to it from even more damage. Mozilla did not force Brendan out. Brendan and Mozilla became the focal point for a tidal wave. The force of that tsunami and related challenge of leadership can move mountains. In this case, it moved Brendan. It moved him to step down to protect the organization, the people and the mission he's spent his career building.
That mission is the key. Will the Internet remain a global public resource, accessible to all? Will Internet life be built around individual human beings having control over what happens to us and how we live online? Mozillians say “yes, absolutely” and we join together to make this happen. Being a Mozillian means supporting the values set out in the Mozilla Manifesto. Mozillians have differing views on many other topics. We join together, knowing we have profound differences. We join together despite our differences because the Internet is a wildly powerful tool, and we want that tool to benefit all of humanity.
It’s time to heal and help each other work together for the sake of Mozilla and the Web. I’m committed to doing everything I can to help Mozilla and the people who make it great. I’m grateful to all those who give their time and energy to making Mozilla stronger.