Rubicon Project Exodus Continues, As Jay Sears And Adam Chandler Step Out

rubicon-execs-leavingWho’s left at Rubicon Project?

This year, a wave of senior executives left Rubicon Project, hollowing out the ranks. A company that prided itself on building a strong workplace culture in sunny Los Angeles now faces discontent with what some have described as product missteps and a lack of strategy at the top.

Among the latest to leave is Jay Sears, the SVP of marketplace development and one of the most public faces of the company, who has taken a job with Mastercard's media solutions group. Adam Chandler, SVP of global technology partnerships, also departed for a role with Kargo.

The departures follow those of its former chief technology officer, Neal Richter, who left a month ago, and Kaylie Smith, its former head of seller cloud. Head of International Jay Stevens left in March, CFO Todd Tappin left at the end of May, and Chief Product Officer Dax Hamman left in June.

A slew of VP-level execs departed too. That list includes engineering VP Nhan Phan, who left for Metamarkets; product VPs Jordan Mitchell, Tiffany Chelsvig and Jan Kotowski; strategy VP Alia Zaharudin; marketing VP Som Puangladda; VP of strategic development Jason Gruber; VP of international seller cloud Luke Fenney; Oliver Whitten, the right-hand man on Stevens’ international business; and David Miller, who headed up M&A.

Some of these exits are by design. Back in November, Rubicon Project announced plans to lay off 19% of its workforce, or 125 people. Some of the execs above were part of those layoffs, while others left on their own.

The departures started months before Rubicon Project’s stock took a nose dive in August – the result, at least in part, of the company’s slow reaction to the header bidding trend.

Sources were divided on the precise reason for the departures. Some said it pointed to deeper problems that the company had with innovation, strategy and execution. Others said they were simply the side effects of a reorg that saw many senior people given different or lesser roles as the company’s growth slowed.

The internal turmoil is visible to those on the outside. Rubicon’s publisher customers have complained about account management in recent months. Some recall requesting header-bidding technology from Rubicon Project and being blown off months or years before the company admitted to investors that it had missed the boat on header bidding. And the company’s growing take rates have not gone unnoticed.

Even News Corp, an investor in Rubicon Project, signed a master service agreement with AppNexus in September and invested $10 million in the Rubicon competitor. The rival company’s technology clinched the investment – which may speak to gaps in Rubicon’s road map, sources said.

It wasn’t always this way.

“The people we had at the company were amazing," said Jordan Mitchell, who worked as a VP of product at Rubicon from 2009 until this June, when he left to found DigiTrust. "There are so many of us with a ton of passion for building the company the right way."

He agreed that many of the old guard were leaving. “People who came in together and worked hard through all kinds of challenges over the past six or seven years were ready for something else.”

Despite the flight of top talent, Rubicon does have a few reasons to look on the bright side.

Under its restructuring, the company dissolved its international department, moved its buyer and seller cloud businesses together and merged its product and engineering teams. These changes could set the company on a growth course.

And a recent increase in investor enthusiasm for ad tech stocks could benefit Rubicon.

“With exits in the marketplace, AppNexus coming in the market and The Trade Desk IPO-ing, that’s good for companies providing value in their segments,” said Adam Chandler, who joined Kargo after leaving Rubicon on Friday.

Another former Rubiconer, after laying out all the challenges Rubicon faced, affirmed a belief that the company was undervalued – and held out hope for a “bright future” ahead, off in the distance.

Rubicon Project did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

Update: Rubicon Project responded with this statement.

"Rubicon Project is a 600-person company with more than 80 VPs and above (25 SVPs, 50 VPs, and only a few executives), and very few of them are directly involved with the leadership and decision-making required to operate the business. At the beginning of 2016, we kicked off a global organization realignment initiative that resulted in combining our entire global sales team under a single leader. Later in the year, we rolled out similar restructuring for our revenue operations, and we hired Tom Kershaw to lead and do the same thing for our product and engineering teams. In November of this year, we announced team reductions and changes that were required in order for us to focus the business and team on being more effective and efficient at delivering innovative solutions for our customers, partners and the market. None of our reductions were in growth areas, and we are still investing aggressively in growth. 

With a company of our size it is not uncommon to have turnover among team members. For the most part none of these departures were a surprise to us and all of them have been the result of proactive business decisions that we made. We believe we've retained the top talent needed for our organization to be successful now and in the future. This is far from a mass exodus."

 

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