Mozilla names insider Chris Beard as interim CEO

Trying to recover quickly from a firestorm over gay marriage that brought down its last CEO in just 11 days, Mozilla names a new chief executive and begins to reshape its board.

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Chris Beard
Mozilla interim CEO Chris Beard Eric Millette/Greylock Partners

Mozilla named former Chief Marketing Officer Chris Beard a board member and its new acting chief executive on Monday, as the nonprofit tries to move beyond a political firestorm and reconnect with the users critical to the success of Firefox and Mozilla's mission.

Beard has worked for Mozilla for years, including leadership roles overseeing products, innovation, and marketing, including the launches of two critical Mozilla products, Firefox for Android and the Firefox OS mobile operating system, Mozilla said. He also handled the Firefox 1.0 launch in 2004 that ultimately proved Mozilla could succeed against long odds.

"In this time of transition there is no better person to lead us. Chris has one of the clearest visions of how to take the Mozilla mission and turn it into programs and activities and product ideas that I have ever seen," Mozilla Chairwoman Mitchell Baker said in a blog post. She also called Beard a "strong candidate for CEO."

Beard is a Mozilla insider -- but not totally. He's also been an executive-in-residence at Greylock Parners, the venture capital firm that also employs Mozilla board member Reid Hoffman and former Mozilla CEO and board member John Lilly.

Beard's appointment on Monday, along with an expected announcement of a formal search for a permanent CEO and another expansion of the board, signals that Mozilla is trying to close a very difficult chapter for the nonprofit organization. Less than two weeks ago, the Firefox developer's last CEO, Brendan Eich, resigned after a highly controversial stance on gay marriage cut off his tenure after 11 days.

Mozilla has been bruised by the Eich crisis, which was precipitated by anger over his $1,000 donation in 2008 to an anti-gay-marriage cause in California. The organization has since its inception taken principled stance on empowering users of the Web and keeping it open to all, but recently found itself on the defensive as an increasingly powerful gay-marriage movement put Mozilla and Firefox in its crosshairs. In interview with CNET, Eich said he feared Firefox itself could be a casualty.

Ultimately, an outsider could be the CEO Mozilla needs, said Jason Hanold, managing partner of leading boutique executive search firm Hanold Associates.

"Mozilla must show a counter strategy to their last search, which means going external and now likely bringing in a proven CEO who has been well vetted and is known in the tech community. A new chapter starts with a new leader who is new to the organization with new, inclusive beliefs," Hanold said.

Baker co-founded Mozilla with Eich in 1998, but he left Mozilla April 3. His donation became a lightning rod for critics who called for him to step down, and the crisis grew big enough that Eich concluded it was impossible to remain CEO. "This time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community," Baker said of the episode.

And in effect acknowledging that its board bore some of the responsibility for the crisis, Mozilla said it will add more board members, too.

"We intend to use recent events as a catalyst to develop and expand Mozilla's leadership. Appointing Chris as our interim CEO is a first step in this process," Baker said. "Next steps include a long-term plan for the CEO role, adding board members who can help Mozilla succeed and continuing our efforts to actively support each Mozillian to reach his or her full potential as a leader."

Mozilla employees -- perhaps also eager to begin a new chapter -- took to twitter to greet the new CEO. "@cbeard is baaack. Hands down best mentor + co-conspirator ever. Onwards + upwards @mozilla," said Mary Colvig, Mozilla's director of Community Engagement.

Update, 11:56 a.m PT: Adds commentary on Beard's appointment.

Mozilla's San Francisco offices
Mozilla's San Francisco offices James Martin/CNET