October’s Movers and Shakers in Tech
If October showed us anything, it was that the tech giants maintain a keen hunger for AI and VR. Apple hired its first Director of AI Research to keep up in the increasingly competitive race with Google, Facebook and Amazon. Facebook hired a Head of Social VR as it develops new ways for users to share experiences and content in virtual settings.
Jeff Blackburn, of Amazon.com is now directly overseeing Amazon’s video division, following the abrupt departure of Jim Freeman, a longtime Amazon executive who’d been vice president of video since early 2015. Freeman was considered the chief architect of the platform, but he left for German retailer Zalando in September.
Amazon’s Morgan Wandell is expected to move to the UK in his new role as head of international programming. Wandell is transitioning from head of drama at Amazon’s Amazon Studios, to head of international productions. Wandell will be responsible for all originals sourced outside the US, including UK and international co-productions and content Amazon described as ‘primarily for local exploitation’.
Apple is hiring a rising star in the world of deep learning to serve as its first director of AI research. Ruslan Salakhutdinov, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, will assume the new position, which is meant to help the company make sure that Siri and its other products make use of the fundamental breakthroughs coming out of academic AI research. He will continue to work part time at CMU and will hire a team of researchers to work with him at Apple.
Comcast’s venture capital arm has appointed the co-founder of dating app Tinder, Dinesh Moorjani, as managing director. Dinesh brings unique experience that bridges later stage private equity transactions with an accomplished track record of angel investments. Moorjani previously worked as executive-in-residence at Warburg Pincus where he’ll continue to serve as an advisor. Before this he founded and was CEO of Hatch Labs, where he and his team built and ran mobile startups — including Tinder. He has also held leadership roles at IAC/InteractiveCorp and Samsung Electronics.
Ericsson has appointed board member and CEO of Patricia Industries, Börje Ekholm, as its next chief executive. He starts in his new role on January, replacing interim CEO and chief financial officer Jan Frykhammar. Ekholm joins from his current position at Patricia Industries, a division within Swedish investment company Investor, where he has been since 2015. Prior to this, Ekholm was president and CEO of Investor between 2005 and 2015. He has also served on Ericsson’s board of directors for the past ten years.
Facebook has hired Rachel Rubin, who’s been immersed in the world of digital avatars as executive producer and GM of Electronic Arts’ “The Sims,” as head of social VR to oversee development of new virtual-reality features for the social giant. Franklin joins other members of Facebook Social VR team including Lucy Bradshaw (also formerly with EA/Maxis) and Michael Booth (formerly with Blizzard Entertainment). Prior to joining EA, Franklin was senior director of marketing and product manager for cloud-gaming company OnLive and earlier in her career worked at Activision.
Google’s Fiber CEO Craig Barratt departs as the company halts rollouts to new cities with layoffs coming. Barratt will stay on as an adviser to Alphabet CEO Larry Page, but it’s clear this is a setback for its broadband ambitions. Barratt has been with Google since 2013, joining a few years after Qualcomm bought his connectivity company Atheros Communications.
David Foster, who helped develop the Amazon Kindle and Kindle Fire tablet, recently joined Google as vice president of product engineering in its hardware group. Foster will lead hardware development for Google’s new branded line of smartphones. Foster spent 5yrs with Amazon, his most recent job was leading device development teams at Amazon’s Lab126, including the Echo and Dash products.
Netflix has appointed former Universal Television president, Bela Bajaria, as its vice-president of content. Bajaria will lead the team at Netflix responsible for licensing content from the major US studios and agreeing co-production deals with the major US networks. She will also oversee a new team developing original unscripted programs for Netflix, as the subscription video service looks to up its original production output. Bajaria was previously president of NBC’s network and cable production arm, a role she stepped down from in June. Here she oversaw creative programming for the studio, producing series including Brooklyn Nine-Nine for Fox and Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for Netflix.
Octopus Ventures has announced that ecommerce entrepreneur Zihao Xu, has joined its investment team that is best known for backing the likes of Secret Escapes, Eve Sleep, SwiftKey and Zoopla Property Group, as an Investment Associate. Zihao joins from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants with six years of consultancy experience spanning across the aerospace, defense, automotive, industrials and private equity sectors. Zihao’s appointment comes as part of a successful year for Octopus, having recently raised an additional £100 million to invest into early stage European businesses.
Pinterest has hired its first chief financial officer, Todd Morgenfeld, signaling the image-discovery site may be laying the groundwork for an eventual initial public offering. Todd Morgenfeld, a vice president of finance at Twitter, will leave the social-media service roughly a year and a half after being recruited by finance chief Anthony Noto. Todd brings a wide range of experience from HP to the military to a fast paced environment like Twitter.
Sequoia Capital has brought aboard Jess Lee as its eleventh investing partner in the U.S., becoming the firm’s first senior female U.S. investor in its 44-year-old history. Lee was a former Google product manager turned CEO of the fashion site Polyvore, which was acquired for $230 million by Yahoo.
Snap has hired a senior Amazon engineering executive, Jerry Hunter, to help manage the company’s engineering teams. Hunter will serve as a VP of engineering, reporting to Snap engineering chief Tim Sehn. Hunter had been at Amazon since 2007, most recently as vice president of infrastructure. In that role, he was responsible for building and maintaining Amazon.com’s data centres globally. Before joining Amazon, he worked at Sun Microsystems since 1991.
Daniel Ek has replaced his fellow co-founder Martin Lorentzon as chairman of the board both at in Spotify and in the parent company in Luxembourg. That means Daniel Ek is now functioning as both CEO and Chairman of the Board in both companies. This is a preparatory measure for Spotify’s IPO, previously reported to be expected during the second half of 2017.
Yahoo’s vice president for EMEA, Nick Hugh, has left to become chief operating officer for Telegraph Media Group. Hugh begins his new role in January after eight years at Yahoo, and is set to be replaced by current head of agency and trading Marc Bignell. Hugh is tasked with boosting revenue across the The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph newspapers, The Telegraph website and Telegraph Events. He reports into chief executive Murdoch MacLennan and forms part of the senior executive team.
Yext, the global Location Data Management leader, has hired Christopher Nelson as Chief Information Officer. The experienced Cloud-first information technology executive will be responsible for the IT applications, security and infrastructure powering Yext’s industry-leading Location Cloud platform around the world. Nelson previously served as Senior Director IT Business Applications for machine data management platform Splunk.