Rod Beckstrom is a former President and CEO of ICANN. He served in this position from July 2009 until July 2012. On August 16, 2011, Rod announced via Twitter that he would be resigning from his position as President and CEO of ICANN in July 2012, at the end of his three year contract. ICANN confirmed the news with an official press release later that day, highlighting his past two years with the organization. He was replaced by Fadi Chehade.
Beckstrom currently serves as CEO of the Rod Beckstrom Group. He serves on the boards of the Environmental Defense Fund, named by Fortune Magazine as one of the seven most powerful boards in the world, and the Jamii Bora Trust, an African micro-lending group.
Beckstrom is also a writer, and has co-authored four books, including the best-seller The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, which provides a model for analyzing organizations, leadership styles, and competitive strategy. The Starfish and the Spider has been translated into 16 languages.
Work with ICANN
Beckstrom was appointed President and CEO of ICANN at the conclusion of ICANN's 35th international meeting in Sydney, Australia, in June 2009. Mr. Beckstrom's performance has been met with criticism by a wide ranging group of ICANN insiders, but he has also overseen the organization during some of its busiest and most progressive work. Following the announcement of his departure, a PDF was released that highlights his achievements over the previous two years.
Some of his most high-profile work with ICANN was related to the creation, approval, and implementation of the organization's new gTLD program. He described the program as "the biggest change in the Domain Name System since .com, certainly — maybe the biggest change since the re-architecting of the whole domain naming system in ’83-’84, which is when .com came about". Rod's tenure as CEO during the creation and launch of the new gTLD program saw him touring the world and participating in a wide variety of interviews and outreach efforts through various types of media in order to spread awareness about the program and its anticipated effects.
- Signed the Affirmation of Commitments
- Implemented DNSSEC in the Root Zone
- Perfectly synchronized IANA operations
- Supported gTLD development, including working with government detractors
- Saw IDNs implemented into the root, including both traditional and simplified Chinese
- Encouraged the expansion of the multi-stakeholder model
- Initiated relationship with Interpol
- Increased sponsorship for ICANN meetings
Mr. Beckstrom is also known for starting the "Music Night" tradition at ICANN meetings, where karaoke and a live band loosen up ICANN attendees mid-week.
Many ICANN participants have questioned his ownership over the aforementioned achievements and instead point to a list of dubious decisions and alarming statistics. Some of his more widely criticized moves include:
- In May, 2010, Rod Beckstrom brought on Elad Levinson as a consultant, and later promoted him to VP of Organization Effectiveness. Mr. Levinson's background as a self-help, weight loss, and Buddhist-inspired psychologist and guru riled many ICANN watchers. Some interpreted it as Rod Beckstrom bringing on a personal teacher into a position of authority within the organization, and were especially irritated over the creation of new VP positions when other existing positions remained unfilled. Internal emails from the GNSO show disagreement over whether or not the hire was appropriate, and include a defense of Mr. Levinson's effectiveness. mr. Levinson was terminated following Mr. Beckstrom's departure, and was seen as part of a number of high-profile terminations and resignations associated with cleaning out Mr. Beckstrom's personnel and staffing choices.
- Rod Beckstrom has been accused of being paid too much. He had released information regarding his salary, which stands at $750,000 USD per year plus bonuses, at risk compensation, and benefits.
- Rod Beckstrom was publicly derided by both Maria Farrell and Lesley Cowley at the public forum at ICANN San Francsico. Ms. Farrell first took the mic to accuse the organization of chasing away its experienced staff members, herself included, and lament the "hollowing out of expertise" therein. Her comments were met with sustained applause. Rod Beckstrom responded that turnover was below 15%, less than the average for a nonprofit or high-tech companies. Lesley Cowley later took the mic to point out that the turnover rate for senior staff members was likely significantly higher, around 78%. Audio of that forum can be found here, with the aforementioned interaction beginning around 23:10. Rod Beckstrom further defended the turnover rate in his opening address at ICANN 41, he noted that turnover for the previous year was at 11.62% and that it was tracking at 13%. When he was later asked about the loss of executives in an interview in September, 2011, he defended his management and team by saying, "The evolution of the management team was absolutely deliberate. Sometimes skills you get in a $100m organisation are different from those in a $5m organisation. I have assembled an excellent management team".
- He has been criticized for attaching his name too heavily to organizational achievements, or taking credit for his predecessor, Paul Twomey, and other peoples' work. These achievements include the implementation of IDNs, and the approval of the Applicant Guidebook for new gTLDs.
New gTLDs Outreach
In September, 2011, Rod Beckstrom was the Keynote Speaker at the Futurecom Information Technology Conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. There he praised CGI.br, the organization in charge of the Brazilian ccTLD (.br), for being one of the only countries in the world to use a multi-stakeholder model to oversee its national Internet infrastructure. He also praised the organization for its work on IPv6 deployment. He then went on to comment on the new gTLD program being launched by ICANN, and he discouraged brand owners and businesses from applying for a new domain space unless they are ready for the financial and technical responsibility of continually running a registry. He said, “I want to make clear that ICANN is an organization that is not advocating new gTLDs for anyone. Our role is merely facilitation to implement the policy and the programs approved by our community, so we are here to educate not to advocate.” Given that Mr. Beckstrom is often criticized for his high-profile and controversial role, this speech was no exception; one commentator noted how after all the work ICANN had undertaken to create the program, it seems like a terrible PR move to discourage people from applying.
That stop in Brazil was the first stop in a larger global tour that Mr. Beckstrom undertook to spread awareness of new gTLDs and the implications for brands, individuals, and the future of the Internet. The gTLD Road Show lasted through the fall and winter of 2011, and Mr. Beckstrom visited a total of 16 countries on his promotional tour; an additional 22 countries were visited by ICANN staff and board members. The Road Show was part of a board mandated communications and outreach period. ICANN's outreach, and consequently the gTLD Road Show, were largely seen as lackluster, and Department of Commerce secretary, Larry Strickling, chastised their failure to educate important stakeholders a week prior to the launch of the new gTLD program in January, 2012.
In December, 2011, it was announced that Mr. Beckstrom would provide the keynote address at a new gTLD conference in London, New Top Level, which is administered by CloudNames, the PR agency Burson-Marsteller, and international law firm DLA Piper. The event is not an ICANN event, despite the fact that Burson-Masteller has been contracted out by ICANN to help with its PR outreach. The event generally fits into Rod Beckstrom's larger world tour, promoting ICANN's new gTLD program. In February, 2012, it was noted that Mr. Beckstrom would no longer be speaking at the New Top Level.
On December17th, 2011, Mr. Beckstrom responded to an anti-gTLD expansion editorial that was published in the Washington Post; his reply, also published in the Washington Post, was a direct response to the original editorial, which asked why ICANN was rushing into a gTLD expansion despite the serious reservations of various groups and individuals. He noted the laborious 6 year process that led to the creation and approval of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook; the long road ahead for all applicants, with those that pass the review process beginning to be signed into the root only in 2013; and the number of trademark protections in place that will help prevent defensive registrations. Rod's response can be read here, the original anti-TLD piece can be read here.
Statement Regarding TAS Technical Glitch
On April 30, 2012, he stated that he is hoping that the TAS technical glitch will be resolved before his term as expires and hand over the job to his successor on June 29, 2009 at the ICANN 44 meeting in Prague. He said, "I’d like to see us obviously get the technical issues resolved, notify applicants, reopen the window and publish the strings before I pass the baton in Prague. That’s not a commitment at this point in time, it’s an indication as CEO that it’s absolutely my intention to push for a timely resolution of this issue… If we can get things done sooner, then the sooner the better." 
Criticism of the ICANN Board & NomCom
At the opening ceremony for ICANN 43 in San Jose, Costa Rica, Beckstrom criticized the ICANN Board and NomCom for their insularity. He said, "ICANN must be able to act for the public good while placing commercial and financial interests in the appropriate context. How can it do this if all top leadership is from the very domain name industry it is supposed to coordinate independently?” He claimed that the NomCom's structure poses a significant threat to ICANN, and stated that the Committee, which appoints half of the Board's voting Directors, should be "free of conflicts," and should appoint candidates that are “financially independent of the domain name industry." He said that ideally, a fully independent and non-conflicted NomCom should be in place before the nominations for the next round of Board appointments begins.
The industry response to his speech was mixed. While some chalked it up to the former CEO attempting to shift attention away from his own failures, others noted that some of his statements were based in truth. Kieren McCarthy pointed out in his response to the speech that some of the Board's seats have been occupied by the same person or rotating sets of people for almost a decade, and that a few had been appointed to the Board from other leadership positions within ICANN. Only five of the 21 Members of the Board, at the time of the speech, had come from outside of ICANN's internal groups, and all five of those delegates had been selected by the NomCom, who themselves were chosen from within ICANN. McCarthy also noted that outside voices are frequently ignored or overruled by the Board and the NomCom, including mandatory independent reviews.
Departure from ICANN
During his last opening ceremony address at ICANN 44 in Prague, Mr. Beckstrom listed a number of achievements during his tenure as CEO, they included: introduction of IDNs, implementation of DNSSEC, implementation of the New gTLD Program, reaching out to China and Chinese stakeholders, an internationalizing the organization.
Beckstrom began his speech by taking full credit for the development of the Affirmation of Commitments, which replaced the Joint Project Agreement as the document that outlines ICANN's legitimacy with the US government. He stated that, "My first day on the job, I was given a blank sheet of paper and I was told that the Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Commerce of the US government was not going to be renewed by ICANN. And I was told, 'You better come up with something better and you have to get it done in 90 days because the MoU is going to expire.' Together we worked and we created the Affirmation of Commitments."
Former Executive Officer and Vice President Corporate Affairs Paul Levins stated, in a post on CircleID, that Beckstrom's description of the event was false, and that the AoC was a result of ten years of community effort, with the first draft having been formulated over eight months before Beckstrom took office in July 2009.
Mr. Beckstrom was appointed President and CEO of ICANN 4 months after resigning as Director of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Cybersecurity Center in March, 2009. He served as Director for the Cybersecurity Center for just one year. His departure from the Department of Homeland Security was marked by his criticism of the National Security Agency's tactics in his letter of resignation. That letter can be read here.
Prior to his 1 year stint with the Department of Homeland Security, he spent 1 year as the Chairman of TWIKI.net.
From 2001 to 2007, he was the Chairman for Global Peace Networks and an Investor and Advisor for American Legal Net. From 2005 to 2006, he served as Chairman for Carbon Investments; from 1991 to 2001, as Chairman of Privada; and from 1985 to 1999, as CEO for CATS Software.
Rod founded CATS Software in 1985 at the age of 24, originally working out of a garage apartment. The venture subsequently grew into global enterprise with offices in New York, London, Tokyo, Geneva, Sydney, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. It eventually went public and sold.
Mr. Beckstrom also helped found Mergent Systems, which later sold for $200 million USD.
Mr. Beckstrom co-founded a global peace network of concerned CEOs to start Track II diplomatic efforts between India and Pakistan in 2003. Their work opened up greater trade and communication between the countries and helped resolve one of their escalating conflicts.
Rod Beckstrom is a passionate environmentalist, and is notably a board member for the Environmental Defense Fund
Rod received a BA in Economics with Honors and Distinction from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He also studied Finance and Banking as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of St. Galen in Switzerland.
- ICANN.org Bio
- Rod Beckstrom Bio
- Rod Beckstrom Named ICANN CEO
- ICANN President Beckstrom, Wired.com
- Tweet Jan 11, 2012, Twitter.com
- Another Controversial VP Leaves ICANN, DomainIncite.com
- I came to change ICANN, zdnet.co.uk
- ICANN News Release
- gTLD Comms Masterplan, news.dot-nxt.com
- Announcement, ICANN.org
- Sept.27, 11, ICANN.org
- Twitter Post, 12/23/11, Twitter.com
- New gTLD Roadshows, Blog.ICANN.org
- NTIA Letter on gTLD Program Jan 3 2012, NTIA.doc.gov
- Beckstrom to Keynote London New gTLDs Conference, DomainIncite.com
- DomainIncite, Tweet, Feb 8 2012, Twitter.com
- Plenty of .protections For the Web Domain Expansion, WashingtonPost.com
- Beckstrom breaks TAS bug silence, says Big Reveal could be as late as Prague
- Beckstrom slams his own board over conflicts, domainincite.com
- ICANN’s Departing CEO: Burning Down the House, icann.org
- Why Beckstrom's got a point, even if it's for the wrong reasons, dot-nxt.com
- Former ICANN VP calls bull on Beckstrom’s exit speech, domainincite.com
- A History of Holding ICANN to Account, circleid.com
- Rod Beckstrom resigns as director of National Cybersecurity Center
- ICANN.org Bio