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Is Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker Getting Out While the Getting’s Good?

Last week Mozilla’s $7 million dollar CEO Mitchell Baker announced that she was stepping away from the C-suite, although she’ll remain onboard as chairperson of both Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation.

Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker at Web Summit in 2018.
Mozilla CEO Mitchell Baker at Web Summit in 2018. Web Summit, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mitchell Baker is stepping down as CEO at Mozilla, but it’s a move that appears to have very little meaning, if any at all. From my viewpoint (which is admittedly influenced by The Who in a “meet-the-new-boss” sort of way), this looks like a classic example of “the queen is dead, long live the queen.”

Baker made the announcement on Thursday, in an article she penned and published on the Mozilla website.

“I have decided to transition from the role of CEO of Mozilla Corporation back to the position of Mozilla Corporation executive chairwoman, a role I held with great passion for many years,” she said.

Actually, very little changes here. She remains the Mozilla Foundation’s board of directors’ chairperson, and additionally takes on the new role as executive chairperson at Mozilla Corporation.

“During my 25 years at Mozilla, I’ve worn many hats, and this move is driven by a desire to streamline our focus and leadership for the challenges ahead,” she added. “I’ve been leading the Mozilla business through a transformative period, while also overseeing Mozilla’s broader mission. It’s become evident that both endeavors need dedicated full-time leadership.”

For the uninitiated: Mozilla Foundation is the not-for-profit organization in charge of all-things-Mozilla, while Mozilla Corporation is the organization’s for-profit arm.

Baker’s History at Netscape and Mozilla

Actually, Baker’s involvement with Mozilla began more like 30 years ago, which is when she took employment in the legal department of Netscape Communications, the browser company that eventually gave birth to Mozilla and Firefox.

She’s been involved with the Mozilla project from the beginning, writing both the Netscape Public License and the Mozilla Public License, and in 1999 becoming the general manager of mozilla.org, the division established by Netscape to coordinate the Mozilla open-source project. In 2001, she was let-go during a round of layoffs at America Online (which by then owned Netscape), but continued to serve as mozilla.org’s GM on a volunteer basis.

A couple of years later, she was part of the creation of the Mozilla Foundation, the independent non-profit launched in 2003 as America Online got out of the browser business, and became both president of the new foundation and a member of its board. When the foundation launched the Mozilla Corporation as a for-profit taxable subsidiary in 2005, she was named its CEO and additionally became one of its board of directors — while maintaining her seat on Mozilla Foundation’s board and her position as the board chair.

Her initial stint as CEO only lasted about two years. She was replaced in 2008 by John Lilly, the corporation’s chief operating officer, although she kept her chairperson position. Twelve years later, in 2020, she was again named CEO.

As CEO and as a chairperson, she has cost Mozilla a lot of money. In 2018, as a chairperson, she reportedly received from Mozilla nearly $2.5 million in compensation, and when she was rehired as CEO in 2020, her salary rose to more than $3 million, which a year later rose again to more than $5 million. A year after that she got another raise, to a figure close to $7 million.

Although Mozilla has a relatively large income ($593 million in 2022), more than 80% of that income comes from a single source: Google, which pays Mozilla some of the money it makes serving ads and collecting data on Firefox users. Getting the lion’s share of your income from a single source is never good from a financial perspective (the eggs-in-one-basket thing), and it’s even worse for an organization that toots its horn as a privacy-first organization and that source is…well, Google. Need I say more?

In addition, Mozilla’s income, along with its user share in the browser market, has been falling for years now — with no upturn in sight.

Meet the New Boss: Laura Chambers

Baker’s replacement as CEO, Laura Chambers, doesn’t seem to bring anything to the table that makes her uniquely qualified to run an open source organization — especially one faced with the prospect of declining revenues compounded by even more rapidly declining user share. She should know a bit about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses (she’s spent three years on Mozilla’s board), but other than that there’s little on her resume to indicate she has any experience that would prepare her for running an open-source institution under the best of circumstances, much less one that appears to be in danger of failing.

For about the last four years she’s been the CEO and president of the wearable breast pump company, Willow. Before that, she spent three years as the director of a credit union, a two-year stint as a GM for Airbnb, and two years as a VP of shipping, transportation, and consumer selling at eBay. This lead one commenter at the Linux- and open-source-focused website LWN.net to note: “I really don’t understand what these kinds of companies or AI have to do with Mozilla. Is Mozilla Corp completely taken over by suits?”

Baker and the other suits at Mozilla see it differently, with the outgoing CEO saying that Chambers “impressive background leading product organization” at these companies means that the incoming CEO “is well-equipped to guide Mozilla through this transitional period.”

“Her focus will be on delivering successful products that advance our mission and building platforms that accelerate momentum,” Baker said. “Laura and I will be working closely together throughout February to ensure a seamless transition, and in my role as Exec Chair I’ll continue to provide advice and engage in areas that touch on our unique history and Mozilla characteristics.”

In the meantime, we have no idea how much money Baker will continue to make as a chairperson (remember, she made $2.5 million as a chairperson without CEO status in 2018), or how much Chambers will be able to pull out in salary and benefits before the organization’s likely eventual failure.

4 Comments

  1. Mike S. Mike S. February 12, 2024

    You and I are on the same page here.

    To be as generous as I can, I will point out that Google used its search monopoly to relentlessly promote their browser over Firefox. Likewise Apple makes it hard to avoid Safari on iOS. And Microsoft has been dialing up the attacks on other browsers embedded into Windows. In a fight against those juggernauts, maybe Firefox was doomed no matter what anyone did.

    And I think Mozilla had to accept the hundreds of millions from Google because nobody else was offering.

    But why would an executive’s compensation keep ramping up while their company’s flagship product market share falls off a cliff?

  2. FOSS Force FOSS Force February 12, 2024

    All great points, Mike. — Christine

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