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Verizon’s Oath has hired a COO from Alibaba, and its top media executive has left

Simon Khalaf is out; K. Guru Gowrappan is in.

K. Guru Gowrappan
K. Guru Gowrappan
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Verizon is moving around top managers at Oath, its Yahoo-AOL tie-up that’s supposed to compete against Google and Facebook for digital ad dollars.

Out: The executive who oversaw all of Oath’s media properties, including HuffPost, Yahoo News and TechCrunch. In: A new hire from Alibaba, who will be the company’s first president and chief operating officer.

Longer version: Simon Khalaf, a former Yahoo executive who became head of Oath’s media brands when Verizon finally bought Yahoo last year, left last week. Oath CEO Tim Armstrong says Khalaf won’t be replaced.

But the media bosses who formerly reported to Khalaf will now report to K. Guru Gowrappan, who Armstrong has brought in from Alibaba to become his No. 2 exec. Gowrappan’s duties will also include consumer and business-to-business marketing, which had been overseen by Oath CMO Allie Kline; Armstrong says Kline will advise on communications and other topics.

Gowrappan has spent the last few years as a managing director at Alibaba, where he helped the Chinese e-commerce giant plot its growth strategies in India and Southeast Asia. Prior to that he worked at Quixey, a mobile app and ad startup that worked closely with Alibaba; his resume also includes stops at Yahoo and Zynga.

Armstrong said he’s been looking for a COO for months — “someone who I could partner with to run the company.” He said he met Gowrappan on a trip to Taiwan a couple of years ago. “I think Guru is an exceptional person,” he said.

Gowrappan says he won’t have to spend much time supervising the merger between AOL and Yahoo’s operations and cultures, since he says much of that work has already been done.

Now the plan is to help the combined companies try to hit Armstrong’s aggressive growth goals: Among other milestones, Armstrong wants to double Oath’s consumer base from one billion to two billion by the end of 2020.

Oath posted revenue of $2.2 billion in the last quarter of 2017, up 10 percent from Q3. Armstrong says he expects “strong growth” in the second half of this year. Verizon reports Q1 earnings next week.

UPDATE: Here’s Armstrong’s notes to employees announcing Gowrappan’s hiring:

Oath has one of the biggest opportunities in modern business to build a defining company based on trusted brands and the trusted brands of our partners. As the world starts to comprehend the important changes of the Internet and mobile revolution, Oath’s vision and strategy are becoming more important. Now is our time to turn the formation of Oath into the formation of one of the world’s best operating companies that paves a safe and exciting path forward for our billion consumers and the world’s most trusted brands.

Oath is the size of a Fortune 400 company and our goal is to build it into a Fortune 50 company - one member and one customer at a time. To accomplish this goal, we need a combination of vision and execution - and we need a world class team of leaders who are aligned on our strategy. Great companies around the world are built from strong teamwork which starts at the top with leaders. Today, we are adding the most important puzzle piece to the leadership team to move our vision to a reality - and that puzzle piece is K. Guru Gowrappan.

Guru is joining Oath this week as President & COO. Guru comes with extensive experience in the global mobile and tech ecosystem and joins us most recently from Alibaba where he was the Global Managing Director. As Global Managing Director, Guru was responsible for growing international markets and key consumer and enterprise products across commerce, entertainment and media, local services, payments, and the entire commerce enabling stack. Guru has 18 years of experience operating and leading teams working on the front end of the consumer and customer revolution and he cares deeply about members, brands, and technology. Guru graduated from Madras University with a degree in Information Technology, received his Masters in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, and completed the Business Bridge Program at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. He brings a wealth of experience in operations, product management, and technology investment at a global scale. Guru is also a Yahoo Alum and someone that has a deep passion for seeing the future success of the company become a reality.

Guru will run day to day operations of our member (consumer) and B2B businesses and will serve as a member of our global executive team helping to set company culture and strategy. Guru will also be an important part of the Verizon work that is helping both Oath and Verizon build out the future of global services and revenue.

As more of my time is spread across strategic Oath opportunities and Verizon, I will be leading our global strategy, global executive team, and corporate operations. Guru will be leading our global operating teams including:

  • Engineering & Tech Platforms including DMSComms
  • Data and Research & Marketing
  • Media Brands, Content Factory, and Media Products & MarketingSearch Partnerships
  • Ad Platforms
  • Global Sales & Customer Operations, & Ad Strategy, and & B2B Marketing
  • Membership

As part of Guru leading operations, we will be moving marketing from a corporate function to a B2C and B2B operating function within the operating groups. We will keep the internal and external communications group along with Brand, Events & Citizenship at the global executive level. Allie Kline will become an advisor to Oath based on these changes and we will be hiring a Chief Communication Officer (CCO) to manage company communications while marketing transitions into the operating groups.

Guru is fully up to speed on our Major in the Majors strategy and he is coming into the company with a deep knowledge of our strategy and current operating process. We have planned for Guru coming into the company and we expect there to be a smooth continuation of our operating priorities and leadership agenda. Guru is a high energy and high impact leader and he will be a great addition to our culture.

A huge Oath welcome to Guru and as you have seen from the recent talent coming into the company (like Vanessa Wittman - CFO), we are following through on our mission and OKRs - building a company talent loves. More talent is coming to Oath because we have a big mission and an even bigger opportunity that keeps growing - TA

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