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Unicorns are a Myth: Lila Tretikov resigns as Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director

By Wikipediocracy Members

On February 25, 2016, Lila Tretikov announced her resignation as the Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director. She will stay on until March 31. An interim ED will be announced in the meantime, and a full search will be conducted by the WMF Board. The entire staff will meet on Friday to discuss the matter, and on Saturday, Jimmy Wales, who serves as a member of the WMF Board, will fly from London to meet with individual WMF staff members in order to be able to convey staff concerns to the rest of the Board.

Lila Tretikov

Lila Tretikov
Image: Lane Hartwell License: CC BY-SA 3.0

Last November, a community elected Board Member, “Doc James” Heilman had raised WMF staff concerns with Tretikov’s leadership and with her strategy of seeking outside grants for developing a “Knowledge Engine” without wider consultation. In response, the Board reaffirmed its confidence in Tretikov and removed Heilman from the Board. The Board appointed a management consultant to mentor Lila Tretikov.

The subsequent debate triggered by Heilman’s dismissal and disclosure of the Knowledge Engine grant from the Knight Brother’s Foundation prompted a whirlwind of critical discussion by established community members and staff. In addition, a number of senior WMF staff departed, some making critical public remarks as they left.

This past weekend, Tretikov drafted a last defense of her position, which drew yet more criticism. In addition this week’s edition of the Signpost published a summary of events very critical of Tretikov.

Earlier this week, the WMF Board met to discuss the situation and accepted Tretikov’s resignation.

Molly White’s excellent timeline of events leading up to this denouement: link

Lila Tretikov’s poignant tweet: lilatweet

Touted as a special and unique fit to the Executive director’s position, Lila Tretikov was brought in to succeed Sue Gardner, whose tenure saw the Foundation’s financial growth and spiritual decline.

When the hiring of Lila Tretikov was announced in May of 2014, Gardner described her successor as fitting a particular and possibly imaginary set of requirements, as being a ‘unicorn.’ 

Sadly, this legendary pairing of the unicorn and the Wikimedia Foundation didn’t have a happy ending.
The Unicorn Revolution died at the Wikimedia Foundation the way a lot of revolutions do: with a lot of heads rolling and the lionized leader discarded.

7 comments to Unicorns are a Myth: Lila Tretikov resigns as Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director

  • Eagle

    Very sorry that events spun out in this way. I wish Lila the best in her future career.

  • Cedric

    There was no other way this could end. No one, not even the most highly skilled manager with the powers of an ED, is in a position to reform a “charitable” foundation with such a ingrained culture of arrogant disregard, hypocrisy, warlordism, self-seeking and blithering incompetence without having the absolute support of the BOD to make that reform happen. The appointment of a consultant to “mentor” Tretikov was a sure sign of just how shallow and equivocal her support by the BOD really was. Tretikov was left to do the only thing that common sense and the merest modicum of self-respect demands in such a situation: to resign.

    This is not to say that Tretikov did not contribute to her own downfall; she did indeed make blunders of her own. Still, it can be seen that she was genuinely dedicated to the longer term survival of both Wikipedia and the WMF. This was demonstrated in good part by her success in getting rid of some of the most toxic characters in responsible positions at the WMF. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough. She was fighting a losing battle right from the start.

  • Please, the next hire should be in the nature of a publisher, someone who will pull up management of Wikipedia’s content into a paid staff with experience enforcing standards like a real manual of style, article format, and lock articles for fact checking.

    Any other type of hire will lead to further corruption of information and editorial chaos.

  • Metasonix

    >ingrained culture of arrogant disregard, hypocrisy, warlordism, self-seeking and blithering incompetence

    You said da magic woids.

    >Please, the next hire should be in the nature of a publisher, someone who will pull up management of Wikipedia’s content into a paid staff with experience enforcing standards like a real manual of style, article format, and lock articles for fact checking.

    Still wasting your breath, Bill.

  • […] much of a public airing, but the upheavals surrounding the dismissal of Doc James and subsequent departure of Executive Director Lila Tretikov has pushed everyone to be more open about all sorts of things, including inappropriate emails from […]

  • […] Après le renvoi du Dr Heilman, on a assisté au passage éclair du pas très respectable Arnnon Geshuri, déjà pris la main dans le sac dans un accord de non-concurrence entre Apple et Google. Après une hémorragie dans les rangs de la WMF et une fronde interne, c’est maintenant la présidente Lila Tretikov en personne qui prend la porte. […]