Web Summit, one of the world’s largest technology conferences, has named Katherine Maher its new chief executive officer after the company’s founder, Paddy Cosgrave, resigned earlier this month amid the backlash triggered by his comments on the Israel-Hamas war.
Ms. Maher, who is chair of the Signal messaging platform’s board of directors and a former CEO of Wikipedia parent Wikimedia Foundation Inc., along with roles she held at Unicef and the World Bank, acknowledged her predecessor’s controversial remarks in a statement. She said Mr. Cosgrave’s personal comments had “overshadowed” the purpose of Web Summit events.
“Web Summit is entering its next phase,” she wrote in the note on Web Summit’s website announcing her appointment Monday. “Our immediate task at hand is returning the focus to what we do best: facilitating discussions among everyone involved in technological progress.”
On Oct. 21, Mr. Cosgrave resigned from his position as CEO of Dublin-based Web Summit, which hosts highly attended events around the world, including the Collision conference in Toronto. He left the company without a leader just weeks before its flagship gathering in Lisbon next month.
Top investors, large tech companies, startup executives and major venture capitalists swiftly withdrew their partnerships with Web Summit after Mr. Cosgrave criticized Western leaders for their support of Israel.
In a series of posts on X, formerly Twitter, he had lauded Ireland, his home country, for calling upon the European Union not to suspend aid to the Palestinians and said that although Israel has a right to defend itself, it should not break international law. “War crimes are war crimes even when committed by allies,” he wrote on Oct. 13.
Irish court documents show Mr. Cosgrave still owns 81 per cent of Web Summit’s parent company, Manders Terrace Ltd. He is facing calls to give up that equity stake.
After Mr. Cosgrave’s apology for those remarks and his resignation, Web Summit commenced a search to find a new CEO as soon as possible, vice-president of communications Katherine Farrell said in an interview last week.
The company was being run by its board in the interim, Ms. Farrell said. Mr. Cosgrave, who was also chair of the board, had stepped down from that position as well.
Now, Web Summit’s new CEO faces the tough task of convincing the high-profile tech leaders who had cut ties with the company to rethink their decisions. Ms. Maher attempted to do just that in a short video accompanying the announcement of her appointment. She said she was speaking from Lisbon, where she is hoping to see the “thousands of innovators from every corner of the world” whom Web Summit would normally assemble at its events.
In her written note, Ms. Maher continued her message about gaining back the trust of Web Summit’s audience, describing the first time she attended one of its conferences. “It was a place for the smallest startups and the biggest household names, all brushing shoulders in the same spaces,” she said.
“In the months ahead we will take up the charge of setting up our global events for an even brighter future.”