Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of the online community message board Reddit, is heading back to the site full-time for the first time in four years, the company announced Thursday. Ohanian’s return comes as now-former CEO Yishan Wong is leaving the company after months of internal turbulence.
An adviser to the company wrote that Wong resigned last week after a disagreement with the board over the location and cost of new office space. Wong’s rocky tenure was marked by a controversial decision that Reddit employees must relocate to San Francisco or find work elsewhere, and after Wong publicly disputed the details of a former staffer’s termination process with that ex-worker on Reddit itself.
Ohanian will serve as Executive Director, while Ellen Pao, the company’s former strategic partnerships head, will step in as interim CEO during a search for a permanent replacement. Ohanian, who founded the site in 2005 alongside his former college roommate Steve Huffman, became a household name in the tech community in 2012 when he positioned himself as a leadership figure and spokesperson at the fore of a since-successful movement against a pair of congressional bills designed to curb online piracy. Many opponents deemed them too broad.
On Thursday, Ohanian told TIME he decided to return to Reddit full-time after getting pressure from the company’s board — of which he was a member — after Wong tendered his resignation.
“I had a bunch of my fellow board members asking me to get back involved,” Ohanian said. “And I had a long conversation with my girlfriend, I talked to my dad about it, and ultimately decided that this was the time to get re-engaged full-time with Reddit.”
For Ohanian, part of the draw of returning to Reddit, which he calls “this baby I’ve watched grow for the last ten years,” is getting its house in order after months of negative press. Aside from the personnel issues under Wong, Reddit received heavy criticism two months ago over its initial reluctance to police a sub-community dedicated to sharing nude photographs of celebrities — some of them minors — that were obtained by hackers targeting users of Apple’s iCloud cloud storage system. Reddit eventually took action against those communities following mounting pressure.
“While I do believe I’m going to bring, as a founder, a kind of stabilizing presence and vision for the company, I know I’m not the only one who has to get it right,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to help, and I think it will, but it’s going to take every one of us.”
“I was very, very cognizant of not being a helicopter parent during the years when I was a just an advisor to Reddit,” Ohanian said. “I didn’t want to be that founder who is still calling at two in the morning to suggest some product change. And I think I did a good job of that, of not being that,” he added. “But now Reddit is in a different situation — I’m in a different situation — and I want to do everything I can to help. And I’m in a place to do that now, surrounded by a bunch of people who care just as much as I do about helping this continue to thrive.”
With Pao serving as interim CEO, that leads one to wonder: Is Ohanian eyeing the top gig at a company that’s clearly such a big part of his life? It doesn’t sound like it: “Even as a founder,” Ohanian said, he has “at least enough self-awareness to know I may not be the best person for that job.”
“Ellen has done a tremendous job,” he acknowledged, “especially in this transition phase — not to mention in the last couple of years she’s been here — and the things that I excel at, the things that are my strengths, are things that compliment her strengths and what she excels at. And so we’re still going to do a CEO search, but it really is her job to lose. I want to see this company do amazing things, and I think Ellen is the person to get us on that path.”
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