Reddit Chairman Alexis Ohanian: ‘We Need to Do a Better Job’

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Reddit announced Friday that its interim CEO Ellen Pao would be stepping down from her post. After several months of uproar in the popular message board’s community over policy changes spearheaded by Pao, co-founder Steve Huffman is returning as chief executive. Alexis Ohanian, also a Reddit co-founder who returned last year as executive chairman, is staying on in his role but will move permanently to San Francisco where the firm is headquartered.

Ohanian spoke to TIME exclusively after the announcement. A slightly edited transcript of the conversation follows.

How did this decision finally come about?

This was all a pretty new development. When I first came back eight or nine months ago to the executive chair role, Steve was one of the first people I called. He ruled it out pretty immediately because he was pretty focused on Hipmunk. In the last eight months they’ve been pretty successful and, when we needed him, the stars aligned. Ellen has been great at transitioning and handing the role off.

How much of this move is a response to the turmoil of the last few months?

It’s a pretty special thing when the two founders who have left can come back. All along, the board was focused on finding someone who can excel at community and product. Steve excels at both. That opportunity’s a pretty special one.

Given how much gender has been an issue over the past few months, what do have to say about the fact that you are firing a prominent female CEO?

More than anything else, this is about having someone skilled with product. If you take a look at the record of the company that Steve has at Hipmunk, you’ll see they’ve done extremely well. You’ll see that about half of Hipmunk’s team is women. At Reddit we’re going to hire the best people we can, and I expect many of them to be women.

What is Steve Huffman’s relationship with the community like?

Judging from the responses right now many people are welcoming him back and happy to have him back. I don’t know how much “Huffman hype” there was because I don’t know how many people knew. What matters to me now is getting back to work.

You said Ellen Pao would be staying on in advisory role, what will that entail?

[We want to find] as big an advisory role as we can for her. The big period we’ve had under her has been really formative for Reddit. Her leadership got us through a lot of the changes we made. I hope she’ll continue to be an accurate advisor. It’ll be a pretty traditional advisory role.

Is you role changing?

As executive chair, I was between San Francisco and New York. Now as chairman, I’m working in California full time. I hate giving up the pizza but this is one of those opportunities.

Many of the issues over the past months have been community issues. How is bringing in a product person going to fix that?

Reddit is a platform for communities. Our users have created something that effectively sets the agenda. We need to do a better job from a product standpoint. That was at the core of last week. For years we’d been talking about making changes to improve basic tools and not doing anything. It’s just something we haven’t been doing. Having someone like Steve helps us tremendously ship great products.

How will you and Steve Huffman work together?

Steve is the person I was closest to for almost a decade. For the last few years, he’s been largely out of my life. It wasn’t until recently that we came back into each other’s lives. It was a friendship that mattered a lot to me. We reconnected over the past few months. I feel all warm on the inside and I’m grateful for that.

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