Mozilla Corp., maker of the Firefox Web browser, said Chief Executive Officer Brendan Eich resigned after being criticized for donating money to an anti-gay marriage group.
Eich, who also co-founded Mozilla, became CEO in March. The controversy concerned a $1,000 donation he made in 2008 to a group that supported Proposition 8, a California initiative that banned same-sex marriage and was later found to be unconstitutional.
While Eich said in interviews in recent days that he wouldn’t resign for expressing a personal opinion, he changed his mind, according to a blog post yesterday by Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s executive chairwoman. She didn’t name a replacement for Eich, and said there will be more information next week.
“Our mission is bigger than any one of us, and under the present circumstances, I cannot be an effective leader,” Eich said in a statement issued by Mozilla. “I will be taking time before I decide what to do next.”
Silicon Valley has long been associated with progressive political causes, including gay issues. Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly pushed for passage of the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, including at an awards ceremony last December. Former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel have spoken of their libertarian leanings. Mozilla, a non-profit organization, has championed efforts to make sure the Internet remains open to all viewpoints.
“He’s made this decision for Mozilla and our community,” Baker wrote of Eich’s resignation. “We didn’t act like you’d expect Mozilla to act. We didn’t move fast enough to engage with people once the controversy started. We’re sorry. We must do better.”
While a board may need to be involved if an executive’s views causes strife among the management team or impacts its ability to recruit employees, “it should err on the side of keeping politics and business separate and distinct,” said Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.
“This is troubling because one’s politics is one’s own business,” Elson said. “That’s been the rule in American business for a very long time.”