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Lila Tretikov to head Wikimedia Foundation

Lila Tretikov (left) and Sue Gardner (right) of the Wikimedia Foundation
Lila Tretikov (left) and Sue Gardner (right) of the Wikimedia Foundation
Vgrigas, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit that runs Wikipedia, recognized International Workers Day today by hiring an international replacement for their most important worker, outgoing executive director Sue Gardner. The foundation announced that Gardner, a Canadian, will be replaced by a 36-year-old Russian named Lila Tretikov. Tretikov comes to head up Wikipedia's operations most recently from a Chief Product Officer role at SugarCRM, an enterprise sales and marketing software firm. Strangely, though, for someone who is going to be holding the reins of one of the globe's most important community-generated content websites, Tretikov does not appear to have ever contributed to Wikipedia herself. Perhaps it's fitting that a project to publish an encyclopedia written by novices will be headed by a novice to the project.

This particular hiring was a long, difficult slog for the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF). When Gardner announced her own departure back in March 2013, an executive director "Transition Team" was set up that April to find a new CEO for the WMF. They took a month to hire an executive search firm, m/Oppenheim; then took another four months to produce a short list of potential candidates. After two rounds of interviews with these candidates, the team eventually recommended to the WMF board that while these particular prospects were all good, they just hadn't found that perfect fit for the WMF's special blend of dysfunction and unaccountable publishing scandals. The board agreed to "refresh" the whole process and find new candidates. Tretikov was swept up in this new selection process.

Lila Tretikov is nominally a "known" achiever in San Francisco Bay-area tech circles, but she is not likely a recognizable name for 99.9% of the globe's users of Wikipedia. After all, until today Tretikov didn't even have a Wikipedia biography, and it's been said that you're just not somebody until you've been honored with a Wikipedia article. Google returns only about 4,500 hits for "Lila Tretikov"; compare to outgoing director Sue Gardner, with over 120,000 Google hits, or even former WMF general counsel Mike Godwin, with 74,000 hits. Even your own trusty wiki Examiner has twice the Google reach as Tretikov.

Tretikov's peak thus far may have been her third-place finish for the 2012 Stevie Awards for Women in Business. She is also a multiple patent holder for designs in intelligent data mapping and dynamic language applications. Certainly one smart cookie, but perhaps not so world-wise yet to be familiar with the customary practice of airlines charging a fee to re-book a flight reservation. With the Wikimedia Foundation's $2.3 million travel and entertainment budget, though, change fees are no longer going to be any worry at all for Lila Tretikov.