New RealNetworks CEO: Former Adobe Exec Thomas Nielsen

RealNetworks, the dot-com era digital media company that has gone through a major overhaul in the past couple of years, has appointed former Adobe VP Thomas Nielsen president and CEO effective Nov. 9. Nielsen, who worked at Microsoft earlier in his career, also will join the company’s board.

Nielsen comes to RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK) from a vice president’s post running digital imaging at Adobe, including the Photoshop, Elements, and Lightroom software along with mobile products. He replaces Bob Kimball, who left in March after just over a year on the job. Mike Lunsford had served as interim CEO, and will stay on in a senior job, Real said.

In a release, RealNetworks founder and chairman Rob Glaser touted Nielsen foremost as a “terrific product executive.”

“We will leverage Thomas’ extensive background in customer-driven product strategy and delivery to ensure RealNetworks’ strategic plan is focused and optimized for growth,” Glaser said.

Thomas Nielsen

In an interview, Glaser wouldn’t elaborate on any product strategies ahead for Nielsen’s tenure—the release also points out that he had digital media experience at Microsoft—but said Nielsen was a rare mix of product and business executive that Real was looking for in its CEO search, which Glaser described as the most extensive he’s seen in his career.

“Technologists are great, and are incredibly important, but we also wanted somebody who knew how to build businesses based on a great product,” Glaser said. “Those are two independent skils. Sometimes you find great product people who aren’t very business oriented, or you find people who are great business people who aren’t very product oriented.”

Real needed someone who could do both things well, and “that’s Thomas to a T,” Glaser said. He also has a record of successfully leading large teams, Glaser said, which will be crucial for Real and its roughly 1,400 worldwide employees.

Former CEO Kimball’s tenure was one of restructuring. He took over from Glaser in January 2010, and oversaw big changes that included the spinoff of the Rhapsody music joint venture with MTV, debut of the Unifi online consumer media service, and the shift of GameHouse into social games. In February, Kimball said the elimination of about 130 jobs marked the end of Real’s restructuring period.

As for his own future role, Glaser said he’s worked closely with Lunsford on long-range strategy during the interim period, but will take on a more traditional advisory chairman’s role. After being heavily involved in Real for 16 years, taking roughly a year away from the day-to-day, and coming back to handle this transition, “I’ve got a better perspective on how to be additive and not substitutional,” Glaser said.

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