EA’s CEO John Riccitiello Steps Down

John-Riccitiello-EAIt broke late in the day yesterday that Electronic Arts would be losing their CEO John Riccitiello at the end of the month. In his stead, Larry Probst will be acting as Executive Chairman until a new CEO is named. (Think of Larry as Sean Bean in Game of Thrones after King Robert was killed by the wild boar… but of course without the whole beheading nastiness.)

For those that don’t know, Riccitiello has been CEO of EA since 2007 and has undergone lots of scrutiny during his time in the role. Early in his time as CEO, he divided up Electronic Arts into four separate parts: EA Games, EA Sports, EA Casual, and The Sims. He was also there when EA purchased the parent company behind Pandemic Studios and BioWare.

Unfortunately for Riccitiello, he was in power as CEO during the economic downtown in the nation which resulted in a huge drop in EA’s stock price as well as the failure to acquire TakeTwo, the owners of the Grand Theft Auto franchise. Though some may try and point at the recent missteps in the SimCity reboot launch, it has been a series of events that likely lead to Riccitiello’s decision to step down.

Here is what EA had to say in a press release yesterday:

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)— Electronic Arts Inc. (NASDAQ: EA) today announced that John Riccitiello will step down as Chief Executive Officer and as a member of the Board of Directors, effective March 30. The Board has appointed Larry Probst as Executive Chairman to ensure a smooth transition and to lead EA’s executive team while the Board conducts a search for a permanent CEO. The Board will consider internal and external candidates with the assistance of a leading executive search firm.

Mr. Probst has played a leadership role at EA since 1991. In addition to serving as Chairman of the Board since 1994, he previously served as the Company’s CEO from 1991 to 2007. As CEO, Probst successfully grew the Company’s annual revenues from $175 million to approximately $3 billion, led EA into new platforms such as mobile, online and other emerging markets and expanded its international presence to more than 75 countries.

“We thank John for his contributions to EA since he was appointed CEO in 2007, especially the passion, dedication and energy he brought to the Company every single day,” said Mr. Probst. “John has worked hard to lead the Company through challenging transitions in our industry, and was instrumental in driving our very significant growth in digital revenues. We appreciate John’s leadership and the many important strategic initiatives he has driven for the Company. We have mutually agreed that this is the right time for a leadership transition.”

On behalf of the Board, Lead Director Richard A. Simonson stated, “As we begin the CEO search, we are fortunate that Larry, who has a proven track record with our employees, partners and customers, has agreed to assume a day-to-day leadership role as Executive Chairman. He has 16 years of experience as CEO of EA and a deep understanding of the Company’s strategy, management team, business potential and industry trends.”

Mr. Riccitiello stated, “EA is an outstanding company with creative and talented employees, and it has been an honor to serve as the Company’s CEO. I am proud of what we have accomplished together, and after six years I feel it is the right time for me pass the baton and let new leadership take the Company into its next phase of innovation and growth. I remain very optimistic about EA’s future – there is a world class team driving the Company’s transition to the next generation of game consoles.”

Riccitiello made his public statement later:

To Everyone at EA –

I am writing with some tough news. I have resigned my position as EA’s CEO. I will be around for a couple of weeks, and I hope to have the chance to say goodbye to many of you. Larry Probst will be stepping in as Executive Chairman to help smooth the transition. Larry first hired me at EA in 1997 and he was an incredible leader for the company during the 16 years he served as CEO. While he will continue to be the Chairman of the US Olympic Committee, he will also provide leadership for EA until a permanent CEO is appointed.

My decision to leave EA is really all about my accountability for the shortcomings in our financial results this year. It currently looks like we will come in at the low end of, or slightly below, the financial guidance we issued to the Street, and we have fallen short of the internal operating plan we set one year ago. And for that, I am 100 percent accountable.

Personally, I think we’ve never been in a better position as a company. You have made enormous progress in improving product quality. You are now generating more revenue on fewer titles by making EA’s games better and bigger. You’ve navigated a rapidly transforming industry to create a digital business that is now approximately $1.5 billion and growing fast. The big investments you’ve made in creating EA’s own platform are now showing solid returns. I believe EA is alone in mastering the challenges of building a platform for our games and services – a platform that will provide a more direct relationship with our consumers. You are number one in the fastest growing segment, mobile, with incredible games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out, Real Racing 3, Bejeweled, SCRABBLE and Plants v. Zombies. You have worked to put EA in a position to capture industry leadership on the next generation of consoles; and I believe two of our titles – Battlefield and FIFA – will be among the top few franchises in the entire industry. And the industry’s most talented management team – Frank, Rajat, Peter, Gaby, Andrew, Patrick, Blake, Joel and Jeff — are certain to lead the company to a successful future.

I remain an incredible fan of EA and everyone who works in our world – from Stockholm to Seoul, Orlando to Edmonton, Guildford, Geneva, Cologne, Lyon, Bucharest, Montreal, Austin, Salt Lake, LA and, of course, EARS. My hope is that my travels and yours allow us the opportunity to talk more in the months and years to come.

In a few weeks, I will be leaving EA physically. But I will never leave emotionally. I am so incredibly proud of all the great things you have done, and it has been my honor to lead this team these past six years. After March, I will be cheering wildly for EA from the sidelines.

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