tom conrad pandora

Pandora has announced that longtime chief technology officer and EVP of product Tom Conrad will be stepping aside and "transitioning to an advisor role," the executive said in a letter to Pandora employees. (You can find Conrad's letter in full at the bottom of this article.)

Conrad's replacement is former head of engineering Chris Martin. As well, former VP of technical operations Steve Ginsberg has been elevated to chief information officer.
Almost exactly one year ago, CEO Joe Kennedy stepped down, heading to "a re-charging station." That departure prompted the exiting CTO to stay on, though as he says he'd been considering a change about 18 months ago.

The new CTO of Pandora faces a competitive climate for internet-connected music listeners. Subscription services, while fundamentally different than Pandora, abound (Slacker, Rdio, Spotify, Beats and a rumored service from YouTube sometime this year) and directly compete with the pioneering internet radio company. As well, the company only operates in the United States, New Zealand and Australia, so getting their technology into more countries is also of tantamount concern for the company.

Last summer, the company announced it had been integrated into 100 car models, a notable watermark for the company and a key driver of listener hours, which reached 1.58 billion last month. The company represents 8.91% of total radio listening in the U.s.


A recent royalty rate ruling in favor of the company, and to the chagrin of publishers like Sony/ATV head Martin Bandier, will ensure its ledgers continue to be somewhere near the black. "This rate is a clear defeat for songwriters," Sony/ATV Music CEO Martin Bandier said when the ruling was announced. The rate is the same Pandora was paying to ASCAP, 1.85% of earnings. Payouts to BMI are still being debated in rate court.

As noted in our story from last August, Pandora paid 60.6% of revenue, or $258.7 million of the $427.15 million it generated for the year ended March 31, 2013, to music rights holders. If its audience was doubled from 2012 totals, it could distribute as much as $2 billion to rightsholders.



In May of 2004 I met [Pandora founder] Tim for breakfast at a diner in Potrero Hill. I was there to learn about his company Savage Beast and consider the opportunity to join the team of 10 or so he’d assembled. While perhaps I had reservations about the business (music kiosks for book stores!), I knew at once that I wanted to throw my lot in with Tim.

Fast forward 10 years and it has truly been the adventure of a lifetime.

The story of Pandora has had many chapters and through most of the twists and turns, I was solely focused on how I could help get the company to the next stage. Rarely did I stop to think about a world where I didn’t make my contribution to the next chapter. I confess though that maybe 18 months ago, I started to think about what I’d need to do to hand over the pen so others could author chapters after my eventual departure.

Then [Pandora's former CEO] Joe’s decision to leave pushed all of those thoughts to the side. My focus for the last twelve months has been to ensure that the company landed confidently in the hands of an exceptional new leader. We’ve found that leader in  [Pandora's new CEO] Brian. As I look at the revitalized executive leadership team he has put in place, consider the great leaders on my own team, and contemplate the exciting roadmap we’ve set for the future, I’ve decided that all the pieces are in place to allow me to step aside and let others write the next chapters.

So today we’ve announced that in three months I’ll be transitioning to an adviser role.

We’ve also announced that, effective today, [former Pandora VP of Engineering] Chris Martin has been promoted to Chief Technology Officer and will join the executive leadership team representing our engineering efforts. We are also promoting [former Pandora VP of Technical Operations] Steve Ginsberg to Chief Information Officer today and he and his team will now report to [Pandora CFO] Mike Herring. I’m as proud of all the senior leaders on my team — Chris, Steve, [Pandora VP of Design] Tony and [Pandora VP of Product Management] Mike — as I am about anything I’ve ever accomplished here. These promotions are one reflection of that, and they are richly deserved. If there are successes from the last 10 years you credit to me, they’d almost surely more fairly be credited to Chris, Steve, Tony and Mike.

The company is also announcing today that we’re opening a search for a Chief Product Officer who will report to Brian. I’ll be staying on full time for the next three months and then in July, after a bit of a vacation, I’ll transition to a part time role advising the company and offering support as Brian sees fit. A big part of my role in the coming months will be to help the company find a CPO that we’re all really excited about.

Through all these years perhaps the most gratifying thing has been how the whole company has evolved. From the scrappy group that wrote those first lines of code to the dynamic and talented assemblage we have today, through it all we’ve benefitted from a group of men and woman that are without question the most talented, intelligent, thoughtful and hardworking team I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. I’ll miss working with you terribly but I am incredibly confident in the trajectory the company is on, the leadership that Brian and the executive leadership team will bring, and Chris, Steve, Tony and Mike’s ability to do my job better than I ever did.

For those that have been on this journey for a while thanks for the memories and for all I’ve learned from you. Sorry for the moments when you had to suffer while I figured out what I had yet to learn. For those that are newer to the team, I wish nothing more than for you to come away from your years at Pandora as marked and improved as I have.

Take care of Pandora for me. I’ll think about you everyday.