Who Is Guru Gowrappan? New Oath CEO Described As Strong Operator, “Thinking Leader”

Oath COO Guru Gowrappan will take the reins of Verizon’s media and advertising subsidiary following the departure of Tim Armstrong, the former AOL CEO who has overseen the telco’s consolidation of AOL and Yahoo into a single platform, at the end of the year.

Verizon hired Gowrappan earlier this year from Alibaba, where he had been global managing director. Previously, he worked in strategy and business operations roles at Yahoo, Zynga and Quixey before the Alibaba-backed search firm shut down.

Unlike Armstrong, Gowrappan does not have a reputation as a visionary or risk taker. Nor has he inspired the cult-like following that Armstrong has. Rather, Gowrappan is known for operational skill, quiet execution and process-driven leadership.

“Guru has been leading global consumer and revenue operations and has worked tirelessly to execute Oath’s strategic mission and operating plan,” Armstrong said in his memo to employees. “With our closer alignment with Verizon, Oath and Guru will be able to unlock a series of continued growth opportunities.”

Gowrappan may be appealing because of his ability to bridge divisions beneath the unified Oath brand.

“He’s a thinking leader. Oath needs something like that,” said Ming Wu, MightyHive’s CRO who worked with Gowrappan at Yahoo. “There are so many factions – AOL, BrightRoll, Yahoo – you need someone who can be neutral.”

Mediaocean CEO Bill Wise said he also remembers Gowrappan from the days of Yahoo/Right Media, and that Verizon made a strong hire despite Gowrappan being a relative unknown in the industry after Tim Armstrong because he doesn’t have a big ego and hasn’t held the top office before.

“It’s always great to see deserving people who work their way to the top, like Guru, get such a big job,” Wise said.

Gowrappan will inherit a tough job, despite Armstrong overseeing the final integrations of Oath over the rest of the year.

Verizon was hailed as a contender to Google and Facebook’s duopoly status when Oath was pitched to the market, but it hasn’t emerged as a real competitor to the top addressable ad platforms.

Even so, Oath has earned accolades from media buyers for its media properties, email platforms and search portals. “(Oath) represents scaled, direct publisher relationships I don’t see going away or slowing down,” Sarah Warner, GroupM’s digital investment lead for programmatic and video, told AdExchanger in July.

One thing Gowrappan can’t easily control is Verizon’s willingness to share subscriber data with Oath’s media assets. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, Verizon has also been less forthcoming with that data than many at Oath had expected.

But while Verizon’s new CEO, Hans Vestberg, has shown less enthusiasm for advertising than his predecessor, he is attuned to the opportunity.

“We have major media,” Vestberg said Thursday at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference when asked whether major media deals by other wireless carriers (ahem … AT&T) altered Verizon’s content strategy. “We have Oath.”

Oath declined a request to interview Gowrappan.

Zach Rodgers contributed.

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