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Nielsen Names IBM Exec David Kenny CEO

Nielsen has picked its new CEO: David Kenny, previously head of IBM’s artificial-intelligence unit and former chief exec of the Weather Company.

Kenny succeeds 22-year Nielsen veteran Mitch Barns, who as previously announced is retiring from the media-measurement company. Barns, who had been CEO since 2013, will step down as chief executive officer on Dec. 3, and will remain with the company until Dec. 31 in an advisory capacity to Kenny.

In a statement, Nielsen exec chairman James Attwood said Kenny’s “decades of experience in Big Data, artificial intelligence, cloud technologies, and media make him perfectly suited to lead Nielsen at this critical time.”

Kenny’s appointment comes as Nielsen continues to undergo a strategic-review process, including a potential sale. According to the company, the board’s review could result in a separation of either Nielsen’s Watch or Buy segments, a sale of the entire company, or Nielsen continuing to operate as a publicly traded independent company. “The board looks forward to David’s participation in the ongoing strategic review as we work to enhance shareholder value,” said Attwood.

Kenny said in a prepared statement, “Nielsen is uniquely placed at the intersection of marketing data and technology. In today’s era of fast-moving, ever-changing consumers and markets, it is this combination that drives businesses forward.”

Most recently, Kenny, who is 57, served as senior VP of Cognitive Solutions at IBM, where he led the tech company’s IBM Watson AI platform and portfolio business and was responsible for developing the IBM cloud platform. He joined IBM with Big Blue’s 2015 acquisition of the Weather Company’s product and technology business.

He previously was president of content delivery network provider Akamai Technologies and co-managing partner at Publicis Groupe’s VivaKi. Kenny also co-founded and served as chairman and CEO of digital marketing agency Digitas; he continued to lead the company after overseeing its sale to Publicis. Prior to Digitas, he was a partner at consulting firm Bain & Co. from 1987-97.

Kenny serves on the board of retailer Best Buy and not-for-profit org Teach for America. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the GM Institute (now Kettering University) and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

According to an SEC filing, Nielsen is granting Kenny a compensation package that includes a base annual salary of $1.3 million; an annual bonus target award of $1.925 million; stock currently worth $13.9 million; and options to purchase 1.1 million shares subject to certain restrictions. In addition, in February 2019 Kenny is eligible to receive an additional $7 million in restricted stock, as well as a $2.5 million cash-retention award and a $1.5 million incentive payment to compensate him for the loss of equivalent payouts from IBM in 2018.

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