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Originally published April 11, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified April 11, 2007 at 11:54 AM

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Corbis CEO to devote energy to philanthropy after 14-year stint

Corbis Chief Executive Steve Davis announced Tuesday he would be stepping down to dedicate more time to philanthropy, following in the footsteps of his boss, Bill Gates.

Seattle Times business reporter

Corbis Chief Executive Steve Davis announced Tuesday he would be stepping down to dedicate more time to philanthropy, following in the footsteps of his boss, Bill Gates.

Davis, 49, has helped run Gates' privately held image company for 14 years, the past decade as CEO. Corbis President Gary Shenk, a Hollywood media veteran who has been with the company since 2003, will take the helm on July 1.

"A couple of years ago I made a decision it's time for me to go on to a different chapter in my life," Davis said. "That timing converged with the realization with Corbis there needed to be some renewed energy and leadership here."

The Seattle company has amassed a large collection of prominent works, including the Bettmann Archive of historical photos, which it owns, and rights to millions of other photos and images, including Sygma news photography and fine art from museum collections. Recently Corbis has focused on rights clearance, negotiating the legal rights for use of images on behalf of clients such as advertising companies.

Corbis stressed the leadership transition would be gradual, just as the plan Gates announced for himself last June, stepping aside over two years as chairman of Microsoft and into a full-time role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Since its founding in 1989, Corbis has expanded to 1,100 employees in 16 countries and reported more than $250 million in revenue last year, but it has never made a profit.

"Profitability is a bit of a red herring in the sense that Bill's very happy with where we are and the plan we put into place with how we structured finance," Davis said.

Rather than growing through acquisitions, as its larger rival Getty Images has done, Corbis has grown through investing in new content and technology and is now generating cash from operations, he said.

"It's a bit of a challenge," he said, but "we're happier where we are now than if we spent a billion dollars buying companies."

While Davis will continue to be an adviser to Corbis, he plans to spend most of his time on philanthropy. He has been active on the board of Seattle global health nonprofit PATH, as well as the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Alliance for Education. He's also a board member at for-profit Intrepid Learning Solutions.

Davis didn't rule out working for the same boss again, at the Gates Foundation.

"Corbis was created as much by Steve as by me, since he and I first collaborated when the company was in its infancy," Gates said in a statement. "Steve's vision, entrepreneurial skills, industry leadership and global management capabilities have transformed it from one of the earliest Internet startups to a global brand with industry-leading growth and services."

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Before joining Corbis in 2003, Shenk, 36, was the founder and general manager of an arm of Universal Studios that oversaw media licensing. Shenk brokered deals, Corbis said, between studios and talent agencies and helped establish new formats for licensing.

"The opportunity before us has never been greater," Shenk said. "We have strategically invested in acquiring and creating the best pictures, built the most comprehensive rights services offering and expanded our presence and brand globally."

Kristi Heim: 206-464-2718 or kheim@seattletimes.com

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