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Originally published March 28, 2011 at 7:08 PM | Page modified March 28, 2011 at 9:06 PM

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Bob Kimball resigns abruptly as CEO of RealNetworks

RealNetworks says Bob Kimball left on his own accord after largely completing the restructuring as a smaller company that's more focused on phone companies and other business customers, as well as games and consumer services.

Seattle Times technology columnist

Barely a year after taking the job, RealNetworks Chief Executive Bob Kimball resigned abruptly Monday.

Kimball was rebuilding Real, which has lurched through several management changes over the last two years while struggling to regain its leadership in the digital-media business.

Company executives said Kimball left on his own accord after largely completing the restructuring. They said he decided after more than a decade at Real that he wanted to do something else and spend more time with family.

The move comes as Real enters an intense several years that will test its plan to operate as a smaller company more focused on phone companies and other business customers, as well as games and consumer products.

During Kimball's tenure, the company also developed a new online media service that may compete with upcoming products from Google and Apple. But Real's stock has bobbed below $4 for most of Kimball's time as chief executive.

During 2010, sales fell 29 percent to $401.7 million and the company reported an operating loss of $34.5 million. Its gross margin improved to 64 percent, up from 60 percent the year before, when it lost $237.2 million.

A former IBM attorney, Kimball was Real's chief lawyer for 10 years until founder Rob Glaser resigned as CEO on Jan. 13, 2010. Kimball stepped in as acting chief executive, then was chosen as the permanent replacement.

Glaser said he's not interested in being chief executive again and will remain chairman. He praised Kimball, saying "He's been associated with some of Real's most important and exciting developments."

"I'm highly empathetic to the fact there comes a time when you want to step back and get on a different boat," Glaser said.

Kimball is "a great guy and the company will miss him but we built a strong bench, we built the company up for success particularly in this next chapter," Glaser said. "I think it's fair to say that's a different kind of animal and it's something where you need to sign up for a three, four-year cycle around that."

The transition shouldn't slow Real's rebuilding, Glaser said. Hiring a new executive from outside the company is actually "likely to accelerate change," he said.

Kimball wasn't available for an interview but issued a statement in the news release. He said he "took on this role to lead a restructuring and transformation of RealNetworks into a more lean, efficient and effective business, and we have completed that phase of RealNetworks' transformation. Over the past year we have simplified our business, removed more than $70 million in annualized operating expenses and created an entirely new, award-winning product called Unifi. We are delivering on our promise to build products people love."

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The company employs 1,300 people, mostly at its headquarters in Seattle.

Real's executive vice president, Mike Lunsford, will serve as interim chief executive while Kimball's replacement is found. Lunsford said he's not interested in the permanent job.

Lunsford was interim chief executive of Earthlink before joining Real in 2008. He has led the company's core business, including Realplayer, Helix and enterprise messaging services provided to phone companies.

Lunsford also recently began leading Unifi. The service is close to launching with phone company Vodafone Germany, and a U.S. launch is planned for midsummer.

No major changes are planned while a new CEO is found, "to keep things consistent and stable here," Lunsford said.

There was no fallout that led to Kimball's resignation, Lunsford said. "No, this is entirely Bob's doing," he said. "We've had a difficult year with the restructurings, resimplification, all those things. Signing up for the next part — which is the ongoing and hard work to grow the company — is just a daunting task for anybody."

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

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