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Google SA loses country head

Stafford Masie has resigned his position as head of Google's South African operations, a little after 18 months in the position, the US Internet giant confirmed today.

Masie says he resigned in order to focus on his family. “I have not taken leave since returning to the country from the US in 2003.”

Google's official statement says it is looking for a replacement and it remains committed to its local users, customers and partners. Masie will continue in his position until the end of April.

Colourful controversy

Masie has developed a reputation for being a colourful, if not a controversial, country head.

Last year, Google became embroiled in a Competition Commission complaint levelled against it by online marketing firm Entelligence, which accused the local Google operation of attempting to take control of its customers, and levelling threats against Entelligence.

Stafford Masie

Sean Riley, Entillegence MD, says now that Masie is leaving: “...99% of the problem will be solved. I believe that Google Ireland, with whom we were dealing on this matter, were very uncomfortable with what he (Masie) was doing.”

Last week, Entelligence filed its answer to Google SA's reply to its complaint at the Competition Commission. Entelligence asserts that Google was behaving in a dominant manner, having attempted to take direct control of one of its clients. When this did not succeed, it threatened to close all of Entelligence's accounts with the search engine giant.

“Google says they are not guilty of anything because a) they are not dominant and b) they did not carry out all of their threats,” Riley says.

Another action that raised eyebrows in the local online marketing community was Masie's drive to have agencies “certified”, and he accused some agencies of actually committing fraud against their customers.

Immediately before taking over as head of Google SA, Masie was in charge of Novell SA and had the uncomfortable task of defending that US software firm's stance on making a deal with Microsoft, much to the annoyance of the local free and open source software community.

Differing opinions

Industry views differ on the real reason for Masie's resignation. However, most sources say there was a feeling that Google SA was handling the online agencies differently to how the other international operations were.

“We dealt with Google internationally long before the local operation was set up and our experiences with the two were very different,” one source says. “The whole issue with Entelligence also caused a lot of people to question what Google's local intentions really are. Were they friends looking to build partnerships or would we have to cover our backs?”

Another source says: “Masie was becoming increasingly frustrated by the whole US corporate set-up. He told me he spent more time reporting than actually seeing clients and doing what he had to do, and that he had Sarbanes Oxley [the stringent US financial governance law] up to his neck.”

Masie, who is on holiday with his family, says: “Google is an amazing company and will really do well in the local market. But I need some time out for the time being. I have a number of other options available to me, but I am not exploring those just yet.”

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