The chief executive of AT&T's advertising unit Xandr has reportedly resigned, in a move that has shocked the industry.
Brian Lesser was hired by AT&T in 2017 to launch Xandr, a new unit that would connect traditional TV, addressable TV, over-the-top streaming TV services and digital video inventory into one consolidated marketplace. He was brought onboard amid AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, to consider how the telco could connect its content and technology assets.
Under Lesser, AT&T acquired adtech firm AppNexus in 2018 for about $1.6 billion. Lesser was a member of AppNexus' board of directors between 2014 to 2017. The AppNexus brand has now been folded into Xandr; its technology powers the unit. AppNexus' most senior leaders have gradually left the business following the acquisition, beginning with co-founder and chief executive Brian O’Kelley in October 2018, followed by long-standing president Michael Rubenstein in September last year.
As well as losing key AppNexus talent, Xandr has also been hit by the depature of its president Rick Welday last September.
News of Lesser's resignation was first reported by Reuters. The news wire said a spokesman for AT&T declined to comment. Campaign has reached out to Xandr, but did not receive a response by time of publication.
Lesser is a well-known ad exec with a pedigree of leading major platforms. He helped launch Xaxis as founding CEO from 2011, before joining GroupM as CEO of North America in 2015.
He had reportedly been vying for the CEO role at AT&T sister unit WarnerMedia, following the September promotion of John Stankey to president and chief operating officer at AT&T. The industry has long expected WarnerMedia and Xandr to combine—earlier this year it was announced that the two would work more closely together from an ad sales perspective, including a joint pitch at this year’s upfronts.
The news came just as Xandr announced it had struck a new deal to bring inventory from Walt Disney, WarnerMedia and AMC Networks to its DSP buying platform Invest.
Lesser is quoted in the release, saying: “Working with marquee media brands like AMC Networks, Disney, and our sister company WarnerMedia will help us create a unified, data-enabled solution for advertisers, which is the future of TV buying.”
Xandr generated $2 billion in revenue in 2019, up 16.2% over the previous year, but its operating profit declined 1.1% to $1.32 billion.