Annette Thomas, the visionary and dynamic publishing executive with a background as an academic scientist, left Clarivate last week. The dynamics of this transition, which has not been previously reported, raise some questions about leadership and stability at Clarivate following its public listing.
Thomas has an impressive career in scholarly publishing. She led Nature Publishing Group and then Macmillan Science and Education. She founded Digital Science, the investment portfolio and incubator of scientific workflow and analytics services. After Nature and Springer merged, she served as Chief Scientific Officer of Springer Nature. Thomas joined Clarivate as a board member, before becoming CEO of its scientific and academic research business, which is now branded as the Web of Science Group. Thomas maintains ongoing connections with the higher education sector, serving as a trustee on the board of Yale University.
Under Thomas’s leadership, Clarivate has renewed its investments in the Web of Science Group. It bought Publons and Kopernio. It has focused extensively on the quality and independence of its metrics. And it has made some intriguing starts on bringing its data and analytics into a number of important workflows. I interviewed Thomas earlier this month for an analysis on Clarivate’s development and some of her future plans, including more focus on quality, transparency, and speed in its data and metrics, efforts to inject data and metrics into publisher and researcher workflows, support for new forms of peer review, and possible additional work on discovery. Given growing competition, from Elsevier and Digital Science on the one hand, and from open and startup initiatives on the other, the efforts to turn around the businesses that grew out of the original ISI cannot have been easy, but the Web of Science Group has seemed to have renewed energy and real momentum on its side.
This summer, following the public listing, Clarivate elected to merge its Web of Science Group and its Life Sciences Group. The synergies between the two businesses, one far more focused on academic science and the other on the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, is not immediately clear. Nevertheless, Thomas seems to have received a substantial promotion, taking on responsibility for both units together as president of this merged Science Group. It is therefore unexpected for Thomas (along with SVP for Strategy and Transformation Samantha Burridge) to be leaving so shortly after assuming major new responsibilities.
A Clarivate spokesperson told me that Thomas’s departure is a natural transition given all that has been accomplished thus far in leading its largest division to the point of a credible public listing. But this departure of two female executives also raises some questions, given that it seems to reflect some instability in a corporate reorganization that follows so soon after the public listing and new CEO.
Replacing Thomas heading up the Science Group is Mukhtar Ahmed, who previously led Life Sciences at Clarivate. Ahmed has a background in technology and health sciences, with experiences at Oracle and Bioclinica. It is not clear whether the merger of the science divisions, and this change in executive leadership, will lead to any differences in product direction or strategy for Web of Science Group.
At this point, Clarivate is choosing not to make an announcement explaining Thomas’s departure and Ahmed’s new role, although I was able to speak over the weekend with a spokesperson for Clarivate, who emphasized Thomas’s many valued contributions and Ahmed’s strengths. It is nevertheless noteworthy that there is no announcement or news release explaining the leadership transition of Clarivate’s largest business unit.
The Web of Science Group, which plays an outsized role in academic science and scholarly publishing due to its Journal Impact Factor and related curatorial work, recently emerged from a period of stasis to begin competing as the publisher neutral option in the data and analytics category. Does this leadership transition represent some kind of organizational instability or strategic redirection? At the time of this writing, I do not know.