AOL has promoted Bebo VP and COO Stephane Panier to head the UK social net’s global operations. The official announcement should come later today. Panier will report to directly to Jon Brod, EVP of AOL Ventures, the new investment arm and virtual way-station for AOL (NYSE: TWX) properties that don’t necessarily fit neatly into the current structure—and Bebo’s new home. AOL Chairman and CEO Tim Armstrong plans to keep Bebo, acquired for $850 million in 2008, at least, for now despite continued suggestions and expectations that it will be sold.
So far, AOL is acting as if it’s full-steam ahead with Bebo although it clearly has been taken down a notch internally. In a statement, Brod called Panier “the ideal leader to build on Bebos existing successes, to chart a course for its future, and to execute against that vision.”
Bebo was thrown into further turmoil two months ago when Joanna Shields quit her post as head of AOL’s now-defunct People Networks. That unit was created after Bebo was acquired to unite AOL’s other social media applications. Shields, the former president of Bebo, spearheaded the sale, before taking on the role at People Networks. But that was dismantled as part of AOL CEO Tim Armstrong’s 100 day review of the company’s operations. Shields’ exit served to heighten speculation that Armstrong was leaning towards selling Bebo off. Lately, Armstrong has tried to appear to have an open mind as to whether Bebo can be made to work within AOL’s reformed structure, which is the official reason given for placing it in AOL Ventures.
Panier does have something in common with AOL’s new CEO. Like Armstrong, he’s a fairly recent arrival from Google (NSDQ: GOOG). Before joining Bebo last January, Panier worked at Google for six years in both senior finance and operations positions. He spent his first two years and his final two years with Google at the company’s Mountain View headquarters; in between, he served in London.
By David Kaplan