Meet the Wonk

M. Stuart Lynn, President and CEO, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

wonk (n): one who is well-versed in policy arcana

M. Stuart Lynn

President and CEO, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Age: 63

Home: Palm Springs, Calif.

Why he lives on a golf course: He doesnt golf — he moved there for a view of the mountains

Education: Bachelors degree in mathematics from the University of Oxford in England; doctorate in mathematics from the University of California at Los Angeles

Inspiration for career: An early computer playing tic-tac-toe he saw at a Worlds Fair exhibit in London in 1951

Hobbies: Photography, painting and playing the piano

Its 10 oclock on a beautiful Saturday morning in June in Stockholm, Sweden. But instead of exploring the Gamla Stan, Stockholms old town, M. Stuart Lynn is stuck in a small room inside a cavernous convention hall outside the city center, chatting about alternate Internet naming systems and Internet community representation. His voice is already hoarse, and the four-day meeting over which hes helping to preside has barely begun.

This will be Lynns first full meeting as the new president and CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation based near Los Angeles. ICANN has an innocuous name, but it has been besieged by criticism since it was picked in 1998 by the U.S. government to take over management of the Internets Domain Name System and Internet Protocol address space allocation.

In this role, ICANN is responsible for key policy decisions that affect the development of the Internet, such as introducing new Internet domains. Given its mandate, the group has had a difficult challenge trying to balance the interests of a variety of Internet users, including businesses, nonprofit groups, academics and individuals.

That balancing act wasnt exactly the type of pursuit that Lynn, a native of the U.K., had in mind when he retired in 1999 from his position as the chief information officer of the University of California system. Says Lynn, in his faint British accent: "I had visions of doing all these things [in retirement], when I made the mistake of answering the phone one day." On the other line was a headhunter hired by ICANN to help find a successor to the organizations founding president, Mike Roberts.

Lynn, who started in March, says he took the job as a form of public service. Asked if he has any regrets now, Lynn says: "Maybe when I was in the hospital in Paris." On a recent business trip to Europe, he explains, he was afflicted with back problems. But Lynn quickly adds, "Its an exciting challenge." With all the benefits the Internet has brought to people all over the world, he enjoys "playing a part in helping it work better."

Lynn and his predecessor, Roberts, are far apart in leadership style, despite both having backgrounds in academia. Roberts, an old Navy man, was gruff and blunt in dealing with the groups critics. Lynn brings a more mild-mannered deportment to the job.

But dont expect Lynn to steer clear of controversy. In fact, Lynn created a bit of controversy himself by releasing a paper prior to ICANNs recent meeting that discussed alternate Internet naming systems. In the paper, Lynn defended the need for one authoritative naming system to ensure the Internet is not destabilized by competing naming systems. Critics, however, argue that alternate naming systems will not harm the Internet and will provide valuable competition.

When Lynn began to discuss his paper at a public forum in Stockholm, he said, to laughter: "It is so good to be able to raise a noncontroversial topic."

Lynn says that he does not mind criticism, as long as it is constructive and aimed at trying to improve ICANN — not tear it down.

"ICANN is designed to have critics for anything we do. Were designed to bring together many different constituencies. . . I hope there will be constructive critics based on good points of view, rather than people" who would rather tear it down, he says.