Academy Names Dawn Hudson CEO, Ric Robertson COO

AMPAS board replaces retiring executive director Bruce Davis with one longtime staffer, one outsider

The Academy has found a replacement on its own staff for retiring executive director Bruce Davis — and it has found one outside the company as well.

On Thursday night, the AMPAS Board of Governors voted to create a new executive structure for the company, naming its longtime executive administrator Ric Robertson to the position of COO, and Film Independent's executive director Dawn Hudson to the position of CEO.

Dawn HudsonIn a press release announcing the move, Academy president Tom Sherak called the team "the ideal combination of new vision and institutional continuity." Under the new structure, Robertson, who has served as Davis' second-in-command for more than 20 years, will report to Hudson (left), who has spent nearly as much time at the non-profit organization that puts on the Film Independent Spirit Awards. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Getty Images)

The two will assume their new positions on June 1, less than three weeks before the opening of Film Independent's Los Angeles Film Festival. Davis is scheduled to retire at the end of the fiscal year, on June 30.

The Academy has been looking for a replacement for Davis, the organization's highest-ranking salaried employee, since he announced his retirement last fall. An outside firm was contracted to come up with candidates for the position, but the holidays slowed down their search and no candidates were presented to AMPAS until well into 2011.

Robertson, who has been working for the Academy since 1981, was long considered the likeliest in-house candidate to replace Davis. Since 1989, he has held the same position that Davis himself occupied before becoming executive director. While the search was underway, AMPAS president Tom Sherak spoke openly to TheWrap about his admiration for Robertson, who was also known to have support on the board. (AMPAS photo: Robertson, center, and Bruce Davis, right)

Hudson has served at the helm of Film Independent since 1991, as its membership increased from 900 to 5,000, and the Spirit Awards grew from a small show with little visibility to a nationally televised event that normally takes place the day before the Oscars.

The move can be viewed as bringing Hudson's outside perspective to an organization long on tradition, and one that has sometimes struggled (particularly with the Oscar show) to attract a younger audience. By promoting Robertson to COO rather than keeping him in his current position, the Academy is clearly making a push to retain a man who, as one Academy member said, "knows how to deal with the board, and knows where all the bodies are buried." 

One area to watch: the long-in-the-works Academy museum, which was a pet project of Davis's but which ran into fundraising difficulties caused by the recession. While the Board of Governors approved the purchase of the land on which the museum would sit, they have not yet authorized construction of the facility — and speculation has long been is that a new chief executive might well kill the project altogether. (Sherak recently told TheWrap that he believes the museum will eventually be built.)

The AMPAS bylaws will be amended to create the CEO and COO positions.

The AMPAS press release:

Beverly Hills, CA – The Board of Governors of the Motion Picture Academy voted on Thursday to establish a new executive structure for the organization, replacing retiring executive director Bruce Davis with former Film Independent head Dawn Hudson and long-time Academy executive Ric Robertson, who will become the organization’s CEO and COO respectively. Robertson will report to Hudson in the new leadership tandem.

Hudson has spent 20 years at the helm of Film Independent, which grew from a small non-profit into a nationally recognized arts institution under her leadership.  Film Independent's two signature programs are the 26-year-old Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival, held annually in June.  

“The Academy is the gold standard for the world’s most influential art form, and I am humbled by what the Board of Governors, the Academy members, and the staff have accomplished under Bruce Davis's leadership.” said Hudson. “I am thrilled to have this opportunity to work with Ric, and to carry the Academy's mission forward into the future.”  

Robertson joined the Academy in 1981 following a short stint with the Los Angeles International Film Exposition (FILMEX), and became the organization’s second-in-command in 1989, when he was appointed Executive Administrator. In that position he has overseen the Academy’s public programming, its library and film archive as well as its public relations, marketing, legal affairs, and numerous awards-related events and activities.

“Having Bruce as a mentor has been tremendously valuable to me,” said Robertson. “It will serve me well as I move into this new management position and partnership with Dawn, as we help to write the Academy’s next chapter.”

Academy president Tom Sherak said that the new structure for the Academy’s executive staff had occurred to the officers of the organization as they began seriously considering the succession issue. “We’re a different organization than we used to be,” Sherak said, “with a range of activities that couldn’t have been conceived of when the present structure came into place. Now, with the leadership team of Dawn as our CEO and Ric as our COO, we have the ideal combination of new vision and institutional continuity to move us forward.”

Following a planned bylaw revision, already in the works, Hudson and Robertson will assume their new positions on June 1.