Web Summit appoints Katherine Maher as new chief executive

Co-founder Paddy Cosgrave stepped down as chief executive following backlash over comments he made on social media

Web Summit has named Katherine Maher as new chief executive, as the events company prepares for its conference in Lisbon in two weeks’ time.

Ms Maher was chief executive of the Wikimedia Foundation, the global non-profit behind Wikipedia, for five years, and is currently the chair of messaging platform Signal Messenger. She is also a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, a security fellow at the Truman National Security Project and a non-resident senior fellow on democracy and technology at the Atlantic Council.

She replaces co-founder Paddy Cosgrave, who resigned following the backlash to comments he made on social media on the conflict in Gaza. A number of high-profile sponsors withdrew their support from the forthcoming Lisbon event before he stepped down, and speakers pulled out. Mr Cosgrave still owns 81 per cent of the company behind Web Summit, but his co-founders have called on him to sell his stake to protect the company’s future and more than 300 jobs.

“Today Web Summit is entering its next phase,” Ms Maher said in a statement posted to the Web Summit’s blog. “Our immediate task at hand is returning the focus to what we do best: facilitating discussions among everyone involved in technological progress,” she added.


“In a present where technology is interwoven into every aspect of our lives, and in a future where it represents our greatest hope and our greatest disrupter, Web Summit’s role as a place for connection and conversation is more urgent than ever,” she said.

Ms Maher has other links to Ireland: her family has roots in Co Tipperary and Co Roscommon dating back to the Famine era.

The company has also appointed Damian Kimmelman as a non-executive director, replacing Nathan Hubbard on the board. He is co-founder of a number of companies, including healthtech start-up Batelle.com, Rho.co and business data provider DueDil.com, now Fullcircl.

“I’ve been attending Web Summit for the past 10 years, and I keep coming back because it’s where I’ve forged so many of my most meaningful business relationships,” said Mr Kimmelman. “I firmly believe in Web Summit’s mission to help make the meaningful connections that change the world, and I’m looking forward to working with Katherine and the board to achieve this and to support the dialogue which will ensure that Web Summit remains the world’s leading tech conference.”

Web Summit will take place in Lisbon from November 13th to 16th, with 70,000 people expected to attend.

The event has been engulfed in controversy in recent days. A number of tech giants including Google and Meta pulled out following comments from Mr Cosgrave on X, formerly Twitter, around the Israel-Hamas war. In the post, Mr Cosgrave said he was “shocked at the rhetoric and actions” of western leaders in support of Israel, “with the exception in particular of Ireland’s Government, who for once are doing the right thing”.

Mr Cosgrave apologised and clarified his remarks but announced his resignation on October 21st with “immediate effect”, admitting that his personal comments had “become a distraction from the event, and our team, our sponsors, our start-ups and the people who attend. I sincerely apologise again for any hurt I have caused.”

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist