The CEO of embattled artificial intelligence (AI) annotation and services company Appen (ASX: APX) has resigned, effective immediately, just two weeks after the group announced the loss of Google as a major client.
Armughan Ahmad, who has only been in the role for 12 months, has stepped down as CEO as of today with the company announcing its US-based chief operating officer Ryan Kolln has been promoted to CEO as his replacement.
The shake-up at the top comes on the heels of Appen announcing on 22 January that Google was terminating its US$82.8 million (US$125.6 million) contract with the company, a move described by Appen as both ‘unexpected’ and ‘disappointing’.
The announcement led to a 41 per cent slump in Appen's share price to 27c as the Google contract represents about 30 per cent of annual turnover for the group.
The Sydney-based Appen collects and labels images, text, speech, audio, video and other data used to build and continuously improve artificial intelligence systems.
Kolln, who was appointed as COO last year, joined Appen in 2018 as vice-president of corporate development and oversaw a number of acquisitions including Figure Eight and Quadrant while also supporting the company’s expansion into China.
Kolln began his career as an engineer, focusing on mobile network data in Australia, Asia and North America before joining The Boston Consulting Group in 2011 as a strategy consultant.
“I’m honoured to be appointed the role of CEO at Appen and to guide the company through its next phase,” says Kolln.
“For the past 28 years, Appen has made a significant contribution to the development of AI across the globe. Our focus remains on supporting our existing customers to build world-class AI based applications and enabling the adoption of AI across a broad set of enterprises.”
Appen’s chair Richard Freudenstein says the board is looking forward to working with Kolln ‘in this elevated capacity’.
“The board is excited to appoint Ryan as CEO,” says Freudenstein.
“He has a deep understanding of Appen’s history, a strong technical understanding of the AI market, and a proven strategy background. This unique combination is ideal to guide Appen through its next phase and navigate the evolving generative AI market.”
Freudenstein also acknowledged Ahmad’s tenure as CEO of Appen over the past year.
“Armughan has been CEO during a period of great change at Appen,” he says.
“Having overseen a new strategic direction and resizing of the business, Armughan has decided to pursue new challenges. We wish him well for the future.”
Kolln’s remuneration package comprises a base salary of US$600,000 ($924,800 ) per annum plus incentives, which is in line with Ahmad’s package announced in December 2022.
However, the change at the top has failed to halt the slide in Appen’s shares which hit a new low of 26c today.
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