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Ric Robertson's Academy Exit Represents Changing of Guard (Analysis)

The exec has been with the Academy since 1981, serving as second-in-command to the executive director from 1989 until 2011, when he became COO alongside Dawn Hudson's CEO.

Dawn Hudson & Ric Robertson
Art Streiber

Over the last couple of months the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has elected a new president, welcomed a ton of new members, selected a new Oscar host and continued fundraising for a new museum. Now, it looks like it will have to find a new chief operating officer -- if it decides to maintain that title -- which could have major implications for the future direction of the organization.

The news broke late on Friday night, when bad news so often does. Ric Robertson, who has been the Academy's COO for the last two-and-a-half years and who has worked at the Academy since 1981, longer than anyone else currently in a leadership position, is stepping down from his post, effective immediately. Robertson has overseen the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library, the Academy Film Archive, marketing, public relations, legal affairs and various awards-related activities, including electronic-voting, which was introduced last awards season. He also provided invaluable insight as its "institutional memory," according to Academy insiders.

Q&A: New Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs

Nobody knows the minutiae of the Academy and the film industry like Robertson. Each year at the Academy's Oscar Nominees Lunch, for instance, the president of the Academy gets to shake hands and pose for photos onstage with each of the nominees. But it is Robertson who is called upon to read each of the hundred-plus names from a podium off to the side because only he can be counted on to pronounce them all correctly. He always seemed content to cede the spotlight to others, even if his impact was felt as much as anyone's on the Academy's actual operations.

Prior to becoming COO in 2011, the bearded, mild-mannered Robertson had served since 1989 as the Academy's executive administrator, the second-in-command to executive director Bruce Davis. When Davis announced his retirement in 2010, many assumed that Robertson would succeed him, possibly even Robertson himself. But instead the Academy opted to create two positions -- Dawn Hudson of Film Independent was recruited to serve as CEO and Robertson was named COO. At the time, then-Academy president Tom Sherak wrote to members, "Ric’s operational and institutional expertise will be invaluable as the Academy faces new challenges and opportunities."

Some interpreted the move as a slight to Robertson and thought he might leave, but instead he remained with the organization and is said to have actually coexisted quite nicely with Hudson. Over the summer, though, he took a three-month paid "sabbatical" and has now decided that he does not wish to return to his full-time duties.

Industry insiders seem to feel that Robertson's reduced presence will almost certainly leave the Academy, which is steeped in custom and tradition, less inclined to stick to its old ways of doing things and more open to new ideas -- for better or  for worse. Some feel that it can only help Hudson, whose tenure got off to something of a bumpy start and who has been second-guessed by some who have suggested that Robertson would have handled things better in her role.

But if Robertson's email is to be believed, he is not "leaving" the Academy -- just his current position. He has told his colleagues that he will remain associated with the Academy and the Oscars as a part-time "consultant focusing on the show, award rules and categories," coming into the office a few days each week. It remains to be seen how much things will actually change, but one thing is for certain: this is the end of an era at the Academy.

Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottFeinberg for additional news and analysis.